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Adirondack Wilderness: Works on Paper, 1860-1960

August 21 - October 11, 2013

winslow homer print, lumbering in winter

Winslow Homer, Lumbering in Winter, 1871, Wood engraving
Purchased with funds from the Manley Endowment, SLU 99.8

The vast, sparsely settled Adirondack Mountain region of upstate New York is comprised of close to three thousand lakes and ponds, some of the highest peaks in the Northeast, and the largest wilderness areas east of the Mississippi River.  The Adirondack Park encompasses more than six million acres—part public, guaranteed by the State Constitution to “be forever kept as wild forest lands,” and part private, ranging from huge tracts held by timber companies to lands owned by homeowners, towns and villages, and businesses.  This unusual landscape has made the Park a living laboratory for wilderness preservation in a world where wild places usually compete with human communities.

Art has played a key role in promoting and preserving the region.  Artists of national and regional renown tramped trails and mountains to capture nature’s dramatic vistas and rare moments.  In so doing, artists helped define a national landscape vision and, in the process, provoked awareness of nature’s vulnerability and the need to preserve the natural world.

Depictions of the Adirondacks mirrored the often contradictory images of wilderness that prevailed in 19th-century popular imagination and literature.  Travelers perceived the wilderness as desolate and forbidding.  Artists viewed the romantic sublime in the exquisite compositions of mountains, woods and waters.  Upper-class urban sportsmen saw a genteel hunting and fishing preserve. Homesteaders experienced a hard landscape in which to eke out a living and raise families.  Businessmen saw a seemingly infinite supply of trees and minerals to harvest.  

Artists’ images of an exploited region provided powerful aesthetic arguments for preserving the wilderness.  New York City and State businessmen joined the complaint when Adirondack and Catskill watersheds were diminished by erosion that threatened downstate waterpower and canal interests—concerns that led to the establishment of the Forest Preserve in 1885 and the Adirondack Park in 1892, and passage of the “forever wild” clause of the Constitution in 1894.

Prints, drawings, photographs and watercolors in the exhibition are from St. Lawrence University’s permanent collection and on loan from the Adirondack Museum in Blue Mountain Lake, New York.  Artists include Nancy Bowditch, Paul Bransom, John Bufford, Verplanck Colvin, Winslow Homer, Herbert S. Kates, Henry Devalcourt Kip, Frederic Remington, Seneca Ray Stoddard and A.F. Tait.

- Caroline Welsh, exhibition curator
director emerita of the Adirondack Museum