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.