Friday, February 9, 2007

De Witt Clinton: OMOM Essay 48

My father's repertoire for long car rides included:

Low bridge, everybody down
Low bridge 'cause we're coming to a town.
And you'll always know your neighbor
You'll always know your pal
If you've ever navigated on the Erie Canal.

As a child I pictured that canal just like the narrow, silted-up canal that meandered along the Susquehanna River near my hometown. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that the Erie Canal, which De Witt Clinton tirelessly promoted, was one of the major technological achievements of the early 19th c., and was also the major reason New York outstripped Philadelphia and Boston as a commercial center.

I love learning new facts and ideas, but some of the most satisfying moments in my wide-ranging research for Outdoor Monuments of Manhattan came when a disconnected scrap of old knowledge (like the Erie Canal) slid smoothly into a niche in my newly expanded view of the world.

"About the Sculpture" compares this portrait of Clinton (d. 1828) to others at the Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn (scroll down to the photo on the right) and on the Surrogate's Court at Chambers and Centre Streets in Manhattan (photo at left).

The close-up of Clinton's head at the beginning of this post is an object lesson on why one shouldn't bother taking a photo of a sculpture when bright sunlight is hitting it. A Photoshop expert might be able to fix those harsh contrasts. Me, I prefer trying to shoot in more suitable weather. See my essay "Completely Unprofessional Notes on Taking Photos of Outdoor Sculpture."
And here's a picture taken recently, when the sun wasn't shining on De Witt. Much better.

No comments: