Norma B. Doherty (1927-2007), Untitled [Dry Niagara] June 18, 1969, June 18, 1969; black and white conte on green paper, 12 5/8 x 20 5/8; Gift of Elizabeth A. Doherty and Richard Wolin
The Falls of Niagara have fascinated artists for centuries. This sublime cataract was a favorite of Hudson River School painters such as Frederic Edwin Church (1826 – 1900) and Albert Bierstadt (1830 – 1902). Its natural beauty was a wonder to the world, but the 20th century brought many changes that were evident to artists such as Doherty.
In this work, we see the Ontario Power Company building on the distant Canadian shore. The plant started producing electricity in 1905. By the 1970s it was all but shut down, being manned only one week per year. In the foreground we see the peculiar site of a dry cliff where the American Falls should be. This was the scene for six months in 1969.
Erosion and the accumulation of large boulders at the base of the American falls caused fears that this major tourist attraction might be destroyed if nothing was done. The river water was diverted over to the Horseshoe Falls on the Canadian side while maintenance workers examined the situation. Ultimately the landscape was left largely unchanged. In this scene the power of nature was tested by the power of human engineering. For a time it seemed like engineering and industry might have the upper hand.