Symbols in the Wilderness: Early Masonic Survivals in Upstate New York, co-authored by Director of Special Collections Christian Goodwillie, began with a chance glance at a building as he drove to Cooperstown, N.Y. Intrigued by the structure, Western Star Lodge chartered in 1797 and now the Bridgewater Masonic Lodge, he became even more interested in the art work it once housed. Thus Goodwillie’s exploration of Masonic symbols – expressed in paintings, murals, textiles and graphics – began.

The resulting book, co-authored by Colgate University Professor of Music Emeritus Joselyn Godwin, provides documentation and analysis of Upstate New York’s hidden heritage of Masonic buildings and material culture from the 18th and early 19th century. It is co-published by Hamilton College’s Richard W. Couper Press and Colgate University’s Upstate Institute. Hamilton’s Digital Imagery Specialist Marianita Peaslee produced the volume’s many color images.

Freemasonry played a vital role in the social development of New York State. Its Lodges provided a trusted place for newcomers to meet and for friendships and business partnerships to develop, free from political, professional and sectarian differences. During its explosive growth from 1790 to the end of the 1820s, Masonic brethren produced iconic architecture, as well as extraordinary examples of folk art. Most of these have remained entirely unknown outside the Upstate lodges that, against all hazards, have preserved them. Their symbolism seems mysterious and confusing to outsiders, but once explained, offers insight into a period and place unique in American history.

A presentation and booksigning is scheduled with the co-authors on Wednesday, July 20, at the Onondaga Historical Association (321 Montgomery Street in Syracuse), from 4 to 6 p.m. and on Sunday, August 21 at  Johnson Hall in Johnstown, N.Y. at 1 p.m.


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