American Masquerade: Revolution in the Catskills

Calendar: 6/06/15 – 10/12/15 American Masquerade: Revolution in the Catskills at the Zadock Pratt Museum examining the events of the Anti-Rent Wars of New York State with a special focus on this historic conflict as it played out in Columbia, Delaware, Greene and Schoharie Counties in the mid 1800’s. The exhibit will feature original artwork, masks, an authentic Calico Indian costume, tin horns, posters, newspaper clippings and handbills. 14540 Main Street, Prattsville, NY 12468, 518-299-3258, www.zadockprattmuseum, FB: Zadock Pratt Museum, Open Thurs-Sun., 10 AM-5 PM, $10 admission, children under 12 free.

The Zadock Pratt Museum’s season opens with an exhibition exploring the region’s proud history in the Anti-Rent Wars which ended feudalism in America. In 1839 tenant farmers in the Hudson Valley & Catskill Mountains organized a successful grassroots protest campaign ending Dutch and English aristocrats’ control of thousands of acres in Dutchess, Columbia, Greene, Ulster, Albany, Schoharie and Delaware counties. In Zadock Pratt’s home on Prattsville’s Main Street, the exhibit is also the site of Pratt’s brass band, welcome home party for the jailed Anti-Renters’ whose life sentences were commuted as the political winds changed. Memorial Day Saturday through Columbus Day Sunday, the museum is open Sat., June 6 to Oct. 11, 10 AM-5 PM, Thurs.-Mon.

Tenant farmers’ Anti-Rent flag made the statement loud and clear, “DOWN WITH THE RENT.”   They built the local movement with rallies, drinking songs, newspapers and ZPMantirentwarspolitical candidates. They organized into regional groups with the younger men joining a Calico Indian “tribe” and pledged a secret oath to never reveal the members’ identities. Disguised in calico costumes and sheepskin masks, the farmers called from valley to valley blasting tin dinner horns to rally the troops and intimidate the rent collectors. Some Anti-Renters contested the idea that the Livingstons, Van Rensselaers and other patroons had legal title to the land.  Some wanted to apply the rent paid and their sweat equity toward ownership. Some just wanted the opportunity to buy the land where their families had lived and worked since arriving in the new world. By 1845, New York property law was changed, retiring the leases as each generation of land owners died. The Anti-Rent movement planted the idea of individual rights leading directly to the Civil War, and paving the way for today’s campaigns addressing economic and social justice.

This little known story is told through a room-sized, wrap-around, timeline illustrating the development of the manor system, the struggle for the right of individuals to own their land andZPMantirentwars2 the culture clash with Native American principals of land stewardship. A collection of unusual and everyday farming tools shows the Natives’ and settlers’ common agrarian bond, evidence of shared technology and trade. As original Calico Indian costumes are extremely rare, a replica Calico Indian costume and mask are displayed with a traditional Algonquin calico ribbon shirt showing the two way appropriation of materials and ideas. Maps present the region’s Anti-Rent hot spots and a tapestry of diverse Native American populations whose treaties govern the care and maintenance of the same terrain.

Hanging in Pratt’s parlor, Thomas Locker’s large scale painting, Riders in the Moonlight shows the Calico Indians in action. A period piano displays poems and the lyrics by the creative down-renters with a soundtrack playing throughout the galleries. Co-curated by native American Scholar, Evan Pritchard and artist Fawn Potash, this project’s development has been a collaborative effort with major help from historians Carolyn Bennett and Susie Walsh, Director and Tour Guide respectively of the Zadock Pratt Museum; Karen Deeter, Lexington Town Historian; Tim Duerden, Director of the Delaware County Historical Association; Katherine Myers and Bob Kalb at the Shandaken Historical Museum; New Scotland Historical Association, Cyndi LaPierre, Director of the Mountaintop Historical Society; and Vernon Benjamin, author of The History of the Hudson River Valley: From Wilderness to the Civil War plus historically astute writer/editors Andrew Amelinckx and Paul Smart.

This event is made possible in part by the REDC initiative with the support of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the New York State Legislature, the Bank of Greene County and the Greene County Council on the Arts through the Greene County Legislature’s County Initiative Program.

What Do I Know? The Lost Settlement of Schohary Kill

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By Carolyn Bennett

I’ve been working on and off for twenty five years now as the Director of the Zadock Pratt Museum; I’ve been the Prattsville Town Historian for about a decade. During this time, I’ve learned a lot of individual facts about the “Town that Pratt Built,” often hearing from town residents with deep roots in the community that there was already a “town,” or, at least, a well developed settlement in “Prattsville” long before Pratt arrived in 1824. That settlement was called Schoharie Kill (a/k/a Schohary Kill).

I’ve considered the scant facts and the possible locations of Schoharie Kill for over two decades. I remember reading about several “rough cabins” on the banks of the Schoharie Creek, the body of water that runs right behind present-day Prattsville. Back in the day, that is, back in the days when I was new to Prattsville, Museum board members Andy Dresser and Fran Lutz brought me to their homes at the west end of Town to show me how two of these “cabins” had been moved up from the stream bank to be joined at the back with their respective homes. Since both homes were probably Pratt “worker” homes, the move might have occurred ca. 1830 when Zadock Pratt moved the road from stream bank to its present location at Route 23. While the flood of 2011 caused by Hurricane Irene damaged many of the historic homes on Prattsville’s Main Street, Andy and Fran’s former homes are still standing. The location of those creek-side cabins made me jump to the conclusion that those cabins were the lost settlement of Schoharie Kill.

How wrong I was!

American Masquerade

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Masks by Joyce Kozloff. Left: Voyages #41: Lesbos, 2005, acrylic/cast paper, 8.25 x 6.25 x 3.5” Right: Voyages #21: Pohnpei, 2004, acrylic, collage/cast paper, 8.25 x 6.25 x 3.5”. Masks by Joyce Kozloff will be featuring in “Acis and Galatea,” presented by the Catskill Mountain Foundation as part of American Masquerade.

The Mainly Greene Partnership Creates an Exciting Multi-Media Celebration of the History of the Masquerade Motif

A Canadian law quietly enacted in 2013 specifically bans people from wearing any sort of mask or face covering during an “unlawful assembly.” Under current Canadian law, a maximum ten-year sentence is being threatened against anyone convicted of concealment of one’s face. While Canadian law had already enacted a ban on covering one’s face during a criminal act, this newer law is said to be aimed directly at activists who wear masks at protests. In Oklahoma, lawmakers are planning to introduce a similar bill. Masks weren’t originally meant to conceal. From their beginning in ancient times, they were used for protection or ornamentation. It is believed that masks were used first to transfer supernatural power or call up “the gods.” Masks were used in ancient Roman festivals to signal that the necessity for polite behavior was not necessary and people were free for a short period of time to engage in “merry-making” beyond their rank or status. At the Carnivale of Venice, which dates back to 1268 CE, all were equal behind their masks. Even the Jewish Purim festivities make use of carnivalesque masks. The Iroquois Confederacy of North America used masks to heal. Himalayan masks acted as go-betweens with supernatural forces. Native Alaskan Yup’ik masks vary in size from three-inch finger masks to twenty pound masks that need several people to carry them. Whatever their use, masks have played an important part history and in helping us to understand what it means to be human by masquerading as something other than ourselves.

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This spring, Mainly Greene, a partnership of four Greene County, New York based non-profits, will explore the masquerade motif in a joint exhibit, “American Masquerade.” The core of the multimedia exhibit will be the Anti-Rent War of New York State, which took place from 1839 to 1845. The so-called “war” was actually a tenants’ revolt in upstate New York during the early 19th century, beginning in 1839 with the death of wealthy landlord, Stephen Van Rensselaer III.

Long after feudalism had ended in Europe, the old-world manor system was revived in the Hudson Valley and Catskill Mountains, granting millions of acres to transplanted European aristocrats to manage a land settlement scheme designed to transform the wilderness into agricultural communities. In 1839, the grandsons of the soldiers who fought for American independence found themselves paying rent to rich land owners, on farmland their families had cleared and worked for generations. The tenant farmers’ flag put it simply

Down With The Rent

Some Anti-Renters contested the idea that the Livingstons, Van Rensselaers and other Patroons had legal title to the land. Some wanted to apply the rent paid toward ownership. Some just wanted the opportunity to buy the land where their families had lived since arriving in the new world. There were Anti-Rent flags, rallies, drinking songs, newspapers and political candidates. They organized into regional groups, with younger men joining a Calico Indian “tribe,” pledging a secret oath to never reveal the members’ identities.

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Beginning on Saturday, June 6through Sunday, October 11 at the Zadock Pratt Museum in Prattsville, NY, the Mainly Greene Arts Partnership will begin a six month examination of American Masquerade, the historical and cultural uses of the mask in America and its roots in European culture. The museum exhibit 12 • www.catskillregionguide.com will tell the story of the Catskill Mountain farmers who disguised themselves in their wives’ calico dresses and sheepskin masks to intimidate the rent collectors on whose land the farmers were tenants. Underneath this story is a deeper, as yet untold story of the Native American claim on the land and their view of the Anti-Rent Wars. Noted author, teacher and Algonquin tribe member Evan Pritchard will join exhibit curator Fawn Potash in chronicling this as-yet hidden but essential part of the American story. Learn even more about the exhibits here.