Niagara Gazette


December 21, 2012

Saving the "Maid of the Mist" sgrafitto

Niagara Gazette — The maiden, in all her glory, can be seen from Buffalo Avenue, through a break in a set of evergreen hedges.

With her flowing hair and feather plumage, her image is familiar to many of the locals who know her as the Maid of the Mist — heroine of the native American tale. For most local school kids, her story is as familiar as the internationally known tourist destination where her legend began.

The iconic story began centuries ago when a beautiful young Native American woman was said to have chosen death over an arranged marriage. She dove into the falls to end her life. 

Just around the corner from her watery date with destiny, the maiden’s leap is frozen in time in an unusual rendering hung in a private backyard, home to the widow of the Polish artist who created her. The work, called a sgraffito, was created by Jozef Slawinski, and is one of about 20 locations in the region that a retired college professor has devoted his life to saving and — in the maiden’s case — restoring and relocating.

Besides the sgraffitos simple art deco depictions, the style of artistry is unique in the world, and particularly to the United States.

“There are no other four-color sgraffitos in this country,” explained Dr. Peter Gessner, the retired University at Buffalo professor behind the restoration project.  

Gessner’s idea is to follow the success of tourist-beloved Frank Lloyd Wright structures in the region, which have drawn visitors from around the world. He wants to create a trail of the Slawinski sgraffitos, which are located at a variety of locations from Buffalo State College to Stella Niagara and the Fatima Shrine in Lewiston.

“Imagine if you had a sgraffito trail,” he said recently after a quick winter showing of the Maid of the Mist sgraffito to a backyard visitor. 

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