Storied Objects: a material history of New Paltz

New Paltz

“You take an object…and you put it down in front of you and you start. You begin to tell a story.”

Edmund de Waal, The Hare with Amber Eyes 

This exhibition brings together a collection of artifacts, tools, knick-knacks, books, clothing, and other items that collectively tell the stories of New Paltz, New York. Today the site of a vibrant college, a favorite location for artists, outdoor enthusiasts, and quiet weekend retreats, New Paltz has a history that reaches back through the earliest records of American history and culture. It was once a crossroads in trade roads and hunting grounds for the region’s Native American cultures. Settled by Europeans in the seventeenth century, "Die Pfaltz" quickly developed into a thriving early American community. This place has thus witnessed a span of major historical events that have defined the American experience, from the Revolutionary War and slavery to the Vietnam protests of the twentieth century.

By its nature, the narrative we tell here is neither complete nor exhaustive. Based on the materials of history, what these stories share is a sense of dimension, extension, and richness: a button made in seventeenth-century Amsterdam that may have been a trading item between settlers and Indians; an autograph book that records the social circle of a nineteenth-century college woman; a collection of worn t-shirts that document the establishment of college radio in New York.

This collaborative material history originated in Prof. Cyrus Mulready’s Spring 2013 Honors Seminar at SUNY New Paltz and has grown from contributions from students in several subsequent iterations of the course.  In the summer of 2019, Prof. Mulready and Claire Dawkins undertook significant additions and revisions to the project with the support of funding from a Summer Undergraduate Research Experience grant at New Paltz.

You can read more in the following links about the class and project. It has  been conducted in collaboration with several local institutions and individuals: Historic Huguenot Street, Dr. Joseph Diamond of the SUNY New Paltz department of Anthropology, the Haviland-Heidgerd Collection at Elting Memorial Library in New Paltz, The Sojourner Truth Library at SUNY New Paltz, and the Southeastern New York Library Resources Council