Preserving Culture & Community Through the Art of Historic Erie Canal

Lock 52 on the Erie Canal

In honor of the celebration of the building and opening of the Erie Canal, the Lock 52 Historical Society of Port Byron and Montezuma Historical Society have scheduled a 2023 series of programs “Preserving Culture & Community Through the Art of the Historic Erie Canal.” An opening event on Saturday, May 20 at 2 p.m. at the Samuel Center for Canal History, 36 Rochester Street, Port Byron will bring together an internationally known artist and an underwater investigator who will weave together the exciting story of an adventurous expedition and the artistic interpretation of that discovery.

What does it mean to paint history? How can one look back in time to find clues about how a person or a place looked hundreds or even thousands of years ago? Artist Len Tantillo describes the creative and investigative process he works through in order to best recreate history on canvas. He will unveil his newest painting inspired by a unique towpath bridge spanning the Seneca River in Montezuma to allow vessels to make the crossing to continue their journey on the newly opened Erie Canal. The site of the pilings still remaining at the river’s edge in Montezuma Heritage Park are remnants and a testimony of a time where the first navigation on the newly built Canal took place. Len has captured this important time in history in which he thoroughly researched the setting and added important elements to tell the story. His reconstructed canal boat and its passengers are featured in his painting, “Martin’s Journey West.” The making of this work will be the subject of his presentation. Joining Len will be Art Cohn, a historian and archaeologist whose team has uncover sunken early canal boats in Seneca Lake.

During Art Cohn’s long tenure in museum, historical and archaeologist interpretation, he has used artwork extensively to maximize the effectiveness of story-telling and to make it easier for people to understand the context of their efforts. Art shares, “Our recent multi-year project surveying the entire bottom of Seneca Lake now provides us with a unique opportunity to engage the public, through art, in the history and archaeology of New York State’s canal system.” Since beginning the project in 2018, more than 50 historic shipwrecks have been discovered from the early canal era resting intact on the deep bottom of Seneca Lake.

On the morning of Saturday, May 20th, 10 AM-11:30, (weather permitting) prior to the afternoon program a Walking Tour will be held in Montezuma Heritage Park to visit the site where Len’s painting tells the story of early packet boats venturing across this towpath bridge crossing. The tour is open to the public to join the presenters with Mike Riley, canal historian leading the walk beginning at High Street just north of the Montezuma Fire Department. Mike will guide the tour pointing out several features along the way including the original Erie Canal Lock 62 that served as a guard lock into the river. A visit will be made to the remains of the Richmond Aqueduct built twenty-five years later with the expanded Enlarged Canal to elevate the difficult slack water crossing towpath bridge depicted in Len’s painting.

During Art’s and Len’s visit here, a special presentation will be held on Friday, May 19th for Port Byron high school art students and fourth grade class students at the Samuel Center for Canal History.

Throughout the remainder of the Bicentennial years leading up to the celebration of the 1825 Grand Opening of the Erie Canal, Lock 52 and Montezuma Historical Societies will feature an exhibit of canal site artwork. The exhibit will be on display at the Lock 52 Museum House, 73 Pine Street in Port Byron scheduled for 2023 from May 13 through September 16. The museum will be open Tuesdays and Thursdays, from 1 - 3 PM and on Saturdays by appointment.

A Museum Exhibit Open House on Saturday, June 10, 10 AM to 2 PM, will feature Muralist Dawn Jordan, as the Artist in Residence for 2023, who will be joined by town historians Mike

Riley and Cheryl Longyear for a talk on her locally displayed murals and the fascinating history behind them.

For exhibit times and more information visit the website at

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