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.

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