Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Gothics and Sawteeth: 19th Century Adirondack Art History

The 19th century paintings and photographs of Keene Valley inspired artists to seek out the depicted images of Nature and experience it for themselves. A number of years ago I fell under the same spell when I looked at the artistic interpretations of the High Peaks as seen from the Ausable Lakes.

Seneca Ray Stoddard (1844-1917) made many photographs of those lakes, including at least two of the view of Gothics and Sawteeth, with and without people. In the version with the boats, the people float within the reflections of the mountains. Stoddard’s guidebook, The Adirondacks: Illustrated, published in 1873 and was reprinted for many years, attracting more visitors to the Adirondacks.

Among the paintings that had intrigued me was Upper Ausable by Albany native Homer Dodge Martin (1836- 1897). He spent the summers of the 1860s sketching in the Adirondacks, Catskills and White Mountains and returned to his studio in New York City to create oil paintings from his sketches.

I wanted to see those mountains portrayed by Stoddard and Martin, looming over the quiet lake, and have the opportunity to create my own visual story of that juxtaposition. So I jumped at an invitation in 2003 to accompany a friend, Pat Quinn, for several days at Inlet Camp on Upper Ausable Lake. I returned with Pat to the same painting spot in 2004. Last week, as I was hanging some of the paintings from those trips at Corscaden Art Barn in Keene Valley, I was inspired to do a little research about historic access to the iconic view.

Robin Pell’s essay on Keene Valley artists in Two Adirondack Hamlets in History: Keene and Keene Valley, provides a lot of details about the lives of the many artists who flocked to the area in the second half of the 19th century. Some artists climbed mountains, but most painted the mountains from the valley or painted the Ausable River and the many falls in the area. Pell singles out the Ausable Lakes as favorite locations. He writes “Practically every artist made the seven-mile trek by trail and boat from the Beede House (which was on the site of today’s Ausable Club) via the lower lake to the upper lake where local guides maintained rough camps built around lean-tos.” Eventually painters Roger Roswell Shurtleff and Alexander Wyant built camps near the Lower Lake outlet that drew more artists and visitors.

To reach our destination of Inlet Camp we paddled the full extent of both the Lower and Upper lakes with a portage in between. When we arrived, the hoped for view was blocked by clouds, but still inspired a painting.

When the sky cleared the next day we were able to understand Martin’s artistic choices, but the lake had none of the calm surface in Stoddard’s photo.

Martin maintained the undulations of the ridgelines while exaggerating their height. The artistic choice helps convey the way that the mountain looms over the lake. Gothics and Pyramid on the left have not been exaggerated as much and appear less prominent. Perhaps he wanted to keep the focus on the irregularly shaped Sawteeth and at the same time push the larger mountains further back in space by reducing their relative height.

I took out my large rolled up canvas and attached it to an unfolded piece of foamcore. I chose to focus on a narrower section of the mountain range. The dramatic slides of Gothics and Pyramid could then be set against the echoing shapes of sky and clouds. I limited the proportion of water to make serve as a base for the sculpture of the mountains. The warm late afternoon light filled the valley beyond the ridge. The late evening light allowed me to play with the intersecting shapes of the shadows and sunlit slopes.

Thirty of Anne Diggory’s paintings of the Keene Valley area, including the ones in this article, are on display through July 23 at the Corscaden Art Barn, just south of the town.

Illustrations, from above: photo of the view from near Inlet Camp (Anne Diggory); Seneca Ray Stoddard, Upper Au Sable from Inlet, c. 1887; Upper Ausable Lake by Homer Dodge Martin 1868 (Smithsonian Institution); Ausable View: Covered, 5×7” acrylic on canvas by Anne Diggory; Freshness of Morning, 19.5×28.5”, acrylic on canvas by Anne Diggory.

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Since moving to Saratoga Springs in 1977, Anne Diggory has been inspired by the natural world of the Adirondacks as well as mountain landscapes encountered in her travels. She uses her artistic perspective to identify the Adirondack painting locations of artists working in past centuries and has helped several museums correct their catalogues and rename their paintings. Her research concerning the painting location of John Frederick Kensett’s iconic “Lake George, 1869,” was recently published in the Metropolitan Museum Journal. Additional information and images are available at diggory.com.

One Response

  1. Boreas says:


    Thanks for shedding some light on how artists compose and create beautiful art. Troglodytes like myself have zero talent for creating such things, but I do appreciate their beauty – although I do not have the ability to say why.

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