A traveling exhibition about New Netherland — the 17th century Dutch province that stretched from modern-day Albany to parts of Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Connecticut – opens at the New York State Museum on December 12.
“Light on New Netherland,” open through February 8 in the Museum’s Terrace Gallery, provides insight into the role the Dutch played in the settlement and development of colonial America. Based on original Dutch documents in the collections of the New York State Library and State Archives, the exhibition traces the history of the Dutch in New Netherland, beginning with Henry Hudson’s exploration in 1609.
It is curated by Robert E. Mulligan, retired history curator at the State Museum, and produced by the New Netherland Institute to celebrate the 2009 quadricentennial of the Hudson voyage. The Institute works to enhance awareness of the Dutch history of colonial America by supporting the translation and publication of early Dutch documents through the New Netherland Project, located in the State Library and also supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities. The New Netherland Project has been working since 1974 to translate and publish the official 17th-century Dutch colonial documents of one of America’s earliest and longest-settled region.
The exhibition presents information about the fur trade that initially brought settlers to New Netherland, as well as the growth of farming and communities as families relocated there. It discusses the establishment of government, the practice of religion, and the interactions between settlers and native peoples, among other aspects of life in the colony.
Although New Netherland existed only from 1609 to 1664, when the colony was conquered by the English in a time of peace, the Dutch language, religion and culture could still be found in various pockets of the province well into the 19th century. The Dutch influence is still apparent in present-day American institutions and culture. Santa Claus and American Christmas traditions trace back to Sinterklaas or St. Nicholas, the patron saint of Holland and New Netherland. Former Presidents Martin Van Buren and Franklin Roosevelt, and modern-day celebrities Tom Brokaw, Bruce Springsteen and Meryl Streep, all share a Dutch heritage. The exhibition also notes that the tolerance the Dutch showed to neighbors and new settlers set the stage for the ethnic and cultural diversity for which New York and America have long been recognized.
Many of the illustrations in the exhibition are the work of Len Tantillo, the foremost artist in recreating historical images of New Netherland. He was the subject of a public television documentary entitled “Hudson River Journeys” in March 2004. In 2005, the American wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art commissioned him to create a painting for a permanent exhibition of Dutch architecture in colonial America.
“Illuminating New York’s Dutch Past,” a short video about the New Netherland Project, will be shown in the exhibition gallery. Nineteen volumes, or about 60 percent of the 12,000 volumes that survive, have been published to date under the direction of Dr. Charles Gehring, project director, and Dr. Janny Venema, associate director.
At the conclusion of the Museum exhibition, “Light on Netherland” is scheduled for various sites in New York State, as well as some in Connecticut, Delaware and Michigan.