'Art at War' exhibit premiers June 4-6 at Point of the Bluff Vineyards

Staff reports
The Chronicle-Express
The “Art at War” exhibition will be available for the public to enjoy at the Point of the Bluff Vineyard, 10489 County Road 76, Hammondsport, as part of a special three-day kickoff event the weekend of June 4-6. After that, the exhibit will return to the Glenn Curtiss Museum in Hammondsport until the fall.

HAMMONDSPORT – When you think about an art exhibit, the only conflict you might imagine is the one the artist has transforming an abstract idea into something tangible for the rest of the world to see. Chances are, you don’t envision fighter planes or battleships. And maybe it’s the juxtaposition of art and war that makes the upcoming exhibit at the Glenn H. Curtiss Museum in Hammondsport so interesting. Or the rareness of the collection of historic aviation artifacts from World War I and World War II (some dating back over 100 years).

It seems, a few years back, the museum’s curator unexpectedly uncovered some long-forgotten canvases rolled in archival boxes and kept in deep storage where they had been for decades. What they possessed, they later learned, was a rare collection of historic insignia art that appeared on fighter planes from WWI and WWII.

“Our collection was primarily from the golden age of early naval aviation,” says Ben Johnson, executive director at the museum, “when open-cockpit biplanes launched from the decks of the earliest aircraft carriers, U.S. Navy forward bases, and even battleships! Many could be directly connected to U.S. Navy units from the 1920s to as late as 1940. The titans of early American aviation were represented ... Some ships involved were equally astonishing: USS Lexington, USS Saratoga, USS Ranger, and perhaps the most unexpected, the USS Arizona. Yes, that Arizona ... The remaining pieces were definitely French and ... represented French squadrons roughly dating from 1914-1918.”

The museum has been collaborating with Point of the Bluff Vineyards for over a year in the process of carefully restoring these vintage canvases and mounting them so that they might be put on display as part of the upcoming “Art at War” exhibition, which will run at the Curtiss Museum over the summer, but will first be made available for the public to enjoy at the winery’s beautiful event pavilion as part of a special three-day kickoff event the weekend of June 4-6. After that time, the exhibit will return to the museum until the fall when a tour is expected.

When asked why Point of the Bluff is involved with this unique event, Brian Durnin, general manager at the winery, says, “At Point of the Bluff, we have long been inspired by Glenn Curtiss's impact on the Keuka Lake region and the entire aviation community. We take inspiration from his industrious work ethic and creative soul.

"We have been looking for an art show to host at our event pavilion and have been working with Ben to showcase something related to Glenn Curtiss. When Ben found these pieces in deep storage and approached asking for assistance in the restoration and preservation, we knew that it would be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to restore a lost part of history.

"We feel honored to be a part of the restoration and story of this fantastic piece of history. We hope that this artwork tours the world and is seen by many people who want to know more about the Finger Lakes region and the Glenn Curtiss story.”

For the special kickoff event at the winery, Friday evening will be a 90-person dinner catered by the The Park Inn. This will take place 5:30 - 8:30 p.m. with a three-course meal, viewings of the art, a jazz band, and a few different speakers. 

Saturday and Sunday will be a more casual viewing of the art with incremental time slots for reservations. Guests will view the exhibition while enjoying some wine and light hors d'oeuvres during their time slots. There will be jazz music both of these days as well. This will take place from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. both days. 

With fewer than 700 residents, Hammondsport is known as a pivotal spot with regards to wine, but it also played a key role in the development of early aviation thanks to the efforts of aviation pioneer Glenn Curtiss, who joined Alexander Graham Bell and others as part of the Aerial Experiment Association (AEA). Curtiss is known as the Father of Naval Aviation, so it seems only fitting these unusual pieces of naval history and art would find their way into the collection. He also held the first public flight in the country and the first “cross-country” flight (thrusting the concept of flight into the light for the public to see for themselves, helping to make air travel more than some mysterious thing folks did in secret).

Robert R. “Buddy” Macon, deputy director of the National Naval Aviation Museum, says it is “The finest collection of its type that I have ever seen in over 40 years, and I would be amazed if there is anything that currently exists that could rival it. The fact that the collection has survived over 100 years and is being preserved to be made available for the next 100 is truly a once in a lifetime opportunity. Everyone should take the time, make the pilgrimage to the Glenn Curtiss Museum and take it all in.”

To learn more about the three-day kickoff event at Point of the Bluff, visit the event section of the winery’s website. Tickets are available for purchase on EventBrite.com under the name “WWI & WWII Vintage Aircraft Insignia - Grand Opening Exhibition.”