The art collection at the New York State Museum features a broad spectrum of works relating to the Empire State from the colonial period into the twentieth century.
Portraits by such nineteenth century notables as John Wesley Jarvis, Daniel Huntington, and Henry Inman grace the collection, as do works by less well known but regionally significant artists like Ezra Ames, Samuel Sexton, and James H. Cafferty. In fact, one of the collection's strengths is its assembly of early nineteenth century portraits by New York State "plain painters," many of whom remain anonymous. In the decades before portrait photography, these non-academic and semi-academic professionals limned the countenances of a burgeoning, self-interested middle class.
The Museum's collection of nineteenth century landscapes includes works by Jasper Cropsey, Worthington Whittredge, and Edward Gay, as well as such regional non-academics as Levi Wells Prentice and Fritz Vogt. Vogt's farmscape portraits are important documents of rural Upstate in the 1890s.
Among the collection's gems is the collection of works by genre artist Edward Lamson Henry (1841-1919). Henry, who lived and worked in New York City and the Catskills, was one of the late nineteenth century's foremost purveyors of nostalgia for early American life. He recorded actual artifacts and structures in meticulously crafted genre compositions recalling life in pre-Civil War America. The Henry collection includes hundreds of sketches, finished canvases, and photographs, most of which were donated by family members prior to World War II.
In developing an art collection that exists within a larger context of historical artifacts, considerations of provenance and information regarding subject and artist figure as importantly in the process of acquisition as do questions of connoisseurship. Selection criteria recognize the mandates of New York State Education Law, which describes the parameters of the History collection as "works of art, objects of historic interest and similar property...owned by the state...[or] historical objects of personal property relating to the history of the colony and state of New York." Since the nineteenth century, the collection has grown through donation, purchase, and transfer from other state agencies.
The State Museum's communications collections represent various means for recording and transmitting information. Communications devices range from pencils and pens to computers. The most spectacular of the latter category may be the 2,400 cubic foot Univac Mark III used by the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance to process sales tax returns beginning in the mid-1960's.
Other communications objects in the Museum include telegraph keys, relays, sounders, recorders and cables; printing presses, newspaper folding machine, paper cutters, binders, movable type, composing sticks, linotypes machines, other type setting equipment, engraved plates and stereotypes; telephones, switchboards, linemen's tools and teletype equipment; radio transmitters (one from WHAM in Rochester in the early 1930's, several from RCA Communication's commercial short-wave site in Suffolk County, and amateur transceivers), broadcast receivers and their component parts (such as vacuum tubes, condensers, batteries and loud speakers), television receivers and television camera.