Willard Yager

Who Is The Man Behind The Yager Museum?

April 29, 2019

Hartwick College’s Yager Museum of Art & Culture will highlight Willard Yager’s 1911 trip to the Temagami region of Ontario, Canada, which he spent fly fishing, canoeing, and learning about the culture of the region’s Anishnabai people.

Silent Lakes & Flashing Rivers: 20th Century Fishing Cultures in Temagami, the museum’s newest exhibition, will open with a public reception on May 2, 2019 at 5 p.m.

Yager, an Oneonta native, dedicated much of his life to studying Native Americans and their artifacts. He also traveled across North America to regions with large indigenous populations, such as the American Southwest, the Saguenay region of Quebec, and the Temagami region of northeastern Ontario. On these journeys, Yager collected local indigenous artifacts and often went fly fishing with indigenous guides.

The Temagami region, known as N’Daki Menan by the Teme-Augama Anishnabai people who have lived there for centuries, experienced a boom in tourism in the early 20th century after the railroad reached the area. Yager, one of many tourists intrigued by the newly-accessible area, traveled to Temagami by rail from Oneonta. He hired a Mohawk guide and undertook a fly-fishing expedition by canoe along the lakes and streams of the region.

At the time of Yager’s visit, the Teme-Augama Anishnabai had been barred by the Province of Ontario from hunting and fishing or building on their traditional lands, so many adapted by working as forest rangers, guides or in the hotels built for the new wave of tourists.

Since Yager’s time, the Temagami First Nation on Bear Island has received recognition by the Canadian government, but the Teme-Augama Anishnabai are still struggling to regain access to the vast majority of their homeland.

The exhibition features a 14-foot birchbark canoe acquired in 1938, not far from Temagami.  This canoe is similar to those used by the Anishnabai to traverse their territory, and by Yager for his tourist journey. In 2015, the Temagami First Nation initiated a program to pass on the art of canoe building, a crucial part of their traditional culture, to a new generation.

This new exhibition was developed and installed by students in the College’s museum studies minor, an example of Hartwick’s emphasis on experiential learning in the liberal arts.

“The students in the Creative Exhibits course have done a great job bringing the story of Temagami to life in Silent Lakes & Flashing Rivers,” said Museum Coordinator Doug Kendall.  “It’s a complex story, as is Willard Yager’s relationship with the indigenous people of North America. Yager supported Native American culture in many ways, yet the arrival of tourists like himself contributed to major changes in the lives of the Teme-Augama Anishnabai people.”

Silent Lakes & Flashing Rivers: 20th Century Fishing Cultures in Temagami is slated to be on view through Spring 2021.

The Museum is open throughout the Hartwick College academic year. The Museum is open Tuesday to Saturday, 11:30 am to 4:30 p.m. when the College is in session. The Museum is closed Sundays, Mondays, College holidays, and when the College is not in session. Summer 2019 hours will be announced shortly.

For more information on the Yager Museum and these exhibitions, visit the museum’s website or Facebook page, call 607-431-4480, or e-mail Kendall at kendalld@hartwick.edu.