War of 1812 Collaboration wins “Best in the State” Award

POMFRET – At their fall annual meeting, the Association for the Study of Connecticut History presented two awards to “The Rockets’ Red Glare” project.  The Bruce Fraser Award, recognizing the finest public history presentation in the state in 2012, was presented to the Lyman Allyn Art Museum, where the exhibition was on display from July 2012 through January of this year. The Betty M. Linsley Award, recognizing the best work on Connecticut history published by a historical society in 2012 was presented to the New London County Historical Society for the companion book to the exhibit, of which Glenn Gordinier, of Mystic Seaport, was the primary author.

“THE ROCKETS’ RED GLARE” was created by a partnership of the New London County Historical Society with Mystic Seaport, the Stonington Historical Society, the New London Maritime Society, and the Lyman Allyn Art Museum to commemorate the bicentennial of the beginning of the War of 1812. The museums and historical societies worked together in creating the exhibition, the book, and a website (available at http://warof1812ct.org). Fred Calebretta, Curator of Collections at Mystic Seaport was the curator for the exhibit, and Jeff Crewe, the exhibit designer.

In presenting the Bruce Fraser Award, Chairman Peter Hinks extolled the exemplary nature of the exhibit. “Working with a limited but exciting pool of documents and artifacts that included the famous Stonington Battle flag from 1814, the designers smartly deployed all to stage a rich narrative of a Connecticut assailed and transformed by the era’s naval, commercial and political frays.”

Awarding the Linsley prize, Hinks praised Dr. Glenn Gordinier’s expert guidance as well as the insight of numerous scholars. Speaking of the entire project he lauded the value of the collaboration that made it possible: “Key to the exhibition’s merit is its modeling of how a consortium of some of the state’s numerous local historical societies can combine their resources, knowledge, and energies to serve the people of the state through commendable public history.” The project also received a national level “Leadership in History Award” from the American Association for State and Local History at their annual meeting in September, in Birmingham, Alabama.

The bicentennial of the British attack on Stonington will be August 2014. Look for additional commemorative events being planned by the Stonington Historical Society. The book is available for sale from both the Stonington Historical Society and the New London County Historical Society.

The book and exhibition were supported by grants from Connecticut Humanities, the Coby Foundation, and the Edgard and Geraldine Feder Foundation. Creating the website was funded through a grant from the Community Foundation of Eastern Connecticut.

War of 1812 Exhibit Planning Begins

War of 1812 Exhibit Planning Begins

The Connecticut Humanities Council has announced the award of a $30,000 grant to fund the planning of a bicentennial exhibit on the War of 1812 and its effects on Connecticut and the region. Scheduled to open just after Independence Day weekend 2012 at the Lyman Allyn Art Museum, the exhibit will feature items from the collections of the Stonington Historical Society, Mystic Seaport, the New London County Historical Society, the New London Maritime Society, and the Lyman Allyn.

“The Rockets’ Red Glare,” will focus on important local events including Commodore Stephen Decatur’s naval fleet taking refuge in the Thames River to avoid the British, the bombardment of Stonington, and the effects of the British blockade. “The exhibit will showcase our own Star – Spangled Banner,” says Meredith Brown, President of the Stonington Historical Society, who led the effort to get the five museums to collaborate on the exhibit. The Stonington Battle Flag and a coat worn by a Stonington defender wounded at the battle will be a couple of the objects that will be featured in the exhibit.

Operation Sail 2012 (OpSail) is scheduled to host a tall ships event in Boston harbor over the 4th of July. They are currently in negotiation to follow up with a visit to New London for SailFest the next weekend. “It will be great if OpSail arrives in New London the week this exhibit opened!” stated Deborah Donovan, President of the New London County Historical Society. “Think of the opportunity to learn the history behind the fireworks.”

Developing an exhibit catalog with photographs and background information to accompany the exhibition is an integral part of this planning process. Historians Glenn Gordinier of Mystic Seaport and Nancy Steenburg of the University of Connecticut will provide some of that background. Published for the first time will be a manuscript written in 1828 by historian Frances Caulkins based on her interviews with survivors of the 1814 battle in Stonington. Author James Tertius de Kay, an expert on the US Navy during the War of 1812, will also be a contributor.

“Although most people know the national anthem, ‘The Star – Spangled Banner,’ I’m not sure that fifty percent could tell you it’s connected to the War of 1812,” stated Edward Baker, Executive Director of the New London County Historical Society. “Our plan is to create a major exhibit, combining our stories and collections in order to have a bigger impact. Hopefully we can change that percentage.” Baker will serve as the project director for the exhibit. Curator for the exhibit, guiding the process of choosing artifacts and stories will be Fred Calabretta, Mystic Seaport Curator.

The Connecticut Humanities Council grant to the New London County Historical Society will be used to pay for services from exhibit designers, photographers, a book designer and editor, plus consultants with expertise in historic textiles and lighting design. Work on the initial proposal for the exhibition began a year ago. With the approval of the grant funding, planning for both the exhibit and the book begin in earnest.