A new exhibition opens on June 29 at the New York State Museum showcasing the works of Adirondack photographer and conservationist Seneca Ray Stoddard, who was instrumental in the establishment of the forever wild Adirondack Park.
Seneca Ray Stoddard: Capturing the Adirondacks is open through February 24, 2013 in Crossroads Gallery. It includes over 100 of Stoddards photographs, an Adirondack guideboat, freight boat, camera, copies of Stoddards books and several of his paintings. There also are several Stoddard photos of the Statue of Liberty and Liberty Island. These and other items come from the State Museums collection of more than 500 Stoddard prints and also from the collections of the New York State Library and the Chapman Historical Museum in Glens Falls.
This is the first time the State Museum has exhibited these remarkably important photographs from our extensive Seneca Ray Stoddard collection, said Museum Director Mark Schaming. Its an enormously rich visual turn-of-the century record of the Adirondacks, as well as other magnificent regions of the state. Stoddards work continues to be an important resource in understanding the history and development of the Adirondack region.
An online version of the exhibition is also available on the State Museum website here
Born in Wilton, Saratoga County in 1844, Stoddard was no doubt inspired by the Adirondacks at an early age. A self-taught painter, he was first employed as an ornamental painter at a railroad car manufactory in Green Island. He moved to Glens Falls in 1864, where he worked with sketches and paintings until his death there in 1917.
Early on he sought to preserve the beauty of the Adirondacks through his paintings but then became attracted to photographys unique ability to capture the environment. He was one of the first to capture the Adirondacks through photographs. He used the then recently introduced wet-plate process of photography. Though extremely cumbersome by todays standards, the technique was the first practical way to record distant scenes. It required Stoddard to bring his entire darkroom with him into the Adirondack wilderness.
His renown as a photographer quickly grew once he settled in Glens Falls, which also became his base camp for his explorations of the Adirondacks. He studied the Adirondacks intensely over a 50-year period.
Stoddards photos showed the challenges travelers faced in getting to the still undeveloped wilderness, along with their enjoyment of finally reaching their destination. His writings and photographs indicate that he was especially skilled at working with people from diverse economic backgrounds in a variety of settings. This was especially important as he used his photos to capture the changing Adirondack landscape as railroads were introduced and the area became an increasingly important destination for the burgeoning middle-class tourist, but also for the newly wealthy during the Gilded Age.
His work stimulated even further interest as he promoted the Adirondacks through his photographs and writings on the beauty, people and hotels of the region. Stoddards photographs showed the constancy of the natural beauty of the Adirondacks along with the changes that resulted from logging and mining, to hotels and railroads. As unregulated mining and logging devastated much of the pristine Adirondack scenery, Stoddard documented the loss and used those images to foster a new ethic of responsibility for the landscape. His work was instrumental in shaping public opinion about tourism, leading to the 1892 Forever Wild clause in the New York State Constitution.
The State Museum purchased over 500 historic Stoddard prints in 1972 in the process of acquiring historic resources for the Museums Adirondack Hall. They included albumen prints from Stoddards own working files, many with penciled notes. Nearly all are of the landscapes, buildings and people of the Adirondacks taken primarily in the 1870s and 1880s.