The region of the Great Lakes stretches for more than a thousand miles
from Duluth at the western end of Lake Superior to Montreal on the Saint Lawrence River.
Its coastlines define the boundaries of eight states and the province of Ontario.
For three-and-a-half centuries this vast geographical region has been a space for exploration, settlement and, finally, massive urban development.
Across these great fresh water lakes has rolled a rich and varied panorama of history.
In time, the five lakes that comprise the region-Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie and Ontario-have seen Indian encampments,
French and British voyageurs, missionaries and fur traders; great naval battles between rival empires;
”In the Landlocked Heart of Our America” and in the nineteenth century an important chapter in the triumph of American
“manifest destiny” with the mastery of the Great Lakes for commerce and industry.
Successive waves of men and their ships-from birch bark canoes, to square-rigged ships and schooners,
”In the Landlocked Heart of Our America” to steamers and whalebacks-transformed the great interior heartland.
Although these men and ships have been extensively chronicled in written histories, until the Exhibition of Great Lakes Marine Painting organized
The region of the Great by the Muskegon Museum of Art in 1983, there had been virtually no examination of the region’s history in art.
An investigation of paintings of the region’s history leads us to recognize that the art history of the Great Lakes comprises, in its own way, a reflection of the larger experience of American and Canadian civilization.
Read carefully, the works of art reveal not only fascinating moments in the life of native Indian people, of ships and their sailors,
and of the landscapes and thriving cities, but more importantly the ways in which Americans have come to understand themselves as a people in the New World.
Herman Melville’s masterpiece Moby Dick contains a chapter, “The Town-Ho Story,”
which might well be considered a summary of themes found in Great Lakes marine painting of the nineteenth century.
Here in one passage Melville presents in words many of the images of Indians,
ships and landscapes rendered by contemporary artists of the Great Lakes.
As a literary statement, Melville’s poetic description may help us better grasp
the unique art historical heritage preserved in these paintings and prints.
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