Two photos that multiplied: SUNY-New Paltz honors Dorsky Museum's retiring director Neil Trager this Saturday
NEW PALTZ -- Neil Trager, the Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art founding director who will be celebrated with a special retirement party this Saturday, May 10 at the institution that he was instrumental in building, may be among the quietest visionaries to grace the Valley in some time. When first hired by SUNY-New Paltz to run its on-campus teaching gallery in the early 1980s, the then-adjunct professor of Photography had done a bit of curating at the equally young Center for Photography at Woodstock, and was mostly interested in finding a way to support his family while simultaneously maintaining his love for making and appreciating images.
The main part of the collection that he was then to shepherd for over a quarter of a century was made up of several major pieces of American art, with a strong selection of Woodstock artists from the 1920s and 1930s (including a good George Bellows portrait) and a sizable print collection (including 60 rare Childe Hassams bequeathed to the college by Kingston-based industrialist Edward Coykendall in 1957). Some contemporary and world culture pieces had also made their way into the College Art Gallery as it was set up by requirement of the state Board of Regents when SUNY-New Paltz decided to offer the state system's first Master of Fine Arts degree in the early 1960s.
Before moving north to the Hudson Valley, Trager had taught in New York City schools. One of the reasons for his 1978 exodus was to "get back to being an artist." But then he found himself with a new baby, which he has since grown into one of the Hudson Valley's treasures.
"Right from the start I became very interested in setting the Museum's mission and building its permanent collection," Trager has said. "When I started, the gallery only owned two photographs. Now, through gifts and loans, we've got the largest collection in the region...about 2,500 photos all told."
Culture creates collectors and collectors create culture, Trager has said of his Museum and its mission, which has served as a center for the region's contemporary art scene as well as its history and a treasure trove of pertinent culture. "What I told Samuel Dorsky, years back, was that we needed a home for our permanent collection that would make us a great teaching museum, but also a beacon for the region," Trager noted of the man who gave the $350,000 that the director later leveraged into $3.5 million in building funds. "Bringing all this to fruition has been extremely gratifying."
Trager is retiring to the Santa Fe area, where much of the family whom he moved here to raise now resides. He's been pegged for some curating there, as well as continuing consulting here; but his big mission now is to get back to his own photography, his own art.
Among other things taking place as part of the upcoming celebration is the establishment of a new endowment fund to name the Dorsky's directorship permanently after Trager - the next best thing to keeping him around forever. But the party will be the fun event. It takes place Saturday, May 10 on the terrace out front of the Dorsky Museum at the center of the SUNY-New Paltz campus from 3 to 5 p.m. It will be moved inside into the lobby in case of rain. Call (845) 257-3860 for reservations, and visit www.newpaltz.edu/museum for information.
To view the complete article written by Paul Smart and reprinted in The Alamanac of Ulster Publishing click here.