Cattaraugus County, New York: Surprises Around Each Bend

Outdoor sculptures at the Griffis Sculpture Park in East Otto, NY.
Outdoor sculptures at the Griffis Sculpture Park in East Otto, NY.

We’re traveling across the vast expanse of Cattaraugus County in Western New York this week, after setting out from Corning where the TBEX conference was held.  Two hours later we were exiting the interstate for the run-down city of Salamanca, which is inside the Seneca-Iroquois tribal nation.

The Seneca have a matriarchal society, as seen in this symbolic diorama in the museum.
The Seneca have a matriarchal society, as seen in this symbolic diorama in the museum.

The tribe has built a new museum celebrating their heritage, which will officially open in October. Workers were still painting and putting up the exhibits when we took a tour with a tribe member who had many facial piercings and tatts.

I asked him what the ‘Rage’ and ‘Hate’ lettering on his arms meant, and he said he was once a fighter and that was to intimidate his opponents.

A replica cabin of an English woman who was captured and lived with the Seneca in the new Seneca-Iroquois National Museum in Salamanca, NY.
A replica cabin of an English woman who was captured and lived with the Seneca in the new Seneca-Iroquois National Museum in Salamanca, NY.

The museum contains an interesting but somewhat limited array of exhibits about the Seneca and Iroquois language and their culture. It’s directly across from their casino, which has paid millions to the local chamber of commerce over the years since they are dependent on a reliable source of tourists to deliver patrons to gamble. It’s a win-win, explained a local chamber of commerce official we met.

Steel sculptures at the Griffis Sculpture Park in East Otto, NY.
Steel sculptures at the Griffis Sculpture Park in East Otto, NY.

We drove on through the lightly-populated county to East Otto, where we toured a 450-acre park that’s filled with giant steel sculptures by Larry Griffis Jr, and his son, artists who created the whimsical pieces over the course of a lifetime.

The tour took us through woods and across fields, to many different types of art reflecting Griffis’ changing moods. There are 250 of them in all, ranging from 5′ wide insects to towering 30′ humanoid shapes.

Aluminum bathers lie in repose and some dot the banks of a man-made pond at the Griffis Sculpture Park.
Aluminum bathers lie in repose and some dot the banks of a man-made pond at the Griffis Sculpture Park.

Cattaraugus County is a wonderful part of the world, we discovered, as we drove on past cornfield and gently rolling hills.  There are not that many people and lots of interesting things to discover.

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Ellicottville proved to be one of the true highlights of the visit, but more on that next time.

Cattaraugus County, New York

Griffis Sculpture Park