Becoming Clear Comfort: History of a Landmark brings to light the history of the museum’s National and New York City Landmark building, tracing its path from one-room Dutch farmhouse in the 1690s, to Victorian Gothic cottage and home to early American photographer Alice Austen (1866-1952), to protected landmark, to public museum. Presented upon the museum’s 30th anniversary and as part of the celebrations for the 50th anniversary of the NYC Landmarks Law, this exhibition explores the Alice Austen House’s significance in New York City history and tells the fascinating story of the saving of the house from threatened destruction.
The exhibition explores the many layers of history represented in the house, including its Dutch origins dating back to the 1690s and the many architectural changes over time. Select photographs by Alice Austen of the home convey the strong ties and pride she felt toward Clear Comfort, her home of 78 years and her artistic muse. The hardships faced will also be presented through the tragic story of Alice Austen’s eviction from her family home when she could no longer afford mortgage payments. Stories of other residents of the house over the centuries will be revealed, including Alice Austen’s lifelong companion Gertrude Tate, as well as later renters and caretakers. Clear Comfort also represents a preservation success story about a group of concerned citizens and prominent photographers and architectural scholars who came together and fought to save the house from development in the 1970s and open the home as a public museum in 1985. The exhibit will also look at the restoration efforts around preserving the house in the 1980s and recent restoration work in 2014. The Alice Austen House stands on the north shore of Staten Island as a reminder of the power of place and the importance of preserving history.
Becoming Clear Comfort is co-curated by Paul Moakley and Shiloh Aderhold, with essays by architectural historians Francis Morrone and Barnett Shepherd. The exhibition is generously supported by the New York Council for the Humanities and, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council. Becoming Clear Comfort celebrates the 30th anniversary of the Alice Austen House and is presented in association with the NYC Landmarks50 Alliance to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the New York City Landmarks Law.