Smithsonian Institution

The following article was written by Alan Junkins and published in JFA newsletter no. 15, Winter 2006.

Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum

Sometime after the Christmas 2005 season and after the snow was beginning to melt a bit in Maine, I began to think about the painting that Winslow Homer had done in July of 1875 of the Junkins Garrison. Donald Junkins had seen it in the mid-1970s and had purchased a slide of it at the gift shop at the Smithsonian, which several of us have copied and have prints of in our collections of Garrison paintings.

I made up my mind that I was going to try my hardest to find out where the original was and if we could go to see it and photograph it. I even had the idea that it should be available to the public at the Old York Historical Society, especially in the newly dedicated Junkins Family Scottish Heritage Room.

As far as we knew, it was not on display, as it was last seen by Donald Junkins in a very dirty condition hanging in a back office of the museum. The room was dark and filled with cigarette smoke, which didn't help the condition of the painting.

A year before, I had asked Tom Johnson, Curator of Old York, several times to try to find out about it. Tom said that he had written a letter and after no response he made several phone calls and seemed to be getting nowhere. In early March, I decided that I would try to get through to the museum.

I first went on-line to try to find a phone number. After finding more information than I ever wanted to know about the exhibits and shows that were going to be at the Cooper-Hewitt for the next hear, I finally got the general phone number. I got the usual answer with 10 options. Press one to hear the hours of operation of the museum; press 2 for directions on how to get there and which subways or bus lines operated which days; press 3 for a physical description of the building; press 4 for the entrance fees; press 5 for operating hours of the cafe; press 6 for up-coming shows and their features; press 7; press 8; press 9, etc. There was no way to get around listening to all of the options first before the last option, to be turned over to a live operator. Finally, I was able to ask the operator about the painting that I wanted to see. She put me on hold to transfer me to the department she thought I should talk to. Naturally, after waiting a few minutes, I was cut off and had to start all over again.

The next time, after going through the options and getting through to the operator, I was told that there was no one available in the department that day. I should call back tomorrow.

The next morning, I tried again, went through the process again, and was eventually connected with Floramae McCarron-Cates, Associate Curator, Drawings, Prints and Graphic Design. I gave Floramae my name, where I was from and what my mission was. Floramae acknowledged that she knew the painting and knew…"excuse me a second…I have an emergency here. Can you give me your phone number and I will call you back this afternoon."

There was no phone call that afternoon. The next morning I went thorough the same process again. When someone answered the phone with "Floramae McCarron-Cates," I was surprised but pleased. She was most gracious and said she knew the painting and would we like to see it? I naturally said "yes" and how and when could we come to New York to see the painting? We worked out a date and time, Friday, March 17th at 2:00 p.m. I was elated!

My mind not thinking clearly after the call, it finally dawned on me that Friday the 17th of March was St. Patrick's Day. In New York City, this is a major holiday and parade day. All the streets are closed and blocked off to traffic. Parking lots are fuller than usual and the streets are full of people. Even so, I was not about to miss this chance.

St. Patrick and Winslow Homer

On St. Patrick's Day, Nancy and I drove to New York City for an appointment with the Curator and the Associate Curator of the Cooper-Hewitt Museum to have a viewing of Winslow Homer's painting of the Junkins Garrison. We arrived in the area about noon and after several trips around the nearby blocks, we were able to get a policeman to remove a barrier on a side street next to the museum so we could get to a parking garage. We walked several blocks to the museum and found the entrance where we were to go in. After scouting out the area, we walked another block to a restaurant and had some lunch. After lunch, we walked back to the proper entrance and went in. A guard asked us who we were and who we wanted to see. He told us to have a seat and he would call upstairs for Floramae. We had just barely sat down when a woman came to the lobby and introduced herself to us. It was Floramae McCarron-Cates, Associate Curator. She took us to an elevator and up several levels.

When the doors opened, we stepped out into a large area where we were introduced to Dr. Gail S. Davidson, Curator and Head of the Drawings, Prints and Graphic Design Department. We could see behind her a large glass wall with a well lit room behind it. One wall was painted a rose red. In the center of the wall was hanging the lone painting in a beautiful frame, of what is now my own front yard with the large Garrison in it.

We were ushered into the viewing room to spend the next hour and a half with the Curator, Associate Curator, an intern and the three million dollar painting of the Junkins Garrison. During this time, we discussed the Town of York, the Old York Historical Society, how the property came into my hands, what happened to the Garrison, and the possibilities of having the painting in York on loan for a half year or so.

Some of the possibilities that came up were; whether Old York had the proper 24-hour security, fire protection, and an environmental system in any of their facilities. The insurance alone on the painting would be more than the total rest of the holdings of the Old York Historical Society. Interesting questions but not totally insurmountable, or the possibility of having an exact digital copy on canvas made and framed for the Junkins Family Scottish Heritage Room.

We left New York totally impressed with the Cooper-Hewitt Museum and the royal way we were treated. During the past eight months, there have been several letters and communications between Old York and the Cooper-Hewitt Museum to continue the possibilities of bringing the Winslow Homer painting home.

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