View launches its summer season of exhibitions with the opening reception for the 8th Annual Northeast National Pastel Exhibition on Friday, May 11 from 5-7pm. Awards will be announced during the opening reception while visitors enjoy wine and hors d’oeuvres and Ed Meelan and Michael Gilbert provide blues and jazz on a muted trumpet and piano.
The exhibition a gathering of 100 works in pastel will present artwork from renowned artists from across North America. Over $5,000 in prizes will awarded to paintings chosen by the Juror of awards Martha Deming TWSA, PSA. » 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.
April in the Adirondacks is…..well…quiet. As far as tourism activity, it traditionally represents the transition month between winter/ski season and the beginning of summer travel. It’s also a time when many north country folk head south for vacation, coinciding with school breaks. Lake Placid welcomes its share of conference attendees in April, but by May the whole region sees more visitors arriving to hike, bike, paddle and fish.
To me, it’s also a good time to ramp up for the busy season; develop content, fine-tune promotional schedules, and to conduct some online social media experiments.
Did you hear about the Adirondack park-wide floodlights installation that was proposed? Essentially, I began April by distributing a press release on lakeplacid.com via social networking mechanisms. The release announced that “a proposal to install floodlights throughout New York’s Adirondacks aims to extend the Park’s open hours, and improve visibility at night.”
Simulcast at 8:00 a.m. on both Twitter and Facebook, the reviews started coming in right away. Depending on the topic, a typical Facebook post for Lake Placid will garner 2-5 comments on average. On this one, we had over 20 comments before noon on a Sunday, with sentiments that varied from chuckles to outrage that we should “keep the Adirondacks wild”. I even received an email from a friend in Saratoga offering to do whatever necessary to help me “stop this criminal outrage”.
By 2:00 p.m. most had come to the realization that it was an April Fool’s joke.
Why did we do this? Well, for one thing, April Fool’s Day is my favorite holiday. But, truly, this type of activity is just one more way to maintain top of mind awareness. The communications landscape has dramatically changed since the days when we sent out press releases to traditional media and hoped they’d print it. The countless channels of outreach available now offer unlimited potential to increase our target market reach.
That potential DOES exist, however, one can distribute a message via social media, SEO release, blog feature AND video and still be completely ignored. In order for a message to stand out in a very noisy marketplace, it must be inspired and creative.
We’ve all heard about videos that have gone “viral”. How does it happen? 60 hours of video is uploaded every minute to YouTube, the video search engine. Only a tiny fraction of those videos will go “viral” – or achieve millions of views. It’s every brand manager’s dream to obtain positive viral status and become an overnight success.
According to Kevin Allocca, the trends manager at YouTube, those videos that go viral meet three criteria: 1. they are unexpected, 2. they are further ignited (shared) by a “tastemaker”, or an influencer worthy of imitation, (such as popular late night TV hosts), and 3. they are subject to community participation: the video inspires creativity, and we become part of the phenomenon by sharing and sometimes imitating its content.
What’s that have to do with my press release? Advertisers have known for ages that incorporating humor is an effective way to connect with target markets via emotional appeal, and/or humanizing a brand.
By creating an April Fool’s message about a faux proposal that would negatively affect our product, and sending it to our existing ambassadors via social media, we elicited an emotional response. The release underscored the fact that the Adirondacks are a protected wilderness without light pollution; a product differentiator. We confirmed that our Facebook fans and Twitter followers are fiercely protective of their favorite destination. In fact, it can be surmised from comments both online and anecdotally in person that there were many who were immediately ready to join the made-up Park in the Dark Coalition that had formed to fight the proposal as referenced in the release.
The anecdotal references are good, but the response to this project was also tracked with Google analytics, Facebook and Twitter click statistics. I didn’t reach anywhere near a million viewers, but this one-time post on just two major social networks did garner about 2,000 unique visits to lakeplacid.com directly from those social networks on both mobile and web platforms. We know that visitors spent an average of 2:24 minutes on the page, (presumably to get to the end of the release where they learned it was a prank). We also know that the bounce rate was high: nearly 80% of the visitors then left the site without visiting any other pages. (This is why I won’t be using this faux story tactic as an exclusive destination marketing strategy.)
The biggest benefits of this type of communication is the resulting top of mind awareness that it helps to maintain. It facilitated engagement with our ambassadors, and increased the potential exposure of the Adirondack destination’s name via the sharing nature of social media.
The trick is to integrate this type of humor into our communications year-round. And humor isn’t easy to convey successfully. The challenge is to incorporate this witty style of promotion while maintaining the professional integrity of your brand, product and organization.
I try to incorporate creative descriptions and phrases into social messaging, and it is a required industry skill to craft a standout headline for a press release. It all goes back to creativity: and the overall objective is to evoke an emotional response.
I wonder how many will cry over next spring’s Mud Season Wrestling Festival.
Kimberly Rielly is the director of communications at the Lake Placid CVB/Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism
North Country Public Radio‘s Ellen Rocco recently posted a discussion item on their station’s blog pointing to a Slate.com story by David Sirota that “makes the case that we are on the verge of having journalism-free news and media industries.” Sirota writes that “the real crisis presented by journalism-free news media is the now-imminent potential for a total information vacuum devoid of any authentic journalism outlet. If that happens, we will be deprived of an ability to make informed, preemptive decisions about our world.” To be fair, he lays much of the blame on the corporate news media.
Regular readers probably already know I’m a believer in the idea that journalists are mostly people who get between what actually happened or what someone actually said, and the person who wasn’t there to see or hear it. One problem is reporters pretend to be unbiased observers, which anyone who has studied psychology, sociology, anthropology or history knows is nonsense. » Continue Reading.
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!
In late 1935, young Ticonderoga saxophonist Johnny Hayes sat in during a performance by a traveling orchestra from Boston. His performance so impressed the band leader that a permanent position was offered. Hayes had recently completed a summer stint at The Deer’s Head Inn (Elizabethtown), followed by a tour of central and northern New York cities with his own band.
He accepted the offer and began traveling with the orchestra within two weeks. It was the first step in a journey that would link him with many all-time greats of the Big Band Era. By 1940, Hayes was appearing regularly on radio and in major dance halls as first saxophone with Van Alexander’s Orchestra. Swing magazine called him a key component of the band’s great sound. Alexander worked with a number of orchestras during his career and is regarded historically as one of the great music arrangers.
In mid-1940, Hayes signed with Buddy Rogers of movie fame (Rogers was also husband of actress Mary Pickford), playing first sax on a nationwide tour. In 1941, he joined another high-profile band of the day, Shep Fields and His New Music.
Johnny next hooked up with bandleader Hal McIntyre, an original member of the Glenn Miller Orchestra. When Hal set out on his own, his close friend Miller provided financial support for McIntyre’s new musical group, for which Johnny Hayes played tenor sax. For two years running (1942–43), Billboard magazine selected McIntyre’s band as “the most promising new orchestra.”
The band performed in movies (watch the first ten seconds for their name, and further to hear them play), on the radio, at dance halls, and at all the top venues across the country. Their weekly gig, broadcast from New York City’s Commodore Hotel, was a big hit, receiving high praise in Billboard, Swing, and the columns of top music critics.
Johnny routinely performed the band’s tenor sax solos. (Many of McIntyre’s recordings, made with Hayes as a band member, have recently been offered on CD.) Hayes played with McIntyre into the late 1940s, but also appeared periodically with many other of the era’s greats.
Besides a few recordings with the Ziggy Elfman Band (star trumpet player for Tommy Dorsey), Billy May, and Tex Beneke (with Eydie Gorme singing), he played with the legendary Les Brown and the Band of Renown. Brown’s band was linked to Bob Hope’s performances for 50 years, including 18 USO tours. Hayes played with them in 1944 and on other occasions, leaving no doubt about his musical capabilities in the eyes of his peers.
In the late 1940s, he also played and toured with Skitch Henderson, another orchestra leader who became a show-biz legend (among his credits, Henderson was the original bandleader on The Tonight Show, which starred Steve Allen).
For all his success, perhaps the greatest accomplishment of Johnny Hayes’ musical life occurred before his orchestra career began. He was born in Ticonderoga in 1918, the son of attorney Richard Hayes and his wife, Lillian. At the age of three, his musical fate was nearly foiled by an accident: Johnny fell on a broken bottle, badly cutting his hand and severing a tendon. After an emergency trip to the hospital, the healing went just fine.
A signature moment in Hayes’ life came in March 1929, when Leonard Allerton of Catskill, New York, was hired to oversee the music program at Ticonderoga High School. Two years later, under his tutelage, 13-year-old Johnny Hayes was playing first clarinet for the Purple and White. He later turned his attention to the saxophone, and in 1933, in the New York State Music Contest at Syracuse, Johnny took fifth place among twelve contestants.
In his senior year (1935), hoping to earn another berth in the state finals, Hayes competed in the preliminaries at Massena, finishing first in Division Two for clarinet and first in Division One for saxophone.
At Syracuse, after facing off against 47 other boys and girls, he finished tied for second in the saxophone category. Landing in the top five made him eligible for the national championships in Madison, Wisconsin, but traveling that far was a pipe dream for most small-town folks struggling through the Great Depression.
Hayes had received financial support from the community for the Syracuse trip, and Leonard Allerton had raised Ticonderoga’s music program to a high level of performance, something the town was quite proud of. Everyone banded together once again, and with Ticonderoga businessmen leading the way, enough money was raised to send Johnny on his way.
Pre-performance jitters on the day of competition were normal, and were certainly capable of causing a sub-par performance. As if that weren’t enough, Johnny’s accompanist from the University of Wisconsin had failed to appear due to a flat tire while en route.
Disheartened, he was faced with going solo or withdrawing. Since he was the last scheduled performer of 42 in his division, Johnny delayed the decision as long as possible.
With three minutes to spare, his accompanist arrived. There was no time to prepare, so Johnny took to the stage and played “Emily,” the same tune that had earned him second place in Syracuse and a trip to Wisconsin for the National Music Contest.
Imagine the reaction in Ticonderoga that night when Johnny Hayes was voted the nation’s number one high school saxophonist. Best in the country!
Far lesser accomplishments (even a single tackle in a football game, for cryin’ out loud) will often find today’s youth strutting around, pounding their chests, and celebrating their self-perceived greatness. Where’s my star? Look at what I just did! Ain’t I great?
In comparison, you have to love old-time, small-town America. After besting the top musicians in the entire United States, Johnny Hayes, saxophonist extraordinaire, returned home with a wonderful comment: “I feel swell.”
In the days when humility was a virtue, other folks took care of bragging about you or honoring your accomplishments, and that’s what Ticonderoga did. Johnny’s success was mentioned in the county newspapers, and a school assembly was held, citing his achievement and crediting Johnny, Mr. Allerton, and the school community for the fine results of their cumulative efforts.
Best of all, at least from my perspective, was the celebration held on the evening of his return. Johnny was greeted by the entire school band, decked out in the new uniforms of the Purple and White. Placing Hayes at the lead, they marched him through the streets of Ti in a fine display of hometown pride.
At one point, the procession halted on the corner of Montcalm and Champlain. Requesting a solo, the crowd was treated to Johnny’s rendition of “Home Sweet Home.”
Pound your chest all you want, but it doesn’t get any better than that.
Photos: Advertisement for the State Theater in Ticonderoga, featuring a movie with the Hal McIntyre Orchestra, and mentioning Ti’s own Johnny Hayes.
Lawrence Gooley has authored ten books and dozens of articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004. Expanding their services in 2008, they have produced 19 titles to date, and are now offering web design. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.
Actor James Tolkan will be in Au Sable Forks April 1 to help raise funds for two Au Sable organizations. Tolkan, a familiar character actor has been in over 70 films during his lengthy Hollywood career. With an extensive resume in TV and films, Tolkan’s Principal Strickland in the Back to The Future Trilogy is what sparked a film fundraiser for event organizer Cassidy Garrow.
Garrow says, “Flashback to the Past is my idea but I couldn’t have done it without help. I met James Tolkan at an outing. I approached him with my idea and he was very willing to help. I thought of the local organizations and know they can use the fundraising money.” Held at the Hollywood Theatre in AuSable Forks, six classic 1980s films will be shown in succession with a special guest appearance with actor James Tolkan held at 8:00 p.m. at the Jay Community Center.Tolkan will conduct a “meet and greet” with audience members and share his experiences during the making of the films. He will also answer questions from the audience.
Seating is limited but tickets can be reserved. One of the Hollywood Theatre’s two screens will be shows what Garrow terms “chick flicks” with Footloose, Dirty Dancing and Sixteen Candles while the second movie theatre screen will house the Back To The Future Trilogy. The first show starts at noon.
“The two events, the films and meeting James Tolkan are separate,” says Garrow. “Tickets are sold individually. People can just attend the evening event if they just wish to meet James Tolken or come watch the films. I wanted to keep options available so people could attend one event or both.”
Besides a fun “flashback films of the 80s” concept, the funds raised will benefit two special local charities, the AuSable Forks Fire Department Water Rescue Program and the Jay/Black Brook Annual Toy Drive.
“The annual toy drive collects funds to buy gifts for children during the holiday season for Essex and Clinton County areas including Black Brook, the town of AuSable and Jay,” says Garrow. “ I believe that last year this organization was able to help 30 families during the holidays.”
Garrow praises the Ausable Forks Fire Department Water Rescue Program’s diligence during emergency situations. Many people rely on the Au Sable Forks Fire Department during the year and countless people were assisted during Tropical Storm Irene.“The Fire Department lost some of their equipment while rescuing people trapped by water during Irene,” says Garrow. “ We hope that funds raised by this event will help replace that equipment. The Au Sable Fire Department will also use the funds for water rescue training.”
Garrow thanked others that are helping to make this event a success including The American Leagion Post 504, Admag Designs and The Hollywood Theatre. There will be raffles for three autographed copies of the Back to the Future DVD sets, signed by James Tolken. Tolken will also do an autograph session after the “meet and greet.”
Movies and times are listed as follows: April 1 noon – 9:00 p.m. Noon -Back to the Future and Footloose. 2;15 p.m. Back to the Future II and Dirty Dancing 4:30 p.m. Back to the Future III and 16 Candles Admission Prices:Adult $3/Child $2 (10 and under)
8:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m. Meet James Tolkan Admission Adult/$5, Child/$3 (10 and under)
Advanced admission tickets can be purchased by calling 518-643-2849 (cash, check, or money orders only).
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.
This is a story about a fat guy. In this politically correct and hyper-sensitive world (a Utah School District recently rejected the students’ choice of mascot―cougar―because it might be offensive to middle-aged women!), some of you might already be reaching for your keyboards to send me a nasty message for being so thoughtless. But if I can’t refer to him as fat, I couldn’t write this piece.
I’m pretty sure he knew he was obese, as did anyone who ever met him. But if there was ever any doubt, one could always refer to his professional name: Phat Boy. (Imagine … a name like that, 150 years before the birth of Rap music.) His given name was Edward Frederick Babbage, the son of John and Frances Babbage, who emigrated from England in the early 1800s and eventually settled in Rochester, New York. Among their five children was a pair of twins, Edward Frederick and Edwin Francis, born in 1841, about 20 miles west of the city. Early on, Edward exhibited a propensity for gaining weight. He was considered large at age six, and weighed 200 pounds when he was fourteen.
By his early twenties, Edward had worked as a hotel porter, hotel manager, traveling salesman, museum manager, and glassblower (he was lead agent for a group of glassblowers performing at various venues). After the Civil War ended, he returned to Rochester. A number of veteran soldiers formed a minstrel troupe (again, politically incorrect), and Edward worked successfully as their road agent for three years.
When minstrel performer and organizer “Happy Cal” Wagner needed an agent, he dispatched a telegram to Rochester, but unaware of Edward’s first name, Wagner addressed it to “Phat Boy Babbage.” The nickname became Edward’s public identity, and for the next several years, he traveled across the country, representing various minstrel shows (including Wagner’s) and other performers.
Invariably, at the bottom of newspaper ads and posters touting his events appeared, “Phat Boy, Agent.” Everyone in the business knew him, and Edward became somewhat of a celebrity in his own right, courtesy of his large size, charming personality, handsome looks, and great sense of humor. He was always good for a laugh, and people gravitated to him. (If you caught it, that’s the sort of self-deprecating humor he employed.)
For more than a decade, he traveled to every state in the country (there were 37 at the time), and claimed to have visited every city or town of more than 5,000 residents. His travels included stops in northern New York and southern Quebec, and in the early 1870s, he recognized an opportunity for promotional work of a different sort.
The spectacular scenery of the Thousand Islands area was attracting thousands of travelers, and during the summer months, Edward began working as a tour guide on the water. It was there that he became a North Country legend.
Steamship companies sought his services, and Phat Boy himself became one of the area’s great attractions, holding court while seated in the bow of the boat, and always wearing his two signature items: a felt hat with a large brim, and a diamond pin on his chest. As individual islands were passed, he spouted (there’s another one) their history, interspersed with colorful stories and plenty of humor.
Edward became well-versed on the background of sites from the Great Lakes to Montreal, plus Boston, New York City, the Hudson River Valley, and Lake Champlain. He eventually put it in writing, and for more than a decade, a new version of his booklet appeared each year, with the title changed and the text modified.
One of the later editions was The Phat Boy’s 15 Years on the St. Lawrence River: The People I Have Met and the Things I Have Seen. For 25¢ each, Babbage sold thousands of copies to his followers. He addressed his great size in the text, warning others that being large wasn’t always so great, and that he often couldn’t fit into common spaces designed for average-sized people. As always, the passages were laced with humor.
He also told of encounters with famous people, many of whom had sought him out for his own fame as a guide. Among them were President Grant, George Pullman (of the luxurious Pullman rail cars), Mark Twain, Sir John A. MacDonald (Canada’s first prime minister), and members of various royal families. Others too numerous to mention were captains of industry, including many who owned St. Lawrence River islands that were part of his tours.
For all the references to his weight over the years, Edward carried it well. Unlike in modern times, well beyond 300 pounds was substantial for his era. Yet the consensus held that Phat Boy’s great bulk was dwarfed by his bigger-than-life personality. He was invariably described as congenial, obliging, and very funny.
Which all combined to make him a hit on the St. Lawrence River boat tours. He worked hard to learn the region’s history, an effort reflected in another, more flattering, nickname: the Bureau of Information.
By 1890, more tours and stories were added to his repertoire. From his storytelling perch in the bow, he often referred to his weight as 333 pounds. His wife, also very large, had died a few years earlier, and their daughter was heavy as well. Edward’s twin brother, Dr. Edwin Babbage, was said to have lagged behind him, weighing around 300.
At Alexandria Bay’s Marsden House, on the evening of June 30, 1891, Edward didn’t feel well after a full day’s work and told hotel employees he was retiring to his second-floor room to rest. Though he whistled a tune while climbing the stairs, pain suddenly overtook him. He called out for someone to summon a doctor, and then fell at the head of the stairs, dead. He was 51.
Mourning ensued up and down the shores of the St. Lawrence, and the flags of several boats and islands were lowered to half staff in his honor. Edward’s guidebooks, maps, and some great memories eased the loss, but nothing could replace the man who had spent 18 years on a job he truly loved. Eight months later, his twin brother Edwin, who had been ill, died similarly, collapsing in the streets of Rochester.
Photo: Edward Frederick “Phat Boy” Babbage; advertisement with “Phat Boy, Agent.”
Lawrence Gooley has authored ten books and dozens of articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004. Expanding their services in 2008, they have produced 19 titles to date, and are now offering web design. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.
Champlain Area Trails (CATS) has launched its Spring Travel-Writing Contest. “We invite people to write about using the trails, patronizing local businesses, and visiting New York’s Champlain Valley,” said Chris Maron, the CATS Executive Director. “The winner will earn $500. And People’s Choice prize is $250, so it is definitely worth the effort. The top entrees will be on our website and linked to many other websites, making it a good way to promote the Valley and give exposure to writers.”
CATS is coordinating a series of travel writing contests to boost the local economy through outdoor recreation based tourism. “People research vacation destinations online. We want them to see these articles about New York’s Champlain Valley and get inspired to come here, enjoy the outdoors, visit local businesses, and tell others about this beautiful area,” added Maron. » Continue Reading.
The Adirondacks’ professional theatre company, the Depot Theatre, has announced the addition of Angel Wuellner as its new Managing Director.
“We are thrilled to welcome Angel into our theatre family,” said George Davis, president of the Depot Theatre Board of Trustees. “She was a standout in the executive team’s national search, with ample industry experience and terrific energy.”
Wuellner has worked in the theatre industry for the past twenty years, as an administrator, stage manager, director, and actor. Most recently, she worked at Actors’ Equity Association in the Auditions Department. She has also worked with The Vineyard Theatre (NYC), Clarence Brown Theatre, Actors Co-op, Tennessee Stage Company, and Smoky Mountain Shakespeare Festival. Wuellner is the founder of PromCon, an organization that collects prom dresses for underprivileged young women. She is a graduate of NYU’s Performing Arts Administration Masters’ Program and of Northern Kentucky University’s theatre department. » Continue Reading.
In 1997 I was fortunate to receive a Summer Fellowship for Independent Study in the Humanities from the Council for Basic Education, part of the National Endowment for the Humanities. For the next few months I will post excerpts from the research, writing, and painting I did for that project.
The broad, former jeep trail ran straight as an arrow, cutting a path through the massive beech and maples of a mature Adirondack forest. While the trail was clear, the woods were tangled with downed trees from the great “microburst” storm of July ‘95 and huge, scattered boulders, the ancient remnants of the last ice age. Soon the trail narrowed and passed through a grove of evergreens, their rusty brown fallen needles silencing my steady steps. To the right, the forest climbed; to the left, it dropped into a swampy area. Now and again the trail veered from its straight course as it followed the uneven contours of the ascent. The dense shade of the green canopy was occasionally broken where the force of the summer wind storm two years ago had snapped hundred year old trees off like they were toothpicks. It was a hot, humid July day and I had just delivered two of my paintings to the Arts Center in Old Forge. Heading home, since I was in the midst of my Independent Study in the Humanities project, I checked my maps and chose an alternative route, a back road that would perhaps lead to some interesting or scenic place. My study topic was “A Personal Investigation of Contemporary and 19th Century Landscape Painting of the Adirondacks and St. Lawrence Valley”.
The basic question I was seeking an answer to was why had landscape painting suddenly become so popular in 1825, as well as why I have always personally felt so drawn to the land. On that hot July day, with the air conditioner working overtime, I’d actually driven past the small brown trail marker before I skidded to a dusty stop on the gravel road. Backing up, I found the small parking area of the trail head to Black Bear Mountain. While it was only two miles to the summit, it wasn’t even marked on the map in my booklet of short day trips in the Adirondacks.
I’d already made one climb that day, Rondaxe Mountain, but for several reasons, it had been quite uninspiring. It was only a one mile hike, located right alongside a major highway, and it had been crowded. Obviously a popular outing, there were many small groups and families on the trail, and what probably would have been scenic views of the Fulton Chain of Lakes were masked by the haze and humidity of the day. Much of the summit area was barren, open expanses of ancient Adirondack rock, worn down to its current level by eons of glaciers and tens of thousands of years of wind and rain and snow.
It is said the Adirondacks are among the oldest mountains on the planet, once surpassing the Himalayas in altitude. Now, Rondaxe Mountain was not much more than 2000 feet in elevation. The most disturbing part of the hike, however, were the scrapes and skid marks along those bare summit rocks, left by enthusiastic mountain bikers. It just seemed a shame that these rocks had withstood the forces of nature for so many million years, only to be scarred by humanity in less than a generation.
But the trail to Black Bear Mountain was quiet. No other vehicles had been at the trail head, and while it was evident others had used the trail, I met no one. Perhaps it was the threat of afternoon thunderstorms. The easy walk began to climb, twisting around tumbles of boulders and the tangled branches of broken or uprooted trees. Sometimes it went down, always to turn and climb even higher, following now what appeared to be a dry stream bed. I could imagine the rush of torrent crashing over the boulders during the spring run-off season.
Then the trail narrowed further, turned away from the rocks, and climbed steadily through dense spruce and pine. It was now just a foot path, worn through the thin fragile loam of the forest floor to the bedrock below. Gnarled roots grasped tenuously to the rock, and the air was noticeably cooler. Feeling the whispering breeze of open sky, I knew I was nearing the summit area. Is this what it was like for Thomas Cole, the young artist who had hiked into the Catskills in 1825, then returned with sketches to his New York City studio to produce his now famous paintings of the pristine wilderness?
I’d been wondering why it seemed like Americans had waited until then to notice the beauty of the landscape of the New World. My own heart was pounding harder, due to the increased altitude as well as the anticipation of what I would discover at the end of the trail. Winding through small, stunted spruce, I could sense the approach of the summit as there was now nothing but bare rock in front of me. Eagerly climbing it, my breath was taken away by the vast solitude that greeted me.
Directly ahead, across the valley that separated us, was another densely forested mountain, with additional peaks and ridges stretching back, one behind the other, all the way to the horizon. I supposed the tallest, distant ones to be the High Peaks of the central Adirondacks. To the right, the valley and mountains continued unbroken. To the left, the valley spread and opened up to a meandering stream and what appeared to be a beaver meadow. Further on was a second clearing, then mountains once again climbing to the horizon. Nowhere was there evidence of humanity. It was incredible to think this is what Verplanck Colvin had witnessed as he surveyed the Adirondacks for the first time in the 1830’s. A raven glided along the currents above the tree tops in the valley below me, arcing up to circle back towards the rocky cliffs. The silence was only broken by the gentle hissing of the wind in the branches of the pines clinging to the summit rocks. I could have been the only human being in the world.
This was the start of my personal exploration. The painting shown here, “View from Black Bear Mountain,” was based on a second hike up the mountain in late August of 1997.
The Pendragon Theatre Company tackles yet another American classic with their performance of “To Kill A Mockingbird,” at View in Old Forge on Thursday, March 1st at 7:00 PM—one of several touring performances by the company, following the close of their 2011 season at their home theatre in Saranac Lake. The Pendragon Theatre secured a $15,000 grant from the National Endowment of the Arts with additional funds from the Lake Placid Center for the Arts to mount an Adirondack tour of this stage adaptation by Christopher Sergal of the 1960 novel by Harper Lee. The grants allow the company to offer reduced-price tickets to schools wishing to send their classes who may be already studying this classic American novel.
This riveting story of boiling racial tension in the 1930s South as white lawyer Atticus Finch defends a black man accused of raping a white woman in a small Alabama town has as much relevance today as it did when Gregory Peck gave his 1962 academy award-winning performance. The trial takes center stage, but we share the view from the ‘colored’ balcony with Atticus’ two small children, whose innocence magnifies the ugliness of the prejudice and violence around them.
Tickets for the March 1st performance at View, located at 3273 State Rt. 28 in Old Forge, NY, are $20 for adults, $15 for members and $10 for children. For further information contact View at 315-369-6411 or visit their website at www.ViewArts.org
The tour will then go to Main Street Landing PAC: Burlington, V.T. – Friday, March 9th @ 7:30pm, and wrap the following week at the Tannery Pond Community Center: North Creek, N.Y. – Friday, March 16th. Visit the Pendragon Theatre website for more information on these and future performances.
Photo courtesy of Pendragon Theatre from their home performances of “To Kill A Mockingbird.”
Linda J. Peckel explores the Adirondacks by following the arts wherever they take her. Her general art/writing/film/photography musings on can be found at her own blog Arts Enclave.
An independent field biology study turned out to be especially fruitful for both teacher and student. Every week since January 2011, Westport ninth-grader Peter Hartwell and mentor David Thomas Train have been exploring the Champlain Area Trails along shoreline, streams, wetlands, and woods near Westport. Those explorations eventually prompted them to enter the Champlain Area Trails Society Travel Writing Contest. Hartwell attends the BOCES Special Education program in Mineville. To supplement the Mineville curriculum, he studies several subjects privately—including field biology with Thomas Train. “Peter and I spend time together every Wednesday after school in outdoor science explorations, and we wanted to share what we do and see,” Thomas Train explained. “He is an avid outdoors explorer, with great observation and drawing skills.” And Thomas Train is certainly no stranger to the trails of the Champlain Valley: He is the guidebook author for the ADK Guide To The Eastern Region. “I know the CATS trails well and am excited every time a new one is developed, more open space is protected, and I have a new place to explore!” Thomas Train said. » Continue Reading.
An opening reception will be held for “Drawing on our Past: Ink Darwings of New York State’s Historic Architecture,” an exhibition of drawings by David ‘RC’ Oster at View in Old Forge tomorrow, Saturday, February 4 from 5 to 7 pm. His works will be displayed from February 4 March 3 concurrently with “Adirondack View Finders” a photography exhibition that showcases top Adirondack Photographers including Nathan Farb, Nancie Battaglia, Mark Bowie, and Carl Heilman. RC Oster is a self-taught artist who specializes in free-hand ink drawings of regional landmarks and Adirondack scenes. He is particularly well known for his drawings of historic buildings. RC sees these landmarks as “proud reminders of where we as a society have been.” He carefully captures fine details of these buildings from sharp angles that show off the architecture of the building. He seeks to bring further awareness to these buildings through capturing their fine details.
Stone sculpture by Matt Horner will be on display with both the photography and the ink drawings. Exhibition admission is $10/$5 members and groups of 6+/Children under 12 free. View is a multi-arts center located at 3273 State Rt. 28 in Old Forge, NY. To learn more about View programming visit www.ViewArts.org or call 315-369-6411.
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