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Capturing the Adirondacks

Seneca Ray Stoddard photograph of the Horicon Sketch Club on Lake George courtesy of the New York State Museum, Albany

We all love to record our summer vacations, and today it’s as easy as a cell-phone snapshot from a summit or an iPad video of a panhandling picnic-table chipmunk. Seneca Ray Stoddard (1844–1917) was among the first to photograph the Adirondacks from a festive perspective, catching happy travelers piled aboard stagecoaches or lounging on hotel verandas, zooming in on guides rowing across lakes, grabbing the sheer glee of kids at play. He was a keen observer of North Country life, leisure and landscapes. He also published guidebooks, maps and travel pamphlets.

The exhibition Seneca Ray Stoddard: Capturing the Adirondacks opened June 29 at the New York State Museum, in Albany.

Though the institution has owned a significant collection of Stoddard scenes for 40 years, “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. “It’s an enormously rich visual turn-of-the-century record of the Adirondacks, as well as other magnificent regions of the state.”  The museum, located in the cultural education complex, is open daily at no charge. Throughout the fall and into next winter there will be lectures and school programs delving deeper into this iconic imagery.

Stoddard prints depict the sweeping beauty of the Ausable Lakes and Lake George but they also document a wide variety of native vegetation from the 1870s to early 1900s, when logging, mining and dam-building were at their peak. The Chapman Historical Museum, in Glens Falls, owns thousands of the local cameraman’s pictures that are featured in theme shows each year. For 2012, 40 scenes of mountains, marshes, forests, meadows and lake shores are paired with modern color photos that identify key plants, shrubs and trees in the black-and-white photos. The exhibition S. R. Stoddard’s Natural Views runs through September 2.

If you’re in the hunt for a vintage Stoddard map, guidebook or souvenir view, browsing the dealers’ booths on August 4 in Saranac Lake may yield a prize. Starting at 10:00 a.m. at the Adirondack Scenic Railroad Depot the fifth annual postcard and antiques show will feature railroad memorabilia, old books, antiques and much more.

The Adirondack Museum, in Blue Mountain Lake, owns thousands of Stoddard photos, stereoviews, even sketches, and these appear throughout the numerous exhibit buildings. Long-gone hotels, steamboats, railroad stations and scenes of community life are integrated with the many stories the museum tells.

Contemporary photographer Mark Bowie has returned to many places that Stoddard documented more than a century ago, and his book In Stoddard’s Footsteps is the result. This summer Bowie will be teaching photography and lecturing about his grandfather Richard Dean’s role in promoting tourism through postcards and travel brochures. Check Bowie’s website for other programs, including a Stoddard talk this fall.

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