The Arts- Culture, Commerce, and Canal
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.
Schoharie Aqueduct, Historic American Engineering Record
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 Erie Canal, 1856 by S. George (Arkell Museum, Canajoharie)
With 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 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.
Munson-Williams-Proctor Museum, Utica
The George Eastman House in Rochester is one of the most renowned museums of photography and centers of photographic preservation in the world. Eastman invented the hand-held camera in the late 1800s and lived in Rochester from 1905-1932.
George Eastman House, Rochester
The development of photography owes a great deal to the Erie Canal. George Eastman's first photo, a well composed ambrotype, features the historic aqueduct that carried the Erie Canal over the Genesee River in Rochester.
George Eastman, 1877
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.
Shea’s Performing Arts Center/Buffalo Theatre, built in 1926
PLACE-BASED ARTISTIC TRADITIONS
A number of unique artistic traditions 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.
Alling Coverlet Museum, Palmyra
TRAVEL WRITING AND LITERATURE
The Erie Canal attracted international attention and became both the route and subject for dozens of foreign and American travelers, essayists, and illustrators. Among them: Nathaniel Hawthorne, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Mark Twain, and Herman Melville. Their observations came to define how others saw Americans, how Americans saw themselves, and how they wanted others to see them.
Postcard, Erie Canal and Mohawk Valley
POST OFFICE MURALS
Many post offices throughout the canal corridor display murals created in the 1930s and 40s during the time of the Work Projects Administration (WPA). The murals were funded from the Treasury Section of Painting and Sculpture, a part of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal. Post offices were selected to display this art because of their visibility and accessibility by the community.
Clyde Post Office
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.
Village of Brockport
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.
Artist Dawn Jordan, Mural- Village of Weedsport