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Utica exhibition showcases upstate's role in modernist decorative arts era

Tom Magnarelli
A Franklin automobile made in Syracuse.

A new exhibition at the Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute in Utica looks at how New York state led America into a new artistic and decorative era in the early 20th century. Many of the pieces on display  were manufactured in upstate New York.

From flapper hats made in Buffalo to Eastman Kodak cameras in Rochester and Steuben Glass in Corning, more than 100 objects from across the state, defining the modern era, are featured. Guest curator Lori Zabar notes modernism is a difficult term to describe.

“It not a style, it’s really a creation of fine art and decorative objects that express the changes of society at that time,” Zabar said.

Zabar said there were big transformations going on in the 1920s and 30s in technology, transportation, women’s roles, race relations and prohibition.

“It was a very different way of life than it had been before World War I,” Zabar said.

Credit Tom Magnarelli / WRVO News
"Normandie" pitcher made in Rome and porcelain plate made in Syracuse.

And the exhibit showcases the products that reflect those changes, like a chromium pitcher made in Rome, New York for the Normandie ocean liner, resembling the ship's prow. Museum of Art Director Anna D’Ambrosio said upstate set the standard for the rest of the nation in manufacturing these products.

“It was such a dynamic and pivotal era and how much the state artists, designers and manufacturers transformed the United States, what we wore, what we drove, how we partied to how we decorated our interiors, and that had never been explored,” D’Ambrosio said.

The exhibit features a Franklin automobile made in Syracuse and peep-toe linen shoes made in Rochester. “Roaring into the Future: New York 1925-35,” will run until October.

Tom Magnarelli is a reporter covering the central New York and Syracuse area. He joined WRVO as a freelance reporter in 2012 while a student at Syracuse University and was hired full time in 2015. He has reported extensively on politics, education, arts and culture and other issues around central New York.