“I’m amazed at how much stamina and energy you have for all these adventures,” a friend wrote me recently. “You work, knit, write blogs and don’t seem to be keeling over in exhaustion.”
True, but one thing’s for sure: Had I been one of Ohio’s early settlers, I would have been too busy trying to survive to indulge in those leisure-time activities that make my days complete.
Early Visions of Ohio: 1765-1865, an exhibition on view at the Decorative Arts Center in Lancaster through December 31, celebrates the creations of those first settlers of and visitors to Ohio who took the time to capture their new surroundings in paintings, drawings, textiles, ceramics and other decorative arts.
The exhibition is the creation of Christopher Busta-Peck, a Cleveland librarian who spent the last four years searching for and cataloging more than 3,000 images of etchings, watercolors, wood engravings and other illustrations of what life was like in early Ohio. He found many of the prints in books or bound periodicals that had been digitized, an information-discovery practice that has done so much for uncovering obscure titles and their content that may otherwise have gone unnoticed. Over 100 works from the index are featured in the exhibition, accompanied by a small map of Ohio that highlights the area depicted in the work.
A decorated snuff box commemorates the Battle of Lake Erie, while a horn and silver cup depicts what Fort Meigs looked like in 1813. Transferware presents an incredible view of how Columbus appeared in the 1830s.
Boats and trains chug along the Ohio River in a painting by Robert Hanna. The border of a coverlet woven by Charles Boden in 1843 features pictures of the Hole’s Creek, Centerville mill where it was made.
George Harvey’s rendition of an ox cart overturning in Thornville, Ohio shows the difficulties of traveling on dirt roadways. Spring: Burning Fallen Trees in a Girdled Clearing, a colored aquatint engraving on paper that Harvey created in 1841 as part of a series titled “Atmospheric Landscapes of North America,” shows Ohio pioneers clearing a wooded area for settlement through a lumbering technique called girdling, in which a belt-like notch is carved into the trunk of a tree to cut off the flow of sap, which eventually kills the tree.
Visitors to the exhibition can also page through a copy of Henry Howe’s Historical Collections of Ohio, a best-selling book that Howe published in 1847 after traveling across Ohio for more than a year making sketches, interviewing people, and collecting historical information. Revised and republished in several editions, the book became the standard history of Ohio.
The advent of photography in the 1850s changed how people captured their environment, and less-expensive printing processes made art more accessible. For example, James P. Ball, an itinerant photographer, settled in Cincinnati in 1849 and opened a gallery two years later that would become one of the most well-known photography studios in the United States. His reputation drew notables like Jenny Lind and Frederick Douglass there. It was commemorated in Ball’s Great Daguerrian Gallery of the West, an 1854 engraving.
The exhibition isn’t the only attraction at the Decorative Arts Center this holiday season. A Christmas tree laden with antique candy boxes is one of 15 decorated trees on view at the museum. Others include a feather tree decorated with glass ornaments and candle lights, a tree with glass ornaments from the 1920s and 1930s and a handcrafted felted wool topiary tree that will be the grand prize for one lucky visitor out of many who complete a scavenger hunt for the Christmas trees located throughout the museum.
Colorists can embellish a nifty holiday keepsake that features a hand-drawn rendition of the Reese-Peters House, the Greek Revival house that was built in 1835 and now is home to the museum. This unique candy box celebrates the Victorian tradition of packaging assortments of hard candies in a printed paper box and hanging it from a Christmas tree. Even if you’re not part of the adult coloring trend, you’ll find it equally calming and therapeutic to visit the Decorative Arts Center before 2015 ends.
If you have or know of other views of Ohio that might benefit Busta-Peck’s project, send an e-mail to email@example.com.