"It's not that I'm so smart. It's just that I stay with problems longer."-- Albert Einstein
Parker Hayes (CGP '97) began the process that has ultimately led to the 2002 exhibition "Drawn Home: Fritz Vogt’s Rural America” in the fall of 1996, as a student in my American folk art class in CGP. His aptitude for knowing and understanding American folk art, and his frantic search for a thesis project, brought to mind my long-range goal of fully exploring the life and work of the well-known but highly mysterious Fritz Vogt. Vogt was a German immigrant who wandered on foot from house to house offering to draw beautiful linear renderings of the dwellings and farms in the towns and villages of the Mohawk Valley (northeast of Cooperstown) in the 1890s. Parker took this project on with enthusiasm and perseverance, and over the course of the next six years he compiled a large body of information on Vogt’s drawings, which he developed into an elctronic database. Much of this information is now available to scholars and the public in the form of the exhibition and catalogue that he produced for the Fenimore Art Museum.
The remarkable thing about Parker’s completion of this project is that it occurred in the midst of a busy professional career. Since graduating from Cooperstown in 1997 he held curatorial positions at the Airmen Memorial Museum at Andrews Air Force Base, the United States Memorial Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC, and at the Smithsonian Institution’s Traveling Exhibition Service. He also found time to come back to Cooperstown to share his experiences in the Vogt project with my folk art class, as shown in these photos.
The dedication and persistence that Parker demonstrated in his six-year pursuit of Fritz Vogt illustrates how a simple class project can blossom into an exciting and important contribution to the field. Not only was the Fritz Vogt exhibition featured at the Fenimore Art Museum in 2002, it also traveled to the American Folk Art Museum in New York City and the Mennello Museum of American Art in Orlando, Florida. The New York Times, reviewing Parker’s exhibit, called Vogt’s works “marvels of intricate patterning and layering” and asserted that the artist “tapped into a distinctively American ethos, a system of values that elevated homely materialism to something like a national religion.”
Parker said it best in his conclusion to his catalogue essay: “Fritz Vogt was a homeless man whose great skill was being able to convey the intimate and personal essence of what home meant. I think each one of these rural scenes was a home to Fritz Vogt.”
Parker Hayes passed away unexpectedly at the age of 36 on August 2, 2009. You can view the many tributes to him from people whose lives he touched here. I like to think that he also rescued a lost soul from a century before by painstakingly reconstructing the life and work of Fritz Vogt.