Genesee Country Village
(This column was first published in the August 12, 2002 Buffalo News.)
Although it first opened in 1976, I visited the Genesee Country Village in Mumford for the first time just last year. I even had lunch then with Stuart Bolger. He is the man founder John L. Wehle brought in to develop this remarkable site. In our conversation Bolger was most excited about two things: the opera house that was being added to the village and the village’s antique baseball team, one of whose hats he wore to that luncheon.
I was so impressed with this re-creation of a 19th century village that I returned last week with my wife to show her what the brochure calls “the largest collection of 19th century buildings in the East.” Of course my interest was in the Gallery of Wildlife and Sporting Art and the Nature Center, but Doris saw to it that we toured the rest of the grounds as well.
In the very first home we explored we met Rose Sherman, at 86 the village’s eldest employee. Like most of the over one hundred staff members, this friendly octogenarian was dressed in clothes appropriate to those times. On her, of course, they found their best fit.
Of the many other exhibits we were most impressed with blacksmith Don Kieffer and potter Mark Presher. We watched Mark work a lump of wet clay into a lovely pitcher. And we learned from Don the remarkably complex process early smiths had to go through to fix the iron rim of a broken wagon wheel.
Interesting as these visits were, I couldn’t wait until we returned to the sculpture garden and the art gallery. When we did, I was more than satisfied.
Most impressive to me among the outdoor bronzes are the giant “Genesee Eagle” by Kent Ullberg, Dan Ostermiller’s alert grizzlies in “Mountain Comrades,” and two statues by Ken Bunn, his “Descending Cougar,” tail-twitching and ready to leap down from its pedestal, and “Bounding Doe,” the deer’s body delicately balanced on just two thin legs. That these artists are able to convey pulsating life through unforgiving metal is a testimony to their amazing talent.
Equally fascinating was the group of smaller but still almost life-sized replicas of wild turkeys on their “Strutting Grounds.” These and several other sculptures, including a lovely one of swimming turtles inside the gallery, are by zoologist and marine biologist D. H. S. Wehle, son of the village founder.
The gallery is divided into nine halls, each with its own theme -- English sport, Africa, western America, and so on. To me the wildlife paintings and sculptures are of most interest and there are so many of them that I found myself drawn too quickly from one to another.
I was especially struck with the serenity of C. E. Monroe’s “Night Walk,” a black bear pacing across a moonlit field; with the delicacy of Zack and Danna Dean’s wood and acrylic hawk carvings; and at the other extreme with the power of Bruno Liljefors’ sea eagles attacking an eider in “Marin.” A Swedish artist, Liljefors has long been a favorite of mine, equaled only by our own New York State artist, Louis Agassiz Fuertes.
Among the sculptures I was most attracted to “Boundary Waters,” with its paddlers lifting their loaded canoe over the waves of a rapids.
I have been told that a perfect way to tour the Genesee Country Village is on one of its “Yuletide in the Country” celebrations in December which include a buffet meal. Reservations are required for this event and it is important to sign up early. To do so call 585-538-6822 or visit the GCV website. -- Gerry Rising