Tag Archives: dayton artists

Un-Review of Dayton Art Institute’s 1913 Flood Exhibition

[I hate the term “review.” It has this overtone, like if you’re not sufficiently critical, you haven’t really “reviewed” the thing. So this is not a review in that sense. It’s “I experience this super-cool thing, and I want to share it with you,” whatever that’s called.]

Last Thursday, February 21, was a busy but fun day for me. After the Miami Valley Archives Roundtable meeting, I was fortunate enough to have been invited to attend a special preview of the Dayton Art Institute‘s new exhibition commemorating the centennial of the Great 1913 Flood: Storm, Watershed, & Riverbank.

Dayton Art Institute

Dayton Art Institute

Dayton Art Institute - Storm--Watershed--Riverbank

Dayton Art Institute – Storm–Watershed–Riverbank

(The 1913 Flood was a defining moment in the Miami Valley’s history. It was a horrible disaster, but it ultimately led to flood control measures that have successfully averted such a thing happening again: the creation of the Miami Conservancy District. To learn more about the flood, check out 1913flood.com or even Wikipedia for a basic overview.)

The exhibition consists of three parts:

  • Storm: Paintings by April Gornik
  • Watershed: 100 Years of Photography Along the Great Miami River
  • Riverbank: Exploring Our River-Centered Development

Storm: Paintings by April Gornik, consisted of several large scale (we’re talking LARGE scale, like 6 feet by 8 feet!) paintings depicting various kinds of storms, weather, and other natural waters. They were really beautiful. You can see many of April’s paintings on her web site, although my favorite one from the exhibit, “Light Passing” (1987), doesn’t seem to be on there.

After a transitional area showing three enlarged lantern slide views of the flood, as well as a Baltimore & Ohio Railroad map with notations about flood damage, we embarked upon the second part of the exhibition: Watershed: 100 Years of Photography Along the Great Miami River.

The Watershed exhibit consists of “before” and “after” photographs showing a scene from the flood, paired with a recent photograph taken at the same location and angle. The photos showed scenes from Piqua all the way down the Great Miami River to Hamilton.

The “before” photographs had been gathered, enlarged, and reproduced from the collections of many Miami Valley archival repositories, including Wright State University Special Collections & Archives, Dayton Metro Library, and many others. (I gleefully recognized many of the Dayton photos!)

The “after” photographs were created by Dayton photographer Andy Snow, who created more than 5,000 digital files for this project.

Andy Snow

Photographer Andy Snow giving us insights to help us more fully appreciate his photos.

Mr. Snow was present on the tour to share his insights about the photos and the project. He shared lots of interesting stories and pointed out details that helped us more fully appreciate what we were seeing. He told us that he manipulated some of the photos slightly in order to make them “pop and sing,” saying, “I like singing photographs.” 🙂  He also gave us some historical context, including a lesson in historical photography equipment (examples of which is included in the exhibit) and the reasons why in old photos, the sky looks gray. He also referred to Dayton as “the Silicon Valley of the time,” in explaining why its destruction was such major nationwide news.

Angela Manuszak of the Miami Conservancy District, who was integral to the project, was also present on the tour and also gave us great historical context to help us better understand and appreciate what we were seeing.

Angela Manuszak

Angela Manuszak of Miami Conservancy District sharing snipptes of the flood story to help give us context.

For instance, she pointed out that there are no known photographs of the river’s cresting in Dayton because it happened in the middle of the night. She also said that the Miami Conservancy District was the largest privately-funded infrastructure project in the world at the time; it was designed to protect against a flood equivalent to 140% of what the 191 3 flood was! (And it has worked!)

Here are a few pictures to give you a taste of the Watershed exhibit. (And I apologize that these are not the greatest — I’m no professional photographer, and my little pocket camera can’t even begin to do these things justice anyway. That’s why it’s really just a taste, even of these very photos, because the real ones look so much more amazing. Oh and also – Mr. Snow said it was OK for us to take pictures! Plus, I like to think I’ll make you want to visit and see the rest, if I show you a few ideas of what you’ll find.)

Dayton Before and After the Flood

Before and After view from the hill where Dayton Art Institute is today. (Yes, it’s blurry; it’s not your eyes.) This pair was just awesome. You’ve got to see it!

lantern slides

Some of the 72 original hand-tinted lantern slides on exhibit from the Miami Conservancy District’s collection.

Everett Neukom's Beaver Power Building photo

Everett Neukom’s Beaver Power Building photo (This was one of my favorite pairs, too, because I recognized the photo on the right immediately as one taken by Everett Neukom- it came from our Neukom collection at WSU.)

Near the end of the Watershed exhibit, there was a sitting area with the chairs pointed at a large flat-screen TV that was showing the Before/After photos fading into one another. I almost walked right by it, thinking, “Oh, I’ve seen this,” but after my brief conversation with Mr. Snow, he encouraged me to check it out, that it gave a little different perspective on the photos. And it really did: in some cases the photos were framed so perfectly that when the Before faded into the After, certain details that existed in both photos (like a church steeple, for instance) were lined up perfectly. It was almost like that part of the photo was simply turning color and having its surroundings changed, while it remained the same. VERY COOL. Thanks, Mr. Snow, for encouraging me to take a second look at that– it really was worth it. Plus, hey, it gave me an excuse to sit for a minute.

Also in talking to Mr. Snow, I asked if these were the same photos that will be featured in the 1913 Flood before/after book that I’ve been hearing about — the real title of which I couldn’t remember at the time, but which is, for your information A Flood of Memories–One Hundred Years After the Flood: Images from 1913 and Today. The answer was, yes, but only about 1/2 the images in the book were featured in the exhibit. So there’s MORE. Yay!  He said the book should soon be available for sale in the book stores at Dayton Art Institute and Carillon Park (which incidentally also has a new permanent exhibit on the 1913 Flood opening March 23).

The third part of the exhibition, Riverbank: Exploring Our River-Centered Development, had maps and sketches and sallelite images showing the development of the Great Miami River corridor over the years. The giant satellite map was pretty awesome. And I also enjoyed seeing a publication from the 1960s of proposed development of the river area near where Sinclair currently is– apparently, they wanted to put some kind of stadium or theater there at one point. (It’s always fun to see those architects’ or city planners’ renderings of proposed building projects from Back in the Day that never quite came to pass, knowing what’s there now.) There was also an interactive component with a big map of downtown Dayton and an invitation to answer the question “What would entice you to spend the day on the river?” on a Post-It Note and stick it to the map. (I admit I didn’t do this part; I was already late for a reception I was supposed to be attending upstairs, because I just couldn’t tear myself away from the photos…)

The Storm, Watershed, & Riverbank exhibition runs February 23 through May 5, 2013, and museum admission is $12. If you are interested in a visual history of the 1913 Flood, you don’t want to miss this. It was absolutely amazing.

[In addition to the official exhibition info on the Dayton Art Institute site, you might also be interested in this article from the Dayton Daily News: “Dayton Art Museum to Commemorate Historic Flood in New Exhibit,” 17 Feb. 2013.]

Bio Sketch: Mary (Forrer) Peirce (1838-1929), artist in Dayton, Ohio

Mary Forrer was born August 24, 1838, in Dayton, Ohio, the daughter of Samuel Forrer (1793-1874) and Sarah Howard (1807-1887).[1]

As a child, Mary showed an interest in and aptitude for drawing, a talent she had at least partially inherited from her mother. Her mother was probably her first drawing teacher. She also received some tutoring in botany and the drawing of plants from John W. Van Cleve. From girlhood onwards, her artwork often featured nature, flowers, still life, and landscapes.[2]

Mary Forrer, undated

Mary Forrer, undated (Dayton Metro Library, FPW, Box 13, Folder 20)

As a young woman, Mary studied at Cooper Female Seminary in Dayton, where she had a most talented art teacher, Clara Soule (later Medlar), daughter of a well-known portrait painter, Charles Soule. Clara, also an accomplished portrait painter, taught Mary much about painting.[3]

In July 1862, Mary traveled to New York City again, to Fort Hamilton. Her brother-in-law Luther Bruen, husband of her sister Augusta, was stationed there with the 12th U.S. Infantry. While in New York City, she attended the Cooper Institute (now called Cooper Union), where she studied, for the most part, landscape painting and water color techniques.[4] Mary continued her studies at the Cooper Institute until at least November 1862, before returning to Dayton sometime prior to 1864.[5]

Mary Forrer, 1863

Mary Forrer, 1863 (Dayton Metro Library, FPW, Box 13, Folder 20)

By 1864, Mary had begun teaching at the Cooper Female Seminary in Dayton.[6] She taught at the school for a few years, and then afterwards, she taught private lessons in drawing and painting in her home for a few more years.[7]

From June 1874 through August 1875, Mary studied in Europe, visiting many of the famous European art galleries and receiving instruction from teachers in several different cities. She studied at least two months in the British Isles, mainly in London. She spent two months in Geneva, Switzerland. She studied for four months in Germany, primarily in Munich. There, she studied with a man who had been artist for the German Emperor, and this experience has been credited as most helpful to her career. She spent another four months in Italy, studying at Naples, Florence, Rome, and Venice. She also visited at least briefly the cities of Paris, Oxford, and Berlin.[8]

After Mary returned from Europe, she returned to teaching at Cooper Academy (as it was then called). She primarily taught drawing, but she also sometimes taught wax-flower making and other art subjects. Her work as a teacher required her to cover many types of art, rather than focusing on her own favorite subjects and mediums. She remained as a teacher at the school until about 1882.[9]

On October 5, 1882, Mary married Jeremiah H. Peirce (1818-1889), the widower of her sister Elizabeth, apparently despite her mother Sarah’s objections. At the time of their marriage, Mary was 44, and Jeremiah was 64; they had no children.[10]

Mary (Forrer) Peirce, undated

Mary (Forrer) Peirce, undated (Dayton Metro Library, FPW, Box 13, Folder 20)

After her marriage, Mary was able to return her attention to painting primarily flowers and landscapes. She no longer worked at Cooper Academy, although she still taught students at her home occasionally. Her new home, her husband’s Five Oaks estate nestled in Peirce’s woods with a pond and trees and flowers all around, provided many beautiful subjects for Mary’s artwork.[11]

Over the course of her life, Mary exhibited her artwork many times and won several awards, including many at the Ohio State Fair in the 1860s and Cincinnati exhibitions in the 1860s and 1870s. She exhibited less after her marriage but continued creating artwork until about a year before her death.[12]

A few of Mary’s watercolor paintings are included in the Forrer-Peirce-Wood Collection.[13]

'Eglon, West Virginia, July 1901' watercolor painting by Mary (Forrer) Peirce

‘Eglon, West Virginia, July 1901’ watercolor painting by Mary (Forrer) Peirce (Dayton Metro Library, FPW, Box 13, Folder 11)

The Dayton Art Institute has also preserved some of her artwork.[14]

Mary, along with her nieces Sarah and Elizabeth Peirce, were among the founding members of the First Unitarian Church of Dayton, founded in 1910 and located at the corner of Salem Avenue and Five Oaks Avenue. During the 1913 Flood, when the church was unable to use its temporary meeting place on West Fourth Street, the Peirce family offered the use of their home at Five Oaks. The family also donated to the church a stained glass window dedicated to the memory of Howard Forrer Peirce.[15]

Mary (Forrer) Peirce, late in life

Mary (Forrer) Peirce, late in life (Dayton Metro Library, FPW, Box 13, Folder 20)

Mary (Forrer) Peirce died September 2, 1929, at her home Five Oaks in Dayton, Ohio; she was 91 years old.[16] She was buried on September 5, 1929, in Woodland Cemetery in Dayton, Ohio, near her parents.[17]

Tombstone of Mary (Forrer) Peirce in Woodland Cemetery, Section 102

Tombstone of Mary (Forrer) Peirce in Woodland Cemetery, Section 102 (Photo by the author, 29 Oct. 2011)


This biographical sketch was originally written by Lisa P. Rickey in April 2012 for the Forrer-Peirce-Wood Collection (MS-018) finding aid at the Dayton Metro Library, 215 E. Third St., Dayton, Ohio, 45402; phone (937) 496-8654.

Additional information about the sketch’s subject can be found in that collection. For more information about the manuscript collection’s contents, please see the original PDF finding aid available in the Local History Room of the Dayton Metro Library, the OhioLINK EAD Repository entry, or the WorldCat record.

Please contact the Dayton Metro Library or this blog’s author for more information about how to access the original finding aid or the manuscript collection.

[1] Forrer Genealogical Data, Forrer-Peirce-Wood Collection (hereafter cited as FPW), 7:12, Dayton Metro Library (Dayton, Ohio); Frank Bruen, Christian Forrer, the Clockmaker, and his Descendants (Rutland, VT: Tuttle, 1939), 136; Woodland Cemetery & Arboretum Interment Database, accessed 20 Dec. 2011, http://www.woodlandcemetery.org. See also FPW, Series I: Samuel Forrer Family.

[2] “Mary Forrer Peirce: An Artist Who is Yet Busy with Brush and Palette Though Near Her 80th Year,” Dayton Daily News, 24 Dec. 1916, in Mary Forrer Peirce: Newspaper Clippings, FPW, 13:18, and also quoted in Frank Bruen, Christian Forrer, the Clockmaker, and his Descendants (Rutland, VT: Tuttle, 1939), 137; “High Interest in Art Affairs Began Long Ago,” Dayton Journal, 13 Feb. 1927, in Mary (Forrer) Peirce: Newspaper Clippings, FPW, 13:18; Mary Sayre Haverstock, Jeannette Mahoney Vance, & Brian L. Meggitt, eds., Artists in Ohio, 1787-1900: A Biographical Dictionary (Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 2000), 301.

[3] “Mary Forrer Peirce,” Dayton Daily News, 24 Dec. 1916, FPW, 13:18.

[4] Mary Forrer to Sarah Forrer, 28 July 1862, FPW, 11:7; Harvey W. Crew, History of Dayton, Ohio (Dayton, OH: United Brethren Publishing House, 1889), 565; Haverstock, Vance, & Meggitt, Artists in Ohio, 301; Bruen, Christian Forrer, 140; “Cooper Union: History,” Cooper Union web site, accessed 10 Jan. 2012, http://cooper.edu/about/history.

All of the published sources consulted (see above paragraph) state that Mary attended the Cooper Institute in 1860 and returned to Dayton in 1861. However, according to her correspondence (see Mary Forrer to Sarah Forrer, 1860-1861, FPW, 11:6), she was not in New York at that time but wrote to her mother from various cities in Ohio. In the July 28, 1862, letter, Mary writes to her mother about arriving in New York and inquiring about her lessons at “the Institute.”

[5] Mary Forrer to Sarah Forrer, 15 Nov. 1862, FPW, 11:7; Howard Forrer to Elizabeth Peirce, 29 Sept. 1861, FPW, 6:8. Howard sent an advertisement for Cooper Union to his sister to give to their mother and states that he “will visit the Institute and find out what we can about it” while he is in New York.

There is no correspondence between Mary and Sarah for the year 1863, which may indicate that she had already returned to Dayton. The collection does include letters from 1864 (see FPW, 11:8), but they are not written from New York. Furthermore, Mary is listed in the 1864-65 Dayton city directory as a teacher at Cooper Female Seminary in Dayton.

[6] Dayton City Directory, 1864; Crew, History of Dayton, 565.

Note: The Cooper Female Seminary was known by several different names over the years, including: Cooper Female Seminary, Cooper Seminary, Cooper Academy for Young Ladies, Cooper Female Academy, and simply Cooper Academy. All of these terms refer to the same school, which was located on the southwest corner of First and Wilkinson (source: Dayton City Directories).

[7] Crew, History of Dayton, 565.

[8] Mary Forrer to Sarah Forrer, 1874-1875 (several letters), FPW, 11:10-12; “Mary Forrer Peirce,” Dayton Daily News, 24 Dec. 1916, FPW, 13:18; Crew, History of Dayton, 565.

[9] Dayton City Directories, 1877-1879; Crew, History of Dayton, 565-566; “Mary Forrer Peirce,” Dayton Daily News, 24 Dec. 1916, FPW, 13:18; Haverstock, Vance, & Meggitt, Artists in Ohio, 301.

[10] Bruen, Christian Forrer, 136, 138-140; Sarah Forrer to Jeremiah H. Peirce, 2 Sept. 1877, FPW, 4:9; Jeremiah H. Peirce to Sarah Forrer, undated, FPW, 4:9. See also FPW, Series II, Subseries 1: Jeremiah Hunt Peirce.

[11] “Mary Forrer Peirce,” Dayton Daily News, 24 Dec. 1916, FPW, 13:18; Crew, History of Dayton, 566; Haverstock, Vance, & Meggitt, Artists in Ohio, 301-302.

[12] Haverstock, Vance, & Meggitt, Artists in Ohio, 302; Bruen, Christian Forrer, 140; Mary (Forrer) Peirce: Newspaper Clippings, FPW, 13:18.

[13] Mary (Forrer) Peirce: Watercolor Paintings, FPW, 13:11.

[14] Dayton Art Institute Bulletin 35, no. 1 (Sept. 1976): 31.

[15] Finding Aid, First Unitarian Church of Dayton Church Records (MS-230), Wright State University Special Collections & Archives (Dayton, Ohio), accessed 18 Jan. 2012, http://www.libraries.wright.edu/special/collection_guides/guide_files/ms230.pdf; Miami Valley Unitarian Universalist Fellowship church web site, accessed 18 Jan. 2012, http://www.mvuuf.org.

[16] Bruen, Christian Forrer, 136.

[17] Woodland Cemetery & Arboretum Interment Database, accessed 20 Dec. 2011, http://www.woodlandcemetery.org. Mary is buried in Section 102, Lot 1348.