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Images of Our Watery Vistas at Burchfield-Penney

Claire Shuttleworth (1867-1930) "Niagara Industrial Horizon from Chippawa Shore," c. 1913-18

I Cover the Waterfront

With the summer the seasonal simmer of dueling tour boats will froth the lower Niagara. For a view of relatively peaceful waterways I recommend seeing Hydro-Graphic in the Margaret L. Wendt Gallery and R. William Doolittle Gallery at the Burchfield Penney Art Center until June 29th.

From the international borders of the Niagara Frontier to the winding rivers, lakes and creeks of Western New York, waterways are an intrinsic part of a living regional identity. This exhibition features painting, photography, etchings and other graphic media. In both contemporary art and archival works from the 19th Century artists create a riparian sense of place.

Divided into two areas of interest, “Boats of Leisure”, and “Ships of Labor” the exhibit concentrates the viewer’s focus first on pleasure craft by oar and under sail though their crew is rarely visible. The boats are moored, drifting in a slight current or still backwater. The brushwork is pristine in Burr H. Nicholle(1848-1915)’s placid vision of Ellicott Creek with Two Boats. From there the current builds to better than four knots as seen from Canada’s Ontario side looking toward the Buffalo harbor in Claire Shuttleworth(1867-1918)’s depiction of a progressive tide of commercial encroachment on the high horizon. By the early 1920s Buffalo led the world in handling grain, 300,000,000 bushels passed through Buffalo harbor, to be unloaded, lifted, stored, and reloaded by the grain elevators that stood tall along the banks of the Buffalo River. Grain made buffalo a major inland port and put the city on the world map.

In Anthony Sisti’s Rhapsody in Steel, men aboard a Lake boat lounge off duty reading the paper while loading grain into the huge silos. Images of the past—pale washes of memory in watercolor emphasize the waterfront as portal to the future…and ships as vectors. David Plowden’s black and white harbor photographs have a reverential cast as if portraying a cathedral. Further on the care worn face of a ship’s cook stares out of a galley full of kitchen tools keeping the crew of a lake tanker fit and happy.

The Niagara is vividly expressed in monprint, conte drawing and photographer John Pfahl’s vantage of the escarpment from Cave of the Winds. A portfolio series of etchings by mid-19th Century artist Amos Sanger are worth a close study of his precisely textured scenes of the verdant cataract and headlands. Photos and paintings go to great lengths to compose the awesome might of the Falls while juxtaposed with the industrial scenes, hint at the potential for adaptive use as a widespread commercial power source. A small photographic scene of Scajaquada Creek meandering thru Forest Lawn in 1930 by Wilbur H. Porterfield (1873-1958) provides a respite from the cascading torrents. By the late 40s painters such as John Marin and Milton Avery provide inspiration in artistic treatments of a wharfside and farm pond. A semi abstract landscape “Java Lake” calls to mind a 4th of July medley by American 20th Century composer, Charles Ives. A different dipiction of the Falls is shown in a watercolor on rice paper by James K. Y. Kuo, where muted tones push and pull the picture plane in a calligraphic strata. A digital print, Vaporous Sunrise by John Pfahl works well in an unusual vertical elongated format…while A.J. Fries horizontal panorama in grey catches the commuter’s dread—snow building to white out approaching the Grand Island bridge.

Banking the gallery on a separate partition is the original painting in gouache on board, for the Buffalo Centennial of 1932 by B. C. Feldman. Under a clear blue sky the only visible wisp of smoke trails up from the pipe of the powerfully built Indian brave sitting cross legged in repose on the opposite bank staring unbelieving at the gleaming architectural majesty of a thriving metropolis.

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