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War of 1812 Remembered
by Jack Foran
Local artists in themed exhibit at Artsphere
The current exhibit at the Artsphere Gallery on Amherst Street near Grant is like a short course on War of 1812 history, with particular reference to events connected to the Black Rock area, of which there were several of significance. Black Rock was the American Navy headquarters for Great Lakes operations during the war. The work is by a half dozen or so artists and in various media. John Montague has an oil painting of the captured HMS Detroit aground on Squaw Island. In October of 1812, a party of Americans rowed over to Fort Erie in the dead of night and captured the Detroit and the schooner Caledonia, but as they were making off with their booty, the Detroit was pounded by shore batteries and largely disabled. The Americans were able to get the Detroit across to Squaw Island, but there torched the vessel.
The crucial Battle of Lake Erie, whereby the American Navy, under Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry, gained control of the Great Lakes, occurred in September of 1813. The American squadron consisted of nine vessels, three of which, the Trippe, the Caledonia, and the Sommers, had been outfitted at Black Rock. Sculptor Eugene Cunningham has one work in burnished stainless steel—abstract, with a kind of art deco look—commemorating these three vessels, and another—consisting of what look to be spread sails on masts—commemorating Perry’s whole fleet.
In December of 1813, a contingent of British soldiers—in retaliation for the Americans’ prior burning of the Village of Newark, now Niagara-on-the-Lake—crossed the river and burned first the Village of Black Rock, then, the next day, the Village of Buffalo, which consisted at the time of a score or so of mostly log structures. Painter Tim Raymond offers a bird’s-eye view—semi-abstract due to copious snow and smoke—of the conflagration at Buffalo.
More Black Rock involvement in the summer of 1814. Doreen DeBoth has two paintings of the Battle of Scajaquada Creek, an overview, and a close-up of some of the American troops. The overview shows troops on opposite sides of the creek firing at each other. The British, in their bright red coats, are trying to take control of a partially dismantled wooden footbridge then located just west of where Grant Street now crosses the creek, a figurative stone’s throw from the Artsphere Gallery. After the Battle of Lundy’s Lane, Ontario, American troops entrenched around Fort Erie and were being supplied from Buffalo and Black Rock. The attack on Scajaquada Creek was part of a British endeavor to cut off the supply source. It failed, though the British outnumbered the Americans five to one at the battle .
Rita Auerbach has a watercolor of Seneca Chief Red Jacket’s grave monument in Forest Lawn. Red Jacket’s involvement in the War of 1812 was mainly across the river, at the bloody Battle of Chippewa, wherein Iroquois fought and killed Iroquois as tribal forces for the last time ever. At the start of the War of 1812, the six Iroquois nations pledged neutrality, mainly as a way to avoid Indians killing Indians, but then following a British invasion and brief capture of Black Rock in the summer of 1813, the Senecas determined to join forces with the Americans. At Chippewa, in the summer of 1814, a force that included some 500 Iroquois, including Seneca, Onondaga, Oneida, and Tuscarora, led by Red Jacket, faced off against a British force that included some 200 Canadian Mohawks led by Chief John Norton. Dismayed by the sight of slain Iroquois on both sides—25 on the American side, 87 on the Canadian side—Red Jacket proposed that the Indians on both sides—as tribal units at least—withdraw from the fray, and this they did. Some individual braves with a taste for war and mayhem continued to fight.
Robert Averill has a large painting of some of the action in the Battle of Burlington Bay in Lake Ontario, which was fought during a gale by large squadrons of vessels on both sides. The British squadron took a beating and raced for safety into the bay. The event was later sardonically referred to as the “Burlington Races.” The Battle of Burlington Bay was the largest American Naval fleet before the Civil War.
In addition to the original artworks by local artists, also on display is a series of poster reproductions of illustrations by Canadian artist Peter Rindlisbacher of actions and events on the Great Lakes related to the war. Rather spectacularly vivid artwork. Reminiscent of the literary works of Patrick O’Brian. Beginning chronologically with an incident in early 1812 when a British force in a small boat captures the US Naval transport Cuyahoga attempting to pass the British base on the Detroit River, unaware that war had been declared, as well as a sequence of five key moments during the Battle of Lake Erie.
The Artsphere exhibit on the War of 1812 theme is more or less in coordination with a number of other War of 1812 commemorative events sponsored by the Buffalo History Museum and the Black Rock Historical Society, including a series of free lectures—one a month throughout the coming year—on aspects of the war. For further information, go online to www.blackrockhistoricalsociety.com. The current exhibit at Artsphere runs through January 5.blog comments powered by Disqus
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