The Adirondack Museum will be opening for its 57th season this Friday, May 23, at its home in Blue Mountain Lake. After a calm winter of Cabin Fever Lectures and special programs, the museum is bringing back favorite exhibits and hosting specials exhibitions for the 2014 season.
Though all the new exhibits sound exciting, one in particular that I’m looking forward to celebrates Arto Monaco’s whimsical art and the Land of Makebelieve. A few years ago my family and I had been able to visit and help the Arto Monaco Historical Society on a few of its work weekends in Upper Jay. The organization was doing its best to resurrect parts of the Land of Makebelieve as well as to catalog the massive art collection for future generations.
Walking to the castle ruins, cutting branches and brush and seeing a child-size frontier ghost town was heartbreaking. It turns out not as heartbreaking as the devastation Hurricane Irene left a few weeks later, which destroyed the castle and flooded the remains of the former amusement park.
Since then the Arto Monaco Historical Society has donated vast collections to the Adirondack Museum, the National Museum of Play at The Strong and the Essex County Historical Society. The hope is to help preserve Monaco’s role as theme park designer, artist and toymaker.
According to Director of Marketing Todd Happer the Adirondack Museum is displaying just a fraction of its Monaco collection, but anyone visiting will get a taste for what drew thousands of people to the Adirondacks each year to visit the Land of Makebelieve. There are signs, set decorations, and even a child-size stagecoach. After visiting the Land of Makebelieve display, children can make way to the Adirondack Family Room to the new rustic Puppet Theatre reflecting the imagination of Arto Monaco.
“This is a special exhibit, but may eventually morph into something bigger. The curators are looking into gathering other Monaco objects from around the Adirondacks for future exhibits,” says Happer. “We did create a puppet theatre to look like the Land of Makebelieve castle. There will also be objects based on the educational toys created by Monaco. He was quite a pioneer. He was developing toys before the educational element became an integral part of toy making. We want people to realize that he did more than just theme parks.”
Happer explains that before Monaco passed away he worked on a coloring book concept for the Adirondack Museum. The original drawings are still part of the museum’s collection. Copies will be reproduced as sheets for kids to color in the Adirondack Family Room.
Of course no trip down Arto Monaco memory lane would be complete without a visit to Santa’s Workshop in North Pole, NY, which opens July 1st. This is the only fully operational Arto Monaco amusement park that remains in the Adirondack Park.
Photo of the Land of Makebelieve Puppet Theatre courtesy the Adirondack Museum.