Blog post by: Martha Capwell, Historian and Archives Coordinator
You know what they say about best laid plans….
Today, May 16, the National Canal Museum would have been opening the doors to our 2020 special exhibition, “Where Creativity Flows: Two Centuries of Art Inspired by Our Canals” as part of Passport to History Weekend. Now, though we don’t know exactly when we will reopen the Josiah White II canal boat ride and the Museum in Hugh Moore Park, we are still working diligently to have the exhibition ready for the public when that happens. It’s certainly involved some creativity and new ways of working.
It’s been strange, to say the least, to put an exhibition together when we can’t access either the gallery space or the art and artifacts that will be on display. So we’ve done it virtually–using digital scans of the artwork and 3-D mock-ups of the gallery (see video below). We’ve been very fortunate to be working with Karina Raude, who is an experienced exhibit designer, as well as an artist. Utilizing her technical skills and the ever-present Zoom, we’ve been able to re-arrange the virtual artworks until we got the layout just right. Karina even matched the new wall color in the gallery so we could see how the paintings look against it. It’s a far cry from the way I laid out some of our previous exhibitions: pasting photocopies and printouts of images on the walls and marking spaces out with painter’s tape!
We’re very excited about this new exhibition because it takes the museum in a new direction by focusing on art and creative expression rather than history. “Where Creativity Flows ” will exhibit artworks from the D&L and Pennsylvania Canal Society collections as well as historic paintings we are borrowing from the Sigal Museum, the Moravian Archives, and Warren County’s collection of Morris Canal art by Dick Schisler. Our canals have inspired contemporary local artists, too. You will see works by Joseph Skrapits, Ann Elizabeth Schlegel, William Selesnick, and Mary Ann Riker.
And the canals didn’t just inspire fine artists’ creativity. There’s a section of the exhibition devoted to novels set on the canals, and beautiful original illustrations of children’s books such as Bridgetender’s Boy, Tales of the Towpath, and A Full Hand. We are pulling out some interesting folk art too, including a whiskey decanter shaped like a canal boat. And did you know that Henry Fonda’s first movie was shot on the Lehigh and Delaware canals? We’ll have clips of his “The Farmer Takes a Wife” film from 1935, as well as the 1955 remake, which features music and dancing in technicolor. We’ll also pay tribute to some of the amazing murals and other public art that showcases our region’s canal history.
We can’t wait to share this exhibition with you, but unfortunately we will. Once it is safe to re-open and welcome back visitors, we hope you will come to see the exhibition and feel inspired by our canals as well.
Until we can meet again, consider supporting our resilience. When you make a gift to the Campaign for Resilience, your support goes to mission-critical, immediate needs like: boarding our mules, Hank and George, keeping our seasonal National Canal Museum staff working to create digital educational content, and offsetting lost revenue from our special exhibit. Visit delawareandlehigh.org/resilience for more information.