Recently, I visited the NYS Museum, as there were a few exhibits I wanted to see. One, and the one I’ll focus on in this post, was called Art of the Erie Canal.
This exhibit featured art inspired by the Erie Canal — sketches, photographs, paintings and transfer-printed earthenware. I found it interesting to see how each artist, professional and hobbyist alike, presented the Erie Canal while working in their chosen medium.
There was a set a of pictures done with water colors and chalk (or pastels), which was fascinating. The two were so well blended that it was difficult to tell where one or the other was used. From the weather to the buildings to the reflections, both depictions were beautifully done.
The paintings hanging in the gallery were gorgeous. The oil paints seemed to glisten under the lights. For some of the works, if you stood far enough away and took in the entire image, it was so well done it almost resembled a photograph. If you stood closer it was easier to notice all the details, like the people or houses in the background. You could see the expressions on faces more clearly and the line which connected the horses or cattle to the boat so it could be pulled through the waters of the canal. And if you stepped closer, so close in fact that your nose was almost touching the painting (but you never, ever, touch a painting), then, other details were visible. Paint appeared thicker in some places then others, a way of giving the image texture, or part of the artist’s technique. Multiple colors and shades were used in the sky and on the clouds to gain their present effect and you could see the layering and blending. In some parts of the paintings you could see the brush strokes where the artist laid their paint laden brush and whisked it across the canvas in a way only they knew how.
Incorporated into the exhibit were two large photographs, printed from glass plates. This is a very old style of photographing and while staring at the pictures from the angles they were taken I could imagine the photographer setting up their camera, sliding in the glass plate and taking the picture when the moment suited them. The one picture was a classic black and white with beautiful tonal range. The other picture had a reddish brown, or yellowish, tint as if done in sepia tone. It’s hard to say if this look was the artist’s intent or if time had taken it’s toll. Either way the photograph was beautiful from the viewpoint of the water as it rushed by. You could see and feel its movement as it blurred, due to it’s speed, in certain areas.
It’s always interesting to see how history has influenced the world. It’s equally as fascinating to see how history has inspired artists. In it’s own way this exhibit does both. (Plus there’s an exhibit on the history of the Erie Canal right next to it, which is also interesting.) While these beautiful works are only a small taste of the first 150 years, the Erie Canal has been inspiring artist for decades. So, I would recommend visiting this part of history and seeing these artworks for yourself.