GLENS FALLS — For the first time in over four months, The Hyde Collection opened its doors to visitors with a new exhibit on Saturday, and because of the the pandemic, strict social distancing protocols are in place.
Attendance was sparse early afternoon, but staff were expecting around 34 visitors throughout the day. Groups of four are permitted to enter the museum every 10 minutes in order to maintain social distancing.
Masks are mandatory and directional arrows on the walls point the way, but the safety measures weren’t enough to damper the spirits of Jonathan Canning, the museum’s curator and program director.
“Art is all about seeing the real thing, being in front of that unique object that was sculpted or forged, painted or drawn,” he said.
The museum was forced to shift its programming online during the shutdown, displaying a number of exhibits on its website through a series of high-definition digital photos.
But in the spacious Wood Gallery, a series of black-and-white photographs belonging to he J.S. Wooley Collection line the walls.
Wooley served as the official photographer of Silver Bay from 1908 to 1923 and captured familiar scenes throughout the region during that period.
Just to the right of the gallery’s entrance, a series of large photographs offering a glimpse of what the Lake George-area looked like during that era cover the wall. The lake’s iconic steamboats is seen in one, while a view of the Fort William Henry Hotel is captured in another.
Dozens of more photos of the region are spaced throughout the gallery.
Canning said the museum was originally planning to show a series of sculptures in the gallery, but the pandemic forced a shift in plans. He decided to go with the Wooley collection instead because he felt the familiarity of the images would appeal to people and attract visitors.
“Subject matter like this, which is the area we know but from 100 years ago, might just be more comfortable and sort of entice people to come out of lockdown and start going back into a museum,” Canning said.
Still, things are different.
The museum is divided into two separate self-guided tours so visitors can enjoy the art without bumping into each other.
Placards containing in-depth information of each exhibit are gone, replaced by a QR code visitors can scan for a guided audio tour in order to keep traffic flowing.
In the Hoopes Gallery, social distancing markers surround the gallery’s six cases which are spaced 6 feet apart from one another. Inside each are colorful, ornate hand-painted Russian lacquers. The exhibit has been displayed on the museum’s website for weeks through a series of digital photos.
Stanchions displaying “entrance” and “exit” signs help avoid clustering between cases.
Directional arrows point the walking path, and hand sanitizing stations are spaced throughout the museum, including the corridor between Hoopes Gallery and the iconic Hyde House.
Back at the entrance, the museum’s welcome desk is encased by plexiglass, and visitors must sign in and answer a series of questions relating to symptoms of COVID-19 for contact tracing purposes.
Reservations must be made in advanced and guests check-in through via a confirmation number to avoid contact.
Still, Canning said he hopes people can pause and enjoy the art, even with all the restrictions.
“We’ve slowed down, and that’s a good thing when going to an art museum,” he said. “I’m hoping that people, when they come in, will take their time in front of the piece.”
Chad Arnold is a reporter for The Post-Star covering the city of Glens Falls and the town and village of Lake George. Follow him on Twitter @ChadGArnold.