By the nineteenth century, published images were a well-established resource for schoolmistresses, who used such images as prototypes for needlework and other exercises for their female students. By the time Fanny A. Coney painted this view of Skaneateles, watercolor had largely replaced expensive and painstaking needlework projects, but exercises were still based on copy patterns. Coney's watercolor is almost identical to an engraving based on a sketch by John J. Thomas, who also contributed a history of Skaneateles that was printed in the Philadelphia publication Ariel Magazine in 1830. Such engraved views, often accompanied by town histories, were especially popular after the opening of the Erie Canal and the ensuing expansion in towns and cities along its path. Coney closely follows the major features and the smallest details of the engraving, including the trees on either side and the cloud formations in the sky. Her original touches include a large sun behind the trees on the left and the couple strolling arm in arm in the foreground. This last is an intriguing addition that may have held personal meaning for Coney, as she was married to Joseph Lockwood within a year of executing the watercolor.
The view is from the west side of Skaneateles Lake, the third deepest of the Finger Lakes. The most prominent architectural feature in the engraving and the watercolor is the Presbyterian church in the distance. Reflecting changes in both physical and cultural landscapes, the church was originally the center of community life, but by 1830, when the Thomas view was published, the center of town had shifted to the waterfront, where a recently built Episcopal church is situated.
Coney was the only daughter of John Russell Coney and Sally Sage Keyes. The Coney family, like many New England Yankees, had moved westward into New York State at the end of the eighteenth century. John Coney, the son of a Revolutionary War patriot, was a prominent member of Portland society, operating a tavern, an ashery, and other business concerns. It is not clear whether Coney produced this work in Portland, where she was born in 1814, or in Skaneateles; both locations offered academies for female education. She was eighteen when she made the watercolor, and it is unclear whether she was still a student. Coney died in 1838 and is buried in nearby Brockton.
Stacy C. Hollander, "A View of Skeneatless Village," in American Radiance: The Ralph Esmerian Gift to the American Folk Art Museum (New York: Harry N. Abrams in association with American Folk Art Museum, 2001), 507–508.