Sandra Hildreth, who writes regularly about Adirondack arts and culture, grew up in rural Wisconsin and is a retired high school art teacher. She lives in Saranac Lake where she was spends much of her time hiking, paddling, skiing, and painting.
If you’ve been reading the Adirondack Almanack for a while, you may recall my emotional writing about the heron nest I found in the spring of 2012, and the three charming youngsters that were about half-grown when nature intervened and they became dinner for some predator like a large owl or a bald eagle. I was devastated as I’d been quietly visiting the nest site for weeks, observing and photographing the heron family. You can see a YouTube video of one of the parents feeding the three youngsters here.
I’m happy to say, the herons are back on the nest. Or more accurately, according to what I’ve read, a male heron, perhaps the same one, returned to this nest site, made sure the nest was in tip-top shape, and then courted a female (who may not be the same one as last year) and convinced her to join him for mating season. I trust those close friends who know where this pond is will keep it quiet and not disturb this nesting pair. » Continue Reading.
I’ve been gone for 10 days visiting family and so upon returning to the Adirondacks and waking up to blue skies and sun (and 21 degrees in April!), I decided to get out in the woods and check out one of my favorite little trails and see how far along spring actually was. I was especially interested in seeing the heron nest I’d found last spring, just about this same time, to see if the herons were back. » Continue Reading.
The ides of March spawned a remarkable confluence of art and artists in Saranac Lake and Lake Placid. Two exceptional exhibits opened that evening that were marveled at by crowds of fascinated people, in spite of occasional white-out blizzard conditions.
“The Past Through the Eyes of the Present” opened at the Lake Placid Center for the Arts and will be on display through April 12. I’m not sure who initially had the idea for this, but I know artists Parmalee Tolkan and Tim Fortune sent out the letters that invited artists to participate. The subtitle of the show is “Barry Collection Photos Re-Imagined by Modern Artists”. The story behind the show is that in the early 70’s, Dr. George Hart, who was present at the exhibit opening, was at the town dump when someone was about to dispose of a large number of old glass plate negatives.
Over 8,000 of them were rescued and most had been created by photographers involved with the Lake Placid Club. Now known as the Barry Collection, the images range from sports and family activities to wildlife, people in costume, x-rays, and even bodies in coffins! The Collection had been gifted to the Lake Placid Center for the Arts and they passed it along to the Lake Placid-North Elba Historical Society. » Continue Reading.
A man from England, who came to Saranac Lake to cure a respiratory illness in 1922, and ended up operating a grocery store for 60 years has turned out to be a well loved and fondly remembered citizen of the village – and the subject of an art exhibit!
The Adirondack Artists Guild, of which I am one of 14 members, has a gallery at 52 Main Street in Saranac Lake. It’s an old, three story building from the last century, situated between the Sears parking lot and the Waterhole. We knew all along that prior to being used as an art gallery that it had been a bike shop, maybe another short-lived business or 2, and before that a grocery store. The old striped awning on the front of the building, replaced a couple of years ago, had “Greens Market” on it in white letters. So a year ago, when we were planning our 2013 schedule, someone suggested we should do a special exhibit in honor of Charlie Green – the man who operated the grocery store. I wasn’t too excited about it. I had not lived here then – I knew nothing about the man or the store. » Continue Reading.
I have been traveling for most of the summer and fall, hiking and painting in Glacier and Yellowstone National Parks and visiting family in Atlanta, so have not written much for the Almanack. I have literally taken thousands of digital photographs. Dealing with all those photos has prompted me to think about how our use of images and technology is evolving.
First, all of us with digital cameras have learned that we can now take unlimited numbers of photos. Up close, far away, every possible angle, multiple views – only then we end up with huge numbers of images, like I did, and it becomes an immense task to do something with them. » Continue Reading.
Sept 7 – 9 there will be a congregation of artists, scholars, historians, and writers in Lake Placid for an exploration of Adirondack cultural heritage (more info). Free and open to the public, it should prove to be enjoyable and informative to all who love this place. I was thinking about this event as I paddled with a group of friends on the Oswegatchie River, in the Five Ponds Wilderness. Our objective was High Rock – not a terribly difficult or long paddle, although it was challenging in places because the water levels were pretty low and rocks were exposed. Having recently returned from almost four weeks in Glacier National Park – where the “big sky” glacier carved landscapes are truly magnificent – I couldn’t get over the fact that I was still moved by the scenery flowing past me along the Oswegatchie.
Orange brown rocks just beneath the surface, covered with colorful paint swatches from all the boats that have scraped across them for more than a century. Massive white pines that probably were too scrawny to harvest during the logging booms of the 1900’s, were now towering over the river. The tag alder filled flood plain that this wild river was meandering through. The Five Ponds Wilderness is a prime example of how this amazing place can inspire. » Continue Reading.
When people go out for a hike, paddle, or ski, there are a number of different ways they experience the environment. They are likely to be observant, but the hiker may be focused on the route and watching for trail markers; the paddler watching for rocks, rapids, and where the carries are; and the skier alert to obstacles and those pesky trees at the bottom of hills where there is a sharp turn. A photographer looks for composition, lighting, texture. A birder will listen and look for movement in the trees.
I am an artist who, like many others in our world, am inspired by the natural environment around me. In most cases it is the beauty of a place, or the subtle, interesting colors of some rocks, the freeform shape of a brook twisting through a beaver meadow, or sun glistening on a mountain summit. All pretty positive, attractive, peaceful images – the harmony of the natural world.
In a place like the Adirondacks, there are a lot of artists, writers, musicians, and more who gain inspiration from the world around them. » Continue Reading.
Art and nature. The nature of art. Nature effecting art. The Paul Smith’s College VIC, under the direction of canoe guru Brian McDonnell, is doing a pretty good job of tackling these issues. For over a year now Brian has done both the physical work of building and maintaining trails and buildings on the property and he’s also managed to have a full, year round schedule of events, programs, and some fine exhibits of art in the visitors center.
Currently on display are paintings by Saranac Lake artists Tim Fortune and Matt Burnett. Both paint the natural world of the Adirondacks and both paint big. Very accomplished small paintings are on display too, but it’s the large scale images that are truly moving. » Continue Reading.
Two weeks ago I was able to attend a plein air painting event in the Finger Lakes area – where artists seek out scenic spots and paint outdoors, on location. Being an Adirondack artist, I chose to avoid the busy vineyards, docks and sailboats on Canandaigua Lake and spent my time finding trails and wilder views to paint. The landscape there was very scenic, yet I learned it was very different from the Adirondacks.
The first day I painted, I’d done some prior internet research and had directions to a place called ‘Bare Hill”. The Finger Lakes are long, glacier carved gouges in the earth embraced by high ridges and flat topped hills at the southern end. Bare Hill was one of these, it’s steep slopes wooded down to the water, but the top was clear. A sign indicated according to Seneca legend it had been an early settlement. I wandered around, eventually painted a view of the lake, and never saw another person. I sensed it was a very spiritual place for the native peoples. » Continue Reading.
Memorial Day weekend brings fresh paint and new displays to the various galleries and arts venues throughout the Adirondacks.
In Saranac Lake, this is the last week at the Adirondack Artists Guild for “Sunrise-Sunset”, an exhibit of photographs by Barry Lobdell. Opening June 1 will be “Favorite Majicks”, paintings by Meg Bernstein. At NorthWind Fine Arts, blacksmith David Woodward is the featured artist (see photo).
His work will also be found on top of the new Adirondack Carousel building (grand opening May 26) in the form of a hand-crafted weather vane. A number of area artists donated their art skills to the new carousel! The next featured artist at NorthWind will be Phil Gallos with an exhibit of photographs: “Butterflies & Boulders”. A live production of “Pinocchio” is going on at Pendragon Theatre. “A Steady Rain” and “The Last 5 Years” are on the schedule for June performances. “Cooter & the Crawlies” are playing at Bluseed Studios on May 26. » Continue Reading.
On Monday April 23, history was made – the carousel mechanicals were delivered to the Adirondack Carousel site in Saranac Lake and assembly began. As mysterious and amazing as the actual metal structure is, the “barn-raising” experience of being a volunteer for this project is even more fantastic.
I’m sure there are other communities, large and small, where this kind of thing happens, but I am so proud to be part of this community. In grade school in Wisconsin I remember learning about “barn-raising” in a social studies class. When a farmer needed to build a house or barn, the word would go out, a date would be chosen, and all his friends and neighbors would show up and work together. With that kind of cooperation, a building could go up in a day or 2. I recall thinking ‘isn’t that nice – too bad we don’t do things like that any more”. Well, I’ve learned that here in Saranac Lake the concept is not dead and out-dated. From the ice palace to the carousel, when there is a need – community members here step up to the plate. I started out being the volunteer painter of one of the carousel animals – the otter. Then the bald eagle and this past fall, the black bear. That was fun. The paints were donated by Golden Paints and all I had to do was apply them to these beautifully carved animals (also donated). Then they needed some large panels to be decoratively painted and I jumped in and took command. Rounded up 9 other artists and we got them done with scenes from the area and native wild flowers. They will decorate the upper structure of the carousel.
The carousel animals have been around for several years – touring, animals in residence at various locations, doing press conferences, etc. Well, all that moving around took it’s toll and many of them had nicks and scrapes, so I recently spent several days touching them all up. Then they all needed an “isolation coat” of acrylic varnish and finally, beginning on April 23, they all got a final coat of hard, glossy varnish and will need at least one more coat. Through this process I guess I got to intimately know all the animals – every nook and cranny! The workmanship is absolutely fantastic. One of the unique qualities of the Adirondack Carousel, besides the fact that the animals are all native to the region, are the lady bugs and the decorations. I learned about the “romance side” – the right side of each animal, which will be facing out and has most of the added on decorative elements.
Every animal has at least one and usually several ladybugs. Some are carved, some are painted. Some are life-size, one is gigantic! While down on hands and knees applying varnish I discovered one carved lady-bug wearing snorkel googles! On another animal there is a carved fish that is part of the saddle that has a ladybug in it’s mouth! There are painted trilliums, baby bunnies, lily pads and sun-bathing frogs, a monarch butterfly caterpillar, a mouse with a chunk of Swiss cheese – riders will have as much fun examining their rides as they will riding! It’s been said that there will need to be times when the carousel will remain stationary just so people can climb on board and walk around and delightfully examine the animals, discovering all their hidden treasures.
The carousel building is the true example of community spirit. At the corner of Depot St., and Bloomingdale Ave (route 3), it has been entirely built by volunteers. This “barn-raising” has taken months, but the generosity of individuals, organizations, contractors, and businesses has been unmatched. The excavation, foundation, construction, heating, wiring, painting, staining – all done by volunteers. The carousel mechanicals came by truck from Texas and word was put out via Facebook, email, and “mouth” and a volunteer crew was there Monday morning to help.
Doors had to be removed to make room to carry the machinery in. A lift was loaned by a company in Lake Placid. And by 5 pm the skeleton of a carousel was standing. Probably unchanged over the last 100 years, the structure has what looks like giant clock mechanicals or a medieval torture machine in the center. A large geared wheel is at the top. 10 geared, rotating arms project outward to form a 10 sided (decagon) structure overhead. The animals will eventually be mounted to rods attached to the rotating overhead rods. When the carousel turns, the overhead rods will rotate and the animals move up and down. At the outer edge of the upper structure there were some steel rods hanging down – from these the carousel floor will be suspended. It’s an amazing contraption! It will be an amazing carousel.
If construction continues on schedule, the opening date will be May 26, 2012. For more information check Adirondack Carousel or find them on Facebook. Donations will still be accepted.
During the research I did several years ago about historic landscape painting in the Adirondacks, I came across a painting that took me deep into the High Peaks region, told me a wonderful story, and led me to some interesting discoveries.
In my two earlier posts on this topic, I provided some of the background about the development of landscape painting in the 19th century. While researching, I made several trips to the Adirondack Museum, in Blue Mountain Lake, to look at the many wonderful paintings in their collection. One of my goals was to try to visit some of the sites I could identify and do my own paintings of them – 150 years later. There is a painting in the museum that really captured my attention. “The Great Adirondack Pass, Painted on the Spot, 1837”, by Charles Cromwell Ingham. It depicts a bare rocky cliff on the right side of the painting and what looks like two gigantic glacial erratics in the center foreground. It will probably not be clear in the reproduction, but in the lower left corner is a small figure of an artist, and at the base of the very dark rock in the center, there is a tiny little person. I noticed these when I saw the actual painting in the Adirondack Museum. I couldn’t help but be amazed at the size of the two rocks. Compared to the person at the base of the dark rock, it is at least 10 times the height of that person, perhaps more. That makes this unique glacial erratic 50-60 feet high. Huge! I decided I would try to find this place.
Reading in “Fair Wilderness: American Paintings in the Collection of the Adirondack Museum”, I learned that Charles Cromwell Ingham was a portrait painter invited by Archibald McIntyre to join a geological survey expedition – the first to make the ascent of Mount Marcy, in August of 1837. In another book I read it was reported that Ingham passed out several times while doing the climb because it was so strenuous. Also on the expedition was Dr. Ebenezer Emmons, the state geologist of New York. Ingham was brought along to visually record the trip as pictorial accuracy was deemed very important – this was before the use of cameras. “Fair Wilderness” also explained that this location is now known as Indian Pass – that I could find!
So one Columbus Day weekend I packed what I needed for a day trip, including the Adirondack Mountain Club “Guide to Adirondack Trails: High Peaks Region”, drove to the Upper Works trail head and hiked the Indian Pass trail. This is a very rugged trail that goes from Upper Works, through Indian Pass between the massive cliffs of Wallface Mountain and the McIntyre Range, and about 11 miles later ends up at the Adirondack Loj trailhead near Lake Placid. “Fair Wilderness” included several quotes that further identified the location. Another artist who visited the pass later in 1837 noted there is “a sloping platform amidst the rocks where the finest view of the whole scene is to be obtained”. He also predicted that the site would soon host resorts and lodges and be more popular than Niagara Falls! Later author Alfred Billings Street wrote “I wish to bear testimony to the accuracy” of an engraving that was done based on Ingham’s painting.
I was on a mission to find those two gigantic rocks. It’s approximately 5 miles from the trailhead to the summit of the pass, an elevation of 2660 feet. It was a brisk fall day, many of the leaves were already off, and I found the trail to be one of the most challenging I had ever climbed at that time. Up and over boulders, steep and narrow – I tried to imagine the expedition in 1837 – before there were any trails or man-made ladders to help get you up through the steep sections. After a few hours of climbing I encountered a small sign and arrow that said “summit rock”. Stepping out onto the bare sloping rock I had the barren cliff of Wallface to my right – exactly as it was in Ingham’s painting. Out in front of me the land sloped downward and in the hazy distance I could just barely see the light reflecting off of Henderson Lake – also in Ingham’s painting. This had to be the spot where he painted – but where were those two gigantic rocks?
I took photographs, did some sketches, and had a snack and then I heard another hiker approaching, coming from the opposite direction. I stepped back onto the trail to meet him, showed him my sketch (based on the painting) and asked if he’d seen a couple of big rocks – and he said he had. I thanked him and continued on past summit rock – which I later learned is not really the summit but does have the best view to the West. It did not take long, maybe another quarter mile, and I found them. There were indeed pine trees growing out of the top of the one on the left and the one on the right had a funny bump on the top – just like Ingham’s painting.
They were surrounded by trees and underbrush and nearly impossible to step back far enough to get a decent photograph of both of them. The hiking trail passes directly next to the rocks. But my big discovery was that they were not anywhere as large as Ingham had painted them. What was he thinking? Supposedly he created the painting “on the spot”! How could he be so inaccurate? By my estimation the rocks were twice as tall as I am, maybe three times – so perhaps 11-15 feet high (not 60!).
I took as many photos as I could and then with daylight waning, headed back down the trail, feeling very successful. It wasn’t long before I did my own painting of the two rocks and the view, based on my photos – only it was a little disappointing. The research and the journey had been so exciting but my painting wasn’t very exciting. Two rocks and a cliff. There was no way to understand the scale of the rocks. In my painting they just looked like two boulders – four feet high, six feet? There was no way to tell.
Then it hit me – Charles Ingham may have painted “on the spot”, but I bet when he got the painting back to his studio to finish, he too probably felt he needed to do something to show the actual size of the rocks. I can imagine him remembering the rigors and challenges of this hike into uncharted territory – I thought it was rugged and I had a marked trail to follow. So Charles Cromwell Ingham painted a little person into his painting – something to give the rocks some scale. And he painted himself in the corner, painting. In his memory, perhaps he believed the rocks to be the size of a 6 story building!
So, with a friend to accompany me, I hiked back through Indian Pass and had a photo of myself taken in front of the rocks. Back in my studio, I did a new painting: “Self-portrait in Indian Pass” , which one of my children will inherit someday. I have great respect for all the artists of the past, but I now understand a bit more about what “artistic license” means. I’m sure Mr. Ingham did sketch and paint on the spot – it would be my guess that he did what he could in a few hours, not wanting to hold up the expedition. He was working with oil paints, so probably did more of a sketch than a complete painting, otherwise it would have taken days for the paint to dry. The canvas was then most likely removed from the wooden stretcher bars and rolled up and put in a pack for ease of transportation. Ingham might have rendered the rocks from that specific location, and he might have also sketched the view from the more open “summit rock”. Then I bet he combined the two when he completed the painting of the “Great Adirondack Pass” in his studio. When he realized there was no way for the viewer to understand the size of the rocks or the ruggedness of the terrain, he added the little figures to the painting, for scale. Mystery solved!
If you visit the Adirondack Museum, look for “The Great Adirondack Pass”. See what kind of story it tells you!
As a former high school Art and Humanities teacher, one of my favorite time periods of American history was the mid-nineteenth century when the Hudson River School of Painting was at its peak. Thomas Cole had sparked the whole movement with his first paintings of Katerskill Falls and other Catskill wilderness scenes in 1825. Prior to that time, only one of every ten paintings was a landscape, but by the 1850’s, nine of every ten were paintings of wild American places.
At the very same time that our country was on the path to fulfill the charge of Manifest Destiny! Settlers were cutting down trees, damming rivers, clearing fields and building roads. The Erie Canal had just opened and railroads were pushing farther and farther into the remote areas of the continent. From a limited number of landscapes that were merely backdrops for pastoral farm, military encampment, or village scenes to an abundance of masterful paintings of unspoiled wilderness was quite a development and it had more of an impact than many people realize. The popularity of American wilderness landscapes in the 19th century is partly due to the new, young Republic’s search for a heritage that was not linked to Europe. The political break of the Revolution had left America a newly born nation without a past. European painting was based on tradition and history. They had mythology, ancient Greek and Roman ruins, medieval castles, Gothic cathedrals, and centuries of civilization to glorify or refer to in their various art forms. America had the heroes of the Revolution, but not much more. In “Fair Wilderness: American Paintings in the Collection of the Adirondack Museum” Thomas Cole is quoted as saying that the most distinctive characteristic of the region was its wildness, “distinctive because in civilized Europe the primitive features of scenery have long since been destroyed or modified – the extensive forests that once over shadowed a great part of it have been felled – rugged mountains have been smoothed, and impetuous rivers turned from their courses… the once tangled wood is now a grassy lawn…”.
Cole’s biographer wrote that in the spring of 1823 “It was now that a great thought came to Cole, and told him he had gone to work wrong. Hitherto he had been trying mainly to make up nature from his own mind, instead of making up his mind from nature. This now flashed on him as a radical mistake. He must not only muse abroad in nature, and catch her spirit, but gain for his eye and hand a mastery over all that was visible in her outward, material form, if he would have his pictures breathe of her spirit.”
In 1825 Cole moved with his family to New York City and a painting placed in a store window sold for $10 and financed a sketching trip up the Hudson River that autumn. That trip, which corresponded to the 10 day celebration marking the opening of the Erie Canal, resulted in 3 new paintings, which sold immediately after being put on display in New York city, and the era of the Hudson River School began. The name was coined because most of the paintings were produced within the Hudson River watershed – the river valley itself, the Catskills, and the Adirondacks.
Popular philosophy of the early 19th century associated nature with virtue and civilization with degeneracy and evil. Artists like Thomas Cole, and writers like Emerson and Cooper believed nature to be synonymous with both personal and national health and viewed the city, the bank, and the railroad as producing sickness by encroaching upon nature and finally by destroying it. Cole illustrated these beliefs in several of his allegorical series of paintings like “The Course of Empire”. It showed that the replacement of nature by civilization results in the ultimate collapse of civilization. When combined with the growing national pride, it seems that Cole’s wilderness paintings became “an effective substitute for a missing national tradition. America was thus both new and old”. ‘New’ in being previously undiscovered, with unsettled, wild territories, and ‘old’ in terms of the ancient wild mountains, older than mankind.
Our wilderness became a substitute for the European historical past. It also became linked directly with the divine destiny believed to belong to Americans – that the continent was there for us. In a nation founded on concepts of religious freedom, and whose Protestant colonists practiced their religion in environments devoid of religious art, 19th century landscape painting almost becomes our religious art, the essence of the spiritual beliefs of the country. We proclaimed separation of church and state, yet never abandoned the belief in “God on our side” as we conquered the wilderness and the virgin bounty of the continent.
The spiritual message contained in many of the landscapes of the Hudson River era was repeatedly mentioned in the literature of the era. From “The Knickerbocker”, in 1835: “God has promised us a renowned existence, if we will but deserve it. He speaks of this promise in the sublimity of Nature. It resounds all along the crags of the Alleghenies. It is uttered in the thunder of the Niagara. It is heard in the roar of two oceans, from the great Pacific to the rocky ramparts of the Bay of Fundy. His finger has written it in the broad expanse of our Inland Seas, and traced it out by the mighty Father of the Waters! The august TEMPLE in which we dwell was built for lofty purposes. Oh! that we may consecrate it to LIBERTY and CONCORD, and be found fit worshipers within its holy wall!” America’s Transcendentalists, like Emerson and Thoreau, believed that bonding with nature’s solitude and silence nurtured spiritual development and character. The paintings mirrored these beliefs.
Tied to the spiritual message was current aesthetic philosophy. Landscape painting was usually classified as sublime or beautiful and picturesque. European landscapes were generally considered picturesque, with their ancient ruins and craggy, snow-capped Alps. Because America was lacking in the picturesque, and also since much of the known landscape consisted of split rail fences and burnt or hacked off trees, the unknown, wilderness scenery, vast and diverse, was easily accepted, once artists began painting it.
The sublime aspect of the wilderness landscape was also apparently well discussed in artistic circles. While scenes could easily be rendered beautiful and picturesque, to evoke the sublime, was uniquely special. Sublime is the addition of something terrifying, fear or awe-inspiring in its power or potential – bringing to the viewer a feeling for Divine authority or design. Many of the Hudson River artists intentionally included the sublime in their paintings – the distant threatening storm clouds, dramatic sunsets, the rushing, over-powering torrent of a cascading waterfall, or the gnarled and broken tree, evidence of the awesome power of nature (God).
In “Kindred Spirits”, the strong connection between the artists and writers of the Hudson River region was exposed. The rawness of the American landscape, with its lack of polish and historic ruins, came to be ignored by both artists and writers who focused on the wildness and freshness of the New World. The writers created and publicized the legends and folklore in characters like Rip Van Winkle, Ichabod Crane and Natty Bumppo. The lack of a past was replaced with the unlimited potential for the future and the relatively new historical sites, like Fort Ticonderoga could substitute for the missing ancient ruins. So while the writers were supporting and describing a positive, patriotic recognition of the assets of the continent, the artists capitalized on this with their paintings. In response, they received public praise from the writers, and the artists also published their own poems and essays in support of their work. For nearly 50 years, the Hudson River School painters and the Knickerbocker writers enjoyed common and self-supporting popularity. It is interesting to note that this mutual focus on the uniqueness of America extended right through and past the Civil War, almost totally ignoring it.
Paintings: “Katerskill Falls”, by Thomas Cole and “Twilight in the Wilderness” by Frederic Church.
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