The Amazing Art Legacy of Rufus Grider
One of the most amazing collections of art depicting the Mohawk Valley in stagecoach, turnpike and tavern days is the Rufus Grider collection of manuscripts in the New York State Library Archives in Albany.
The albums of his pen-and-ink sketches and watercolors were acquired by the New York State Library in October 1941. Grider’s artistic endeavors of places and objects related to New York State history began in August 1886, while sketching the buildings erected by Sir William Johnson at Johnstown, Fulton County, New York; this is when he said that he first came up with the idea of making a “collection of pictures of old and new & curious objects possessed by inhabitants” of the Mohawk Valley. He decided he could also draw objects that “formerly existed” if he could find individuals who could “describe the objects & recognise [sic] them when drawn or restored to view."
Initially he drew views of buildings and landscapes, then Indian relics and finally “any object suited for illustration,” including documents, which he “copied by tracing, making a complete duplicate of the original”.
From 1886 to about 1900, whenever his “school duties allowed,” Grider traveled up and down the Mohawk Valley, with occasional excursions to the Cherry and Schoharie valleys and Lake George and Lake Champlain, in search of historic buildings, battlefields, the sites of ancient forts, the relics of Indians and early settlers, all of which he drew or copied and then arranged – with explanatory notes – on pages of albums.
Rufus Alexander Grider was born April 13, 1817, in Lititz, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, a town founded by members of the Moravian Congregation in 1756. Grider’s ancestors came from Switzerland and Grider was confirmed in the Moravian Church. He graduated from John Beck’s School for Boys in Lititz. He taught art at the Canajoharie Academy until retiring in 1898.
In the October 1, 1888 preface to Volume I, Grider states the object of his work was twofold: “to preserve the memory of very many interesting objects of this locality – which might otherwise be lost – and secondly, for the pleasure such researches gave me, the greater the difficulty of solving a mystery, the greater the interest”.
By the time of Grider’s death in 1900, he had compiled nine volumes containing 1,041 pieces, including 623 water color sketches, 42 water color portraits, 169 tracings of manuscripts, 81 original engravings, seven original manuscripts, 71 tracings of maps and plans, 23 photographs and 25 water color drawings of powder horns.
The first five volumes are devoted primarily to the history of the Mohawk Valley region of New Yew York State. The first three include a potpourri of images that include historic buildings and structures, natural features, early family records and historical documents, and Indian artifacts; the fourth devoted to the first commercial highways of the state, including the rivers, canals and turnpikes, and the fifth, with text as well as pictures, telling the story of the invasion of the Mohawk and the Schoharie valleys by Sir John Johnson and his Indians and Tories in 1780.
Volume six contains material on Fort Ticonderoga, Lake Champlain, Lake George and other parts of the state, while volume seven is devoted entirely to the Cherry Valley, and volume eight, to the Schoharie Valley. The ninth volume contains text and illustrations devoted to the Continental Road built by General Sullivan’s army between the Mohawk River and Otsego Lake in 1779 during the expedition that destroyed the settlements and crops Iroquois Indians in central and western New York.