Historic Paintings at James Prendergast Library

The James Prendergast Art collection, located at the James Prendergast Library in Jamestown, NY, consists mostly of paintings bequeathed from the Prendergast family in 1889; however, Elizabeth Gillmer Packard donated nine paintings in 1960, and community members and organizations have donated individual pieces over time. Upon the untimely death of James Prendergast in 1879, grandson of the accredited founder of Jamestown, the family started construction on what is now the James Prendergast Library. The library was constructed by Rochester architect A. J. Warner in a "Richardsonian Romanesque" style. Originally occupying a city block, the library opened its doors in 1891 with over 8,500 volumes; in 1960, the library would receive an alteration including the incorporation of offices, meeting rooms, storage space, and the Art Gallery.

In addition to planning the library in memory of her son, Mary Norton Prendergast also provided in her will for the purchase of oil paintings to be donated to the library. The funds she left behind upon her death in 1889 were used to procure 32 oil paintings, referred to as the "Prendergast Bequest." Most of the paintings were purchased from the J.J. Gillespie Company Fine Art Galleries in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The paintings are chiefly from European artists, ranging from Dutch, Spanish, Italian, Belgian, and French. The works also represent the gambit of popular subjects during the 19th century, which include: children, animals, military/nationalism, still lifes, scenes from fashion, sea pieces, and landscapes. The second installment of art would still come from the Prendergast family; however, this time the paintings are from the family's personal collection. Common in this collection, referred to as the "Prendergast Estate," are landscapes of Prendergast property (painted by J.W. Bell, and not included in the Historic Paintings at James Prendergast Library digital collection on New York Heritage) and family portraits (painted by Daniel Huntington).

The third major art installment would come from Elizabeth Gillmer Packard of Lakewood, NY, in 1960, upon her passing. Her bequest augmented the collection by 9 oil paintings, all from American painters. The incorporation of these paintings holds extra significance to the collection because these were created by American artists; out of the original 32, only 4 paintings were American. This wasn't uncommon, however, for European art was imported in order to establish a new sense of sophistication after the Civil War. The paintings in the "Packard Estate," then, represent the eventual return of interest to American landscape subject matter.

The physical collection poses many unique problems for the James Prendergast Library: The paintings are often inquired about, but many are hung in the meeting room, where they are inaccessible to the public if the room is in use. Digitizing the collection provides access to these materials but proved to be a challenging solution. Controlled lighting, as well as a professional camera, were provided by the digitization team. Other factors, such as frame stability and hanging techniques, further complicated the project because the works could not be removed from the wall. Some paintings were encased in glass, so those photographs needed to be manipulated with Adobe Photoshop in order to balance the histogram and remove the reflection of the flash. The photographing was done with a Nikon D5000 D-SLR, and only lighting that was brought as part of the photography equipment was used (all other lights having been turned off) in order to create a controlled, even lighting environment for each painting.

Collection owners: Chautauqua-Cattaraugus Library System; James Prendergast Library