The stone arches of the Schoharie Creek Aqueduct (photographed in 1970) reflect the work of skilled stonemasons.
The Canal as Art
From the Lockport Flight of Five to the stone arches at Schoharie or Richmond, artisanship is embedded in the canal itself.
The Erie Canal, painted in 1862 by William Wall, depicts the canal's idyllic means of cargo transport. (Arkell Museum, Canajoharie)
In many ways, it took the engineering marvel of the Erie Canal to change America's notions of art. Capturing the nation's struggle between nature and man's control of it in the name of progress became a primary concern of painters, especially landscape painters. Many of these works are in the permanent collections of galleries and museums along the present-day canal.
The permanent collection of the Munson-Williams-Proctor Museum in Utica stems from objects collected by three generations of one Utica family.
Private Art Collections
With westward expansion and canal development came wealthy business owners who collected fine art. They contributed mightily to the local artistic scene through donations and, later, by making their own private collections of art accessible to the public. Institutions including the Arkell Museum in Canajoharie, The Hyde Collection in Glens Falls, and the Albright-Knox Gallery in Buffalo owe their collections to wealthy industrialists.
Eastman's first photo, a well composed ambrotype made in October 1877, features the historic aqueduct that carried the Erie Canal over the Genesee River in Rochester.
The development of photography owes a great deal to the Erie Canal. The George Eastman House in Rochester commemorates the legacy of George Eastman, inventor of the hand-held camera in the late 1800s who lived in Rochester from 1905-1932.
The Alling Coverlet Museum showcases handwoven bed coverings dating from the 1820s to the 1880s, a once thriving industry on the Erie Canal.
Place-Based Artistic Traditions
Some of the unique artistic traditions in the canal corridor developed from the relationship between community and land. Others honor artful industries that flourished with the aid of the Canal. The Cobblestone Museum in Albion, Alling Coverlet Museum in Palmyra, and the Stickley Museum in Fayetteville exemplify unique artistic traditions of the canal corridor.
Shea's Performing Arts Center/Buffalo Theatre, built in 1926, is part of a vibrant theater district in Buffalo. (Image: Woj Photography)
As transportation and trade routes along the Erie Canal developed and settlements were established, vaudeville theaters sprang up in nearly every community along the way. In the early part of the 20th century, Americans in pursuit of prosperity constructed ornately-designed movie palaces throughout the canal corridor.
The observations of travel writers came to define how others saw Americans and how Americans saw themselves.
Travel Writing and Literature
The Erie Canal attracted international attention and became both the route and subject for dozens of foreign and American travelers, chroniclers, essayists, and illustrators. Among them: Nathaniel Hawthorne, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Mark Twain, and Herman Melville.
The lift bridge at Brockport, as with most Western Erie Canal towns, leads directly to Main Street.
Part of the enduring legacy of the Erie Canal is the architecture of villages, towns, and cities all along the waterway. Not only do canal towns share similarities in layout and orientation to the canal, in most cases their architecture reflects the prosperity that characterized upstate New York from 1825 through the end of the 19th century.
Mural artist Dawn Jordan completes her work in the Village of Clyde. The mural is part of growing mural trail celebrating canal history in central and western New York.
The Arts Today
The arts continue to flourish throughout the canal corridor today. Internationally acclaimed writers, photographers, and painters continue to be inspired by the rich landscapes, culture, and history of New York's legendary canals.