A Sketch of Fritz G. Vogt by Frank Tosto
Fritz Vogt was a colorful artist who suddenly turned up during the last decade of the Nineteenth Century in the conservative farming communities of central New York State, specifically the five counties west of Albany (Montgomery, Otsego, Schoharie, Fulton and Herkimer), where today his work is still held in esteem.
Although hardly anything definite is known about his life, we can at least be sure he was, somewhat of a local celebrity wherever he traveled. As one woman relates, "It was rare to go into a house in the area and not see a Vogt drawing of the house hanging somewhere on the wall".
Where Vogt came from and how he found his way to the west of Albany remain mysteries. It is only certain that from September, 1890 to June, 1899 he made, in that region probably 300 drawings of houses, farms, factories, stores, churches and grave sites. Many drawings still hang on the walls of the buildings illustrated. Many more of them are now in the possession of various collectors and 23 are in collections of institutions and museums.
According to tradition, Vogt traveled on foot, slept in the barns of clients, and was paid for his efforts in food and a small amount of money. Further, he supposedly was musical and played the organ, had a merry, even jocular disposition, spoke broken English with a German accent, and showed a strong affinity for children. It is also said that he was of small stature, wore shoes made of sewed-up carpets, and slept sandwiched between two buffalo pelts.
Vogt has not yet been positively identified in a photograph and his place of burial is uncertain. The only established fact about him is that he died on January 1, 1900, at 2am, supposedly at the Montgomery County Alms House, and is listed in his death certificate as 58 years old and single, having been born in Germany, apparently in 1841.
Vogt’s drawings are invaluable documents of how many buildings and landscapes looked in the last decade of the Nineteenth Century. Each of them is carefully dated, usually in the left-handed corner, and signed, usually in the right. The name of the property’s owner is almost always written in florid script along the bottom of the drawing. Vogt’s early work is marked by minute details. Before 1894, he worked in graphite pencil. But during that year he introduced color pencils and crayon, restricting himself to muted tones, and began to draw in a looser and more stylized manner, while still concentrating on details.
The atmosphere of a Vogt drawing is always pleasant. The sun shines, and daily toil is not pictured. Often numerous animals populate the scene, which more rarely includes people.
Having finally established his style for drawing trees, he invariably adhered to it, giving his drawings an unmistakably individual quality. The trees are in full leaf (even in the dead of winter!) and the flowers are continually blooming. Smoke regularly rises from the kitchen chimney, creating a cozy, reassuring feeling that the next meal will be ready on time.
During the last 10 years of his life, when the more mechanical medium of photography was all the rage, Vogt made large numbers of drawings that today allow us to experience, through his eyes, the character of buildings and landscapes in central New York State before many of them underwent the drastic transformation of the Twentieth Century.
Despite the artistic and historical value of Vogt’s drawing’s they have not, in my opinion, received the recognition due them. Vogt’s work is today truly appreciated only by some inhabitants of the New York State counties in which he worked as well as by antiques dealers and collectors of folk art.
Monte Foster, a resident and dealer of Palatine Bridge, N.Y., was a pioneer collector of Vogt’s work in the 1950s and 1960s. Later, Karen Wells at the New York State Historical Association, Cooperstown, wrote her MA/PhD thesis on Vogt in 1968, relying largely on Foster’s collection.
But it was not until this collection of 37 drawings was auctioned in the early 1970s that Vogt became well-known among dealers in Americana. The exhibition planned at Fenimore House by the New York State Historical Association at Cooperstown from April, 2002 too December 2002 will finally allow a wider public to share Vogt’s view of the world in which he lived.
Fritz G. Vogt Exhibition
April 2, 2002 – December 2002
Fenimore House Museum (Administered by New York State Historical Association)
Cooperstown, NY 13326
Call for Hours: (607) 547 1400
Museum is closed on Mondays