City of Niagara Falls Museums En coulisses

Insect Art

Insect Art

Canada 150 has inspired the team at the Niagara Falls History Museum to delve a little deeper into some of our favourite objects and the stories they tell.  Niagara, like all our Canadian towns and cities, has a rich history that spans well beyond the year of Confederation.  One story that we always love to share is that of Thomas Barnett and the museum he opened in 1831.  The Niagara Falls Museum, considered to be Canada’s oldest museum, was one of the first substantial buildings along the road that faces Canada’s Horseshoe Falls in Niagara Falls, Ontario.  A guidebook printed in 1835 declared that the Museum rooms were …calculated to delight the eye, improve the understanding and mend the heart.

Barnett’s Museum was the quintessential cabinet of curiosities displaying thousands of specimens, both foreign and domestic.  As a trained taxidermist, Thomas was known to mount the creatures that local people brought him, including their beloved pets and animal oddities they encountered.  Like the great Falls themselves, the Museum was a place where people could marvel and learn about the world around them. 

In January 2015, The Niagara Falls History Museum became the steward of several pieces from Barnett’s collection, including this one-of-a-kind example of Victorian Insect Art.

Dating from circa 1850, the walnut corner block frame (sometimes known as a Hicks style frame, after the American artist Edward Hicks) displays almost 900 beetles.  The specimens themselves are arranged in a decorative fashion to include the name of the Museum and its owner alongside a famous quote by Alexander Pope. 

Reminiscent of Victorian hair wreaths or other framed entomology collections, this beautifully assembled piece of natural history illustrates an important time in both Canadian and museological history. The artwork is earmarked for conservation and display in the Community Gallery at the Niagara Falls History Museum in 2018.

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