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Dayton Art Museum to commemorate historic flood in new exhibit

For anyone who has ever wondered how a museum curator comes up with the idea for a new exhibit, the answer may be as simple as a chance encounter on a street corner.

That’s what happened last May when the Dayton Art Institute’s Associate Director Jane Black bumped into photographer Andy Snow after a Governor’s Award for the Arts luncheon in Columbus. Snow was excited about a new commission he’d just received.

“Andy told me he had been asked to be part of a book on the 100th anniversary of the flood,” Black remembered. “And I thought: ‘That’s our spring show!’ “

In the months since, that moment has blossomed into a new exhibit that opens to the public on Saturday and will run through May 5. It’s one of many events throughout our region commemorating the Dayton flood: a new permanent exhibit at Carillon Historical Park, “The Great 1913 Flood” will open to the public on the anniversary of the day the rains began, March 23.    

In addition to Snow’s photos, the exhibition also includes a series of “Storm” paintings, and “Riverbank,” an exploration of river-centered development in our area.

“The more I learned about the flood, the more I realized how life-changing it was for our region and for all of the communities up and down the Great Miami River,” said Black, who curated the exhibit. “We aren’t focusing so much on the historical because a lot of other organizations are covering those aspects of it, but we felt there was an artistic story to be told as well.”

The primary story that’s told in the DAI galleries is revealed through a series of fascinating paired photographs of now and then. The historic photos are digital scans of original materials such as postcards and lantern slides that were printed by Snow, who made all of the new photos as well.

Other aspects of the exhibit range from displays of glass lantern slides of the flood to an interactive room where visitors are invited to contribute their own ideas.

Just before viewing the photographs, you’ll be enveloped in a storm through the evocative paintings of April Gornik.

“There’s a spectacular piece in our collection I’ve always loved called the “Back of the Storm,” Black explained. “I got in touch with the artist, and we have paintings on loan from her private collection and from Danese Gallery in New York City. Gornik says her source material ranges from dreams, to experience, to photographic material and are usually a combination of all three.

Watershed: 100 Years of Photography Along the Great Miami River

Snow, who first came to Dayton to produce radio and television ads for Rike’s department store in the late ’70s, calls the flood project the most fascinating and rewarding journey of his career. A full-time professional photographer since 1983, he has made photos for TIME, Business Week, Fortune, GE, P&G, DPL, and NCR. A Princeton University graduate, he is the recipient of the “Cradle of Creativity Award” — under the auspices of the Dayton Foundation — and official photographer for the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra. He is well-known for his photographs of dance and other arts and has been working digitally since 1993.

The idea for the current endeavor originated with representatives from the Miami Conservancy Districwho ontacted Snow and asked him to create a series of 50-60 new photographs that would correspond to a series of historic 1913 flood images.

The limited-edition book, “A Flood of Memories: One Hundred Years After the Flood/Images from 1913 and Today,” will be published by the Miami Conservancy District in March.

Snow called the mammoth effort “Sherlock Holmes Meets Ansel Adams.” It involved months of research— looking through hundreds of prints and lantern slides from the archives of Wright State University, and NCR/Dayton History as well as images provided by a committee of historical societies in other communities — Troy, Miamisburg, Hamilton, Piqua, West Carrollton, Franklin and Middletown.

Some of the images, Snow said, were fascinating but corresponded to places that were now empty fields or abandoned buildings and wouldn’t work for the book.

“I hope our visitors will find the artistry in Andy’s work,” Black said. “It’s not just going out and pointing a camera. As you examine the photos, you notice the way he finds the right angle, the right light.”

He roamed around Troy for hours before selecting a view from the north side of the river looking toward the Courthouse. The 1913 photo with its raging waters is contrasted with the photo taken during the drought of 2012 when the water is low and a tractor is cutting the riverbed grass.

In Hamilton, viewers will see a 1913 view of the Strauss Department Store from the Rentschler Building. In both the old and new photos, the power facility can be observed.

“Here is Central Avenue in Middletown, it was Third Street in the day, and you see a man on horseback in the water,” Snow said. “The original photo was labeled the ‘Crest of the Flood.’”


  • A shot of Dayton’s Fifth Third Field today showing stadium lights that mimic the telephone poles in the 1913 photo taken in the same location.

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