Museum Celebrates the 50th Through Visions of Adirondack Wilderness

From Memorial Day to mid-October 2013 and 2014, the Adirondack Museum will showcase two art exhibits in which painters, photographers, and writers who depict the Adirondacks have reflected and helped to shape the changing ways we value and define nature and civilization. New York state's Adirondack Park boasts the most robust and extensive state wilderness system, modelled after the National Wilderness Preservation System created under the federal Wilderness Act.

Great Wilderness, Great Expectations: Masterworks from the Adirondack Museum

The Adirondack Mountains have attracted hundreds of thousands of tourists, sportsmen, and artists over nearly two centuries. Some have come to commune with nature. Some have come to escape the heat, noise, and stresses of urban life. Others seek sport and recreation, renewed health and vigor, or spiritual renewal. A few stay and make it their home; others pass through. Visitors come to the Adirondacks to find meaning in the wilderness, in those untouched or seemingly untouched places far from the workaday world.

Great Wilderness, Great Expectations celebrates our relationship with nature and wilderness by featuring more than 120 paintings, prints, drawings, and photographs with notable quotes from Adirondackers, travel guidebooks, artists, newspapers, scientists, scholars, poets and tourists past and present. This unique art exhibit celebrating the 50th anniversary opened at the on Memorial Day weekend and will continue through mid-October and will reopen again next year at the same time. Depicting the Adirondack landscape over a span of two centuries, the masterworks in the exhibit represent artists and photographers such as Thomas Cole and William Trost Richards, Seneca Ray Stoddard and Nathan Farb, Jacques Gerard Milbert and Eliot Porter. The images and written words document changes over time in the way we define nature and the ways we expect to interact with the landscape.

Traveling with Stoddard

Seneca Ray Stoddard (1843-1917), more than any other photographer and writer, shaped the popular image of the Adirondack Mountains as a comfortable, spiritual place where one could find health and companionship in a spectacular wilderness setting. Between 1874 and 1914 he wrote and published The Adirondacks Illustrated, a guidebook for tourists and sportsmen peppered with engravings, adventure stories, advice, and his own unique brand of humor. His work helped shape and reinforce ideas about how to value nature and behave in the outdoors.

The tourist industry in America-and in the Adirondacks-was just beginning to develop as Stoddard began his career. Carefully composed and suffused with light, Stoddard's images depict a serene, luminous landscape. He also captured the social side of tourism in the Adirondacks. Stagecoaches loaded with people and baggage, gatherings of boat enthusiasts, outdoor picnics, and patients curing their tuberculosis on an open-air porch convey the conviviality and communal aspect of the 19th century wilderness experience. Even armchair travelers could follow along the tour, courtesy of the hundreds of stereoviews Stoddard printed of popular tourist spots, conveyances, and hotels.

In his later years, Stoddard advocated for the preservation of the Adirondack forests and waterways, publishing articles and lecturing. In the final edition of The Adirondacks Illustrated, published in 1914, Stoddard pondered the changes he had witnessed since the early 1870s: "Wild grass grows on the old routes and unknown places of then are now centers of a summer population greater than the total of all Adirondack visitors of twenty years ago."

The exhibition will feature rare photographic enlargements, sketchbooks and landscape oils, maps, souvenir books, stereoviews, and excerpts from his guidebooks. Join us in bringing the 19th century Adirondacks vividly to life as we again go traveling with Stoddard.