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New York's Fort Ticonderoga Shows Off Its Artistic Side
Visitors tour an art exhibit in the Deborah Clarke Mars Education Center at Fort Ticonderoga in Ticonderoga, N.Y., When Beth Hill, new executive director of the Fort Ticonderoga Association, arrived in May 2010, the fort was trying to rebound from the economic downturn, a steady decrease in attendance and the defection of a major donor. Things have really turned around since then, says board President Peter Paine Jr. AP Photo/Mike Groll.

By: Chris Carola, Associated Press

TICONDEROGA, NY (AP).- Plenty of cannon, muskets, bayonets, swords and other 18th-century military hardware are on display at Fort Ticonderoga in upstate New York. Officials claim to have one of the most extensive collections of military artifacts from the 1700s, rivaling those at the Smithsonian Institution and the Tower of London.

But there's more to see this summer and early fall at the historic site on Lake Champlain than relics from the French and Indian War and the American Revolution.

The fort's extensive art collection is getting equal billing with the weaponry on display. For the first time since the fort was rebuilt as a tourist attraction 102 years ago, 50 of Fort Ticonderoga's most important artworks are on display in a single exhibit.

They include a painting by Hudson River School founder Thomas Cole, engraved powder horns circa 1759, and a portrait of George Washington by Charles Peale Polk.

"You don't have to go to New York City to see great art," Christopher Fox, curator of collections, tells visitors to the fort, located in the southeastern Adirondacks 75 miles north of Albany. "You can go to Fort Ticonderoga and see many pieces that relate to various periods in American art."

The exhibit — titled "The Art of War: Ticonderoga as Experienced through the eyes of America's Great Artists" — is in the gallery on the lower floor of the new $23 million Mars Education Center, named for Forrest Mars Jr. and Deborah Clarke Mars. He's an heir to the Mars candy fortune; she's a Ticonderoga native.

Visitors to the new exhibit pass a large oil-on-canvas portrait of Deborah Mars. Once inside the intimate gallery, they see artwork that tells Fort Ticonderoga's story, from an 18th-century map drawn when the Lake George-Lake Champlain corridor was the focus of warring European empires to black-and-white photographs that capture the fort's crumbling condition before restoration was started by the Pell family in 1909.

The artwork includes side-by-side portraits of British Gen. James Abercromby and his French counterpart, the Marquis de Montcalm. Abercromby commanded the English army that attacked the French-built fort on July 8, 1758. The French, outnumbered 5-to-1, hastily built a defensive line of earth and log barricades about a half mile from the fort's walls.

Despite wave after wave of frontal assaults, the French line held while mowing down hundreds of redcoats with a hail of musket fire.

Two other items are linked to the pivotal year of 1759, when the British finally captured the fort, followed weeks later by their victory at the Battle of Quebec. The first is a painting made in 1774 by Thomas Davies, a British artillery officer who was part of the 1759 campaign. The scene shows the British encampment on the southern shore of Lake George. Fox said it's the earliest known painted image of the lake.

The other link to 1759 is a powder horn engraved with a map showing the British siege works outside the fort that year. Soldiers of the period commonly carved maps and other images onto powder horns during idle hours in camp, Fox said.

"They can be very important documents of what people were actually seeing," Fox said. "I included two powder horns in this exhibit to make the point that art isn't just paintings and prints that you hang on the wall."

The portrait of George Washington painted by Polk around 1790 is part of the exhibit not just for its stellar quality, Fox said. The Continental Army commander and future president visited Ticonderoga briefly during his tour of northern military outposts in July 1783, when he was waiting for word on the treaty that would end the American Revolution.

"He had fellow officers and friends who were at Fort Ticonderoga during the French and Indian War," Fox said.

The centerpiece of the exhibit is Cole's 1826 work, "Gelyna, or a View Near Ticonderoga." Considered the fort's most valuable and important piece, the painting depicts a fictionalized scene of a British officer coming to the aid of a wounded comrade lying on a wilderness outcropping, while smoke rises in the distant background from the 1758 Battle of Ticonderoga. It's the earliest known piece signed by Cole, an English-born artist regarded as the founder of the 19th-century American art movement known as the Hudson River School.

"Once his work gained popularity, it seemed the artists who were doing these types of dramatic landscapes began to copy his style," Fox said.

The exhibit also features 19th-century line engravings of the ruins of Fort Ticonderoga, a favorite subject of artists of the period. Unlike Europe, where centuries-old ruins dot the landscape, the United States offered few places where architecture from bygone eras could capture an artist's imagination. Ticonderoga, with its mountain backdrops and old fort ruins, fit the bill for American artists in the decades leading up to the Civil War.

The core of the fort's art collection were acquired in the first half of the 20th century by Sara and Stephen Pell, who restored the fort on the site where it stood before falling into disrepair after the Revolutionary War. Pell was a descendant of William Ferris Pell, the wealthy New York merchant who acquired the fort grounds in 1820.

Together, Sara and Stephen Pell spent decades building a collection that went beyond the glass cases filled with weapons and other martial artifacts viewed by generations of visitors.

"We're most obviously known as a fort," Fox said. "It's fair to say a lot of people wouldn't associate a military site with a place that has a lot of art related to topics outside the military sphere."

The Marses had a highly publicized falling out in 2008 with the fort's then-executive director and cut off their financial support after footing most of the bill for the new building. The couple has since divorced, and fort officials say Forrest Mars is once again among the fort's benefactors.

The exhibit ends when the fort closes for the season Oct. 20.


IF YOU GO ... Fort Ticonderoga, 100 Fort Ti Road, Ticonderoga, N.Y. Hours: 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily through Oct. 20, when the fort closes for the season. Admission: $15; $13.50 age 62 and older; $7 age 7 to 12; free for children younger than 7. For information: 518-585-2821 or click on the website

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.

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