The Yager features permanent and changing exhibitions of fine art, archaeology and ethnography, with collections ranging from ancient artifacts of the Upper Susquehanna’s first human inhabitants to contemporary art. Among the collection’s strengths are North and South American ethnography, Renaissance art, American Impressionism and Andy Warhol. In addition to being a center for exploration of our artistic, archaeological, ethnographical, historical and cultural heritage, the Museum serves as an experiential learning lab for Hartwick students and visitors alike.
Willard Yager (1855-1929), son of an Oneonta storekeeper, studied at Cornell, Phillips Exeter Academy and Harvard Law School. He returned to his hometown in 1882 to publish and edit the Oneonta Herald newspaper. He retired from that position in 1890 and devoted the rest of his life to civic and scholarly causes. He supported the establishment of the Oneonta Normal School (now SUNY Oneonta) and built the Oneonta Theater.
As a boy, Willard accidentally stumbled upon a Native American artifact in the woods near his home. This discovery led the young Yager to develop a deep sense of pride and curiosity concerning the Upper Susquehanna River Valley’s prehistory and archaeology. Over the last forty years of his life, Yager assembled an impressive local archaeological collection of nearly 6, 000 meticulously documented artifacts. He also published several books about prehistory and Native Americans including: The Orite of Adequentaga, The Oneota, Non-Combatants, and Red Man as Soldier. Willard Yager’s interests in prehistory and the lives of Native Americans led him to seek out comparative materials from elsewhere in the United States, including a large collection of Southwestern ceramics and basketry and important Plains Indian materials.
Yager housed his collection in a brick museum known as the “Long-House” adjacent to his home on Ford Avenue. He bequeathed the house, museum and collections to Hartwick College in 1929 and his sister Marion left an endowment for the museum on her death in 1959.
In 1967, Hartwick built a new home for the Yager Museum on campus. Over the years, the Museum has supplemented Yager’s Upper Susquehanna Collection with ethnographic collections from other areas of North and South America, as well as American and European fine art and American material culture and decorative arts. Two especially noteworthy additions were Italian Renaissance and American Impressionist paintings bequeathed by the Reverend Louis van Ess in 1960 and a collection of photographs and screen prints by Andy Warhol given by the Warhol Foundation’s Photographic Legacy Project between 2006 and 2013.
Today the Museum serves as a cornerstone of Hartwick College’s Liberal Arts in Practice, providing experiential learning to students and the community through exhibitions and programs drawing upon our diverse collections. The Museum is also home to the College’s Museum Studies Minor program, through which students create exhibitions, public programs and learn the fundamentals of museum operation and collections care.