You can see this painting, Village Post Office, across the street from The Farmers’ Museum at the Fenimore Art Museum. The scene, set in a general store, shows many of the ways that stores served their communities. Store keepers stocked goods for people to buy, created credit accounts for local customers, provided post office services, and offered a place for people to meet and catch up on the latest news. In the spring, the store was stocked with seeds, tools, and supplies for planting and other springtime tasks. Genre paintings like this one depict scenes of everyday life and are valuable to us not only as art, but also as historical resources. Louis C. Jones, who served as director of NYSHA and The Farmers’ Museum from 1947-1972, said:
All social history is weak when it comes to the habits, work, dress, attitudes, play, and religious life of the lower classes in any society, and this is very true of Americans. People who work with their hands keep few diaries, write few letters, and until recently have seldom been a subject of concern to the scholar. The genre painter captures such people as would a modern photographer.*You can see Jones, along with George Campbell and Janet MacFarlane, playing checkers in Todd’s General Store.
Today Todd’s is a place where you can buy reproductions of historic items, including some made at the museum, and see one of the back rooms set up with original objects that represent a sampling of the goods available in 1845. If you want to learn more about buying and credit in the 1840s, join us for Getting Ready for Spring on April 4. And to discover more about the art treasures at the Fenimore Art Museum, check out Hidden Treasures. Top: The Village Post Office, 1873. Thomas Waterman Wood (1823-1903). Fenimore Art Museum, Gift of Stephen C. Clark, N0393.1955 Bottom: George Campbell, Louis Jones, and Janet MacFarlane in Todd’s General Store about 1945. *Louis C. Jones, “Genre in American Folk Art,” in Three Eyes on the Past, 167. “Genre in American Folk Art” is reprinted with permission from John C. Milley, ed., Papers on American Art (Philadelphia, Pa.: The Friends of Independence National Historic Park, 1976.)