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MANCHESTER CENTER – Do we locals sometimes act like tourists back home? A tourist dives into some of the best spots in a place, eager to experience what it has to offer. Too often we locals – OK, I’ll speak for myself – too often I settle into a rut and skip places that tourists scour for hours looking for. I decided to be a tourist in Northshire and see what I was missing.
First stop: the American Fly Fishing Museum in Manchester Center. Luckily, this turns out to be an excellent time to visit the museum since it has just completed its rebranding. Maybe the word “rebranding” needs to be rebranded, but basically it’s an exercise in identity. Who are we? What have we been and how can we be better in the future? Organizations (and individuals?) that don’t stop and take stock risk becoming the next Sears, Atari or Zenith.
We can see the question of identity in relief if we go back to the original artwork used by the museum in the late 1960s and early 1970s: Singular white man, old fashioned outfit, cane and old-fashioned reel – nostalgia for men’s white, perhaps, but not exactly an embrace of the sport in the future. This logo was discontinued a long time ago.
The recent rebranding effort took about a year, executive director Sarah Foster told me, with those involved focusing first on core values and attributes (water, fish, fly, as well as preserving the environment). fly fishing history and artifacts, and an appeal to a wide audience). The group then moved on to how best to illustrate these aspects.
She showed me several competing examples for the logo. The group liked the shield, which implied protection. Administrator Adam Trist, in his rebranding blog, notes that the museum was looking for a vibrant color palette, suggesting waters.
Leaders emphasized the acronym. Just as Kentucky Fried Chicken morphed into KFC 30 years ago, the American Museum of Fly Fishing, perhaps more steeped in tradition, has just sought out the livelier AMFF (11 syllables up to four), an acronym not as graceful as a floating fly line. through the air. Well, maybe – if you pause: AM … FF. But too bad. The acronym was widely used by the members, according to Foster, so highlighting it seemed fair.
But let’s get to the museum itself, shall we? Although the museum is close to and supported by the Orvis flagship store, it is a stand-alone entity and not an ancillary operation of Orvis. At the museum, I was greeted by Bob Goodfellow, a well-known man and former art director of National Geographic magazine. Her dog, Emme, is also part of the care team, sometimes going back and forth outside, even in the snow. Bob gave me the general layout: fishing art collection, Joan and Lee Wulff exhibit, upstairs library. The space is modern, fresh and airy, in short, welcoming.
Before I get to the exhibits and other aspects of the museum, let me admit something: I’ve been fly-fishing maybe three times in my life, the last time 20 years ago, and the more I caught was low foliage. While I marvel that a person can tie a fly smaller than a kernel of popcorn, my typical day isn’t spent thinking about, let alone participating in, fly fishing.
I’m sure fanatics, who know their wet flies from nymphs and dry flies, will approach the museum differently from me, a fishing blunderer.
Enter the art collection. Right away you’ll see an 1873 painting by Edward Lampson Henry titled ‘Fishing by the Stream’, a bucolic scene of well-dressed people, dog nearby. Take a closer look and you’ll see the incompetent, quoted man grabbed his dog, not a fish, prompting passers-by to take a look. The painting suggests a different perspective on humor in 1873; most of us today wouldn’t find poking a dog with a hook a real knee-jerk. But as the placard suggests, we see the tensions of people in this era striving – and failing – to return to a more “natural” state.
This tension also appears in Robert Robinson’s painting “Fly Fishing” (1933), depicting a mechanic who, in the process of towing a car (background) took a moment to park his tow truck and cast a line into the stream, until the consternation of a policeman in the background. As the sign states, “During the height of the Great Depression, the image of a mechanic eager to reconnect with the natural world would have resonated with viewers.”
Women are represented in the collection, albeit in the context of their time. One painting, “Tossing Trout” (1949), is by James Montgomery Flagg, the artist who drew Uncle Sam proclaiming “I want you for the US Army”. This painting depicts a smiling, veiled woman casually flipping a fish in a frying pan (fish flies rather than fly fishing). The painting reinforces the sexist tropes of the time: she cooks, she’s happy about it, and she even has her lipstick in the woods.
There are other paintings of woodland scenes: a fisherman and a stream painted in soothing greens and blues. I found myself drawn not only to the fishing depicted, but also to what the paintings suggested about the people – the artist and the subjects.
The next room is dedicated to Joan and Lee Wulff, “basically royalty,” as Bob puts it. Google Joan and Lee Wulff and more will show 608,000 results. They just get an inadequate paragraph here. The Wulffs personified the genius of fishing. A looping short film shows Lee Wulff shooting three fish on a cast. (Ask Bob how the hell he did that.)
Lee invented the fly fishing vest and the concept of catch and release. An exhibit shows tiny flies that Lee has tied, calling for a dexterity not found in mere mortals. In 1991, Lee sadly died of a heart attack at the age of 86, while piloting his plane. Joan lives, alive at age 96, in New York’s upper Beaverkill Valley, still teaching fly fishing. She has taught so many people for so long that one observer points out that there is a little Joan Wulff in the casts of thousands in streams around the world. In the film’s loop, she is casually depicted in a fish, making a difficult move seem effortless. She still holds records for distance – achieved when she competed against men only – and throwing accuracy. A museum professional described Joan this way: “She’s a badass.”
To understand what was on display at the museum, I spoke to Kirsti Scutt Edwards, Head of Collections. (Full disclosure: Kirsti is a neighbor and friend.) As she showed me the many boxes and shelves of material that had arrived over the years, I got an idea of the immense scope of her work. For example, the museum houses hundreds of books related to fishing, the oldest of which dates back to 1597.
She showed me fascinating sketchbooks by Casimir Naleway, which were part of a large collection. Naleway filled sketchbooks, usually one sketch a day, sometimes with detailed explanations. These sketches of flies are meticulously detailed, sometimes in black and white, sometimes in color, and the explanations are expressed with precision without a crossed-out word on hundreds of pages. The entries suggest a very organized and disciplined mind, a person who took great satisfaction in detailing flies for the act itself, without thought of publication. But the museum knows little about him. He is believed to have worked in the Chicago steel mills and kept notebooks from the 1940s through the 1970s. (So: challenge to readers — who is Casimir Naleway? My Google search turned up a Casimir Casey Naleway ( maybe?), but nothing more. the future?)
Kirsti’s days aren’t all spent looking for mysterious illustrators. Only 5-10% of the collection, she estimates, is on display. The museum constantly receives donated private collections, which it catalogs so that future museum employees can find objects and consider them for exhibitions. She is also part of the team that determines which artifacts go into an exhibit, the Joan and Lee Wulff exhibit being a great recent example. Sometimes a piece is too big and just doesn’t fit well with the other pieces on display. For this particular exhibit, the museum had far more artifacts than it could display.
So here are some thoughts. Do you have to know or even be interested in fly fishing to appreciate this museum? Surprisingly, no: I was not so drawn to the intricacies of flies and fishing techniques. I’m sure anglers would find the displays fascinating on another level, one that I couldn’t appreciate. I was more attracted to people who were passionate about sports. There is beauty in living like the Wulffs, immersed and excelling in what was a calling for them. Plus, the art on display is beautiful on its own and provides insight into the story.
My recommendation: Be a tourist. Go to the museum when it opens, maybe on a Thursday. Pet the friendly dog at the door. Talk to Bob. (He has a big name tag saying Bob, and he could stand in for Santa in a pinch.) Pay a visit, if he’s not busy. And then treat yourself to lunch somewhere and reflect on the wonders you’ve seen.
Local becomes tourist: A visit to the American Museum of Fly Fishing | Entertainment
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