ESSEX >> Lovers of marine art should be pleased by this traveling maritime art show, “1812 Star Spangled Nation: Commemorating the Bicentennial of the War of 1812,” that contains artwork not seen by the public before.The Connecticut River Museum at the foot of Main Street is the host for the exhibition, which features 25 maritime paintings by 16 artists, all members of the American Society of Marine Artists.
The works show the arenas of military action that unfolded during this war which was largely fought on the water. According to Jennifer White-Dobbs of the museum, the exhibit is comprised of three theaters of war: the oceans, the Great Lakes and the bays, estuaries, sounds and rivers of the Eastern United States.
The oils and watercolors depict scenes of famous engagements as well as lesser-known vessels and locales. While many of the works present traditional views of the great naval vessels on the high seas or in action, others feature more personal views of men, giving the war a human face.
Viewing the paintings cold stirs up a patriotism similar what many may feel on this Memorial Day weekend. Six of the paintings feature the American warship the U.S. Frigate Constitution in various settings: sailing into the night, escaping from a British squadron, battling Britain’s H.M Frigate Guerriere and challenging Britain’s H.M. Frigate Java at close range.
Featured as well in the exhibition are two close-up views of the murderous gun decks of U.S. ships. In another painting, Britain’s bombship H.M. Volcano is shown bombarding America’s Fort McHenry, best known for its role in the War of 1812, when it successfully defended Baltimore Harbor from the British.
There is a painting of rowboats filled with British soldiers, who are preparing to row up the Connecticut River to attack the town of Essex, which at the time was called Pettipaug. In all, 136 British sailor and marines rowed the 6 miles up the river against the tide to attack the town.
The overwhelming British force arrived in Essex shortly after 3 a.m. on April 8, 1814, and they were met with only a trace of defensive gunfire. The Americans were forced to retreat, while the British methodically burned or captured 27 American ships in Essex. It was the largest single loss of American ships in the entire War of 1812.
In addition to the exhibition of maritime paintings of the War of 1812, the Connecticut River Museum is featuring public discussions about the war. Also, a video of the paintings in the exhibition is available, courtesy of the American Society of Marine Artists.
Jerome Wilson is a freelance writer who lives and writes about Essex. He is a frequent contributor to the ShoreLine Times.