Niagara Gazette — Commemorating the War of 1812 and its impact on the Niagara Frontier offers a unique opportunity to learn even more about that era and the role of the fledgling United States as a major travel destination.
On the military front, Queenston, Ont., along the Niagara border set the stage for the first major U.S. invasion into the British North American colonies destined to become Canada. Two other invasions were planned from Detroit into the Windsor, Ont., area and from upstate New York across the St. Lawrence River into lower Canada, now the Province of Quebec.
Besides the colorful re-enactments, however, another way to appreciate that often misunderstood chapter in local history is through the visual arts, according to Robert M. Giannetti of Lewiston, author and antiquarian bookseller, the guest curator of an exhibit at the Castellani Art Museum at Niagara University.
"After the cannons are silent from the celebration, after the commemoration of the burning of Lewiston, there will still be this river with its marvelous falls, and all its history, art and literature for understanding the falls and its early tourism," said Giannetti, who helped organize "The Picturesque and War: Visual and Literary Aspects of 19th Century Niagara Tourism," an exhibit that will run through Feb. 24 at Niagara University’s Castellani Art Museum.
"Our committee spent about a year in the planning and I really enjoyed looking through hundreds of pieces from the Charles Rand Penney Collection to select the works for display," Giannetti added.
As the curator, Giannetti was fully prepared last week to provide a brief but informative overview of the classic paintings and visual arts that were prime factors in marketing Niagara as a world tourist destination in the early 1800s.
"It was that reverence for the landscape that developed during the Romantic era and fostered an appreciation for the scenery of the natural world," Giannetti explained, pointing to Father Louis Hennepin's iconic sketch of Niagara Falls (1659), or at least how the engraver interpreted the missionary's concept. Hennepin, as it is obvious from the sketch, thought the American Falls (180-feet high) was actually about twice that height. "That early description by Hennepin was, by the way, the only image people had of the falls for more than 100 years," the curator said.