Several years ago one of our female guards was sitting alone doing routine paperwork at a desk in the basement of Fountain Elms on a quiet Sunday morning before the Museum opened to the public. Fountain Elms, the ancestral home of the founders of the Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute, was built 160 years ago. Two generations of the Institute’s founders were born, lived and died in the house. The guard heard something drop on the floor of what is called the Terrace Gallery. Then she heard “six or seven woman’s footsteps” on the staircase that connects the basement to that gallery. The sound of the footsteps raised the hair on the back of her neck and a shiver down her spine. She rose from her desk, walked towards the staircase, looked around the corner but no one was there. At this point she called another MWPAI staff member who was also working inside the Museum who assured her that no body else was in the building.
Other MWPAI employees have had similar para-natural experiences in Fountain Elms ranging from seeing a gargoyle-like apparition with glowing eyes in the attic; guard dogs who bark, growl, whimper, whine, twitch their ears, or refuse to go up the staircase to the second floor; cool, breeze-like sensations of someone walking past them in the darkness; doors, window shades, and security ropes that close or reattach themselves for no apparent reason, the surprising discovery in the attic of Maria Proctor’s wedding gown on the 100th anniversary of her wedding; the sounds of a baby crying or children playing; historic furniture that inexplicably appears in doorways; and elevators that suddenly activate in the middle of the night.
A tape recorder was once left in Fountain Elms overnight to document any “ghostly activity.” One security guard even called out in the middle of the night: “Make your presence known.” The results of these investigations are still being assessed.
If you have any stories, experiences, or explanations that would help us solve the riddle of the (friendly?) ghost at Fountain Elms, please post your comments here.
This month, the Institute and community celebrate the 50th anniversary of our Museum of Art designed by Philip Johnson. For me, it’s a particularly special occasion because I spent many years working with the man.
I graduated high school in June of 1978 with honors in secretarial studies. With no money for college I sought full-time employment with the thought of school a few years down the road. Among the jobs I interviewed for was executive secretary for Johnson / Burgee Architects.
I went to the 37th floor of the Seagram Building at Park Avenue & 53rd Street. Here I first met Philip Johnson. Needless-to-say, I was impressed. His eyes were bright black spots that bore right through me, yet he smiled and pumped my hand vigorously. I thought he had such an impish look on his face for an older person. The office manager, Mrs. Terry, showed me around the executive offices, and I saw photos of many of their buildings, including the Institute’s Museum of Art. I was hired shortly thereafter.
My first year with the firm Mr. Johnson was awarded the Gold Medal by the American Institute of Architects, their highest accolade. In 1979 he won the first Pritzker Prize, honoring an architect of international stature. Some of his best known works were conceived and constructed during my tenure [Crystal Cathedral, AT&T Corporate Headquarters, Transco Tower, PPG Place, RepublicBank Center]. I had the pleasure of conversing regularly with architects of great reputation, including I.M. Pei, Richard Meier, Frank Gehry, Cesar Pelli, and MichaeI Graves plus meeting artists such as Frank Stella, Andy Warhol, Louise Nevelson, Jasper Johns and Julian Schnabel. Also, high-powered developers including GeraId D. Hines and Donald Trump (who called me “doll”) visited on a regular basis and doyens such as Christophe de Menil and Kitty Carlisle Hart dropped by for lunch.
I ended up working for Mr. Johnson for 11 exhilarating years, until November 1989. I’ve never come across a person with a more dynamic personality. He could be engaging, funny, charming, abrupt, callous and critical, sometimes all in one conversation. There is no doubt in my mind that he was a genius. And when he was in high spirits, the sun didn’t shine any brighter.
I never did get to college, but believe me I had quite the education!
The Museum of Art building celebrates its 50th anniversary this weekend!
On Saturday, October 15, 1960, the Institute opened its fancy new Museum, designed by Philip Johnson (1906-2005), to throngs of curious visitors from Utica and beyond. We are celebrating with the exhibition, “Look for Beauty: Philip Johnson and Art Museum Design.” The show includes models, drawings, floor plans, and historical documents to tell the story about Johnson’s artistry and the Museum of Art’s history.
Johnson himself was quite a character, given to saying things like, “Of course I’d rather build for God. But if Mammon comes along and asks me to build, what do you want me to say? God hasn’t asked.”
Institute staff members honor Johnson:
When you first walk onto a campus that houses one of the northeast’s finest art collections, how can you not be impressed? Let’s add to that a school that teaches art to everyone from hobbyists to college students looking to make art a career. Then, on top of all of that, add a performing arts program that brings the world’s finest musicians and films to the area.
Yes, when I first came to Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute in the Spring of 2009, I was impressed by what I saw. But I soon learned that what I saw was only the surface; there was more to hear beyond what I was seeing. After spending time listening to the staff I became more impressed with the creative processes that are behind the array of programs here.
Behind every exhibition, program, performance and class, there are dedicated staff members who spend months and even years planning and preparing these presentations. With this blog you will be able to hear, first-hand, their stories.
This week, we celebrate the 50th anniversary of our Philip Johnson-designed Museum of Art building and in 2011 we celebrate the 75th anniversary of the founding of the Institute. The initial vision of our founding families has grown into a world-class museum, concerts with international performing artists, a School of Art that educates a community of children and adults and PrattMWP which prepares students for a future creating art.
We have named this blog “Voices” because it showcases our insight and provides a forum for you to experience, from the inside, more about MWPAI. Even more importantly it invites you to share your thoughts and insight into what we do. We look forward to hearing from you
Daniel E. O’Leary
President, Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute