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From the December 2012 Conservationist

An old photo of a wide covered porch at an inn overlooking a lake

Photo: New York State Museum

Capturing the Adirondacks

State Museum Exhibits Seneca Ray Stoddard's Photography

Text and photos provided by the New York State Museum

An old photo of a very rustic shack on a wooded slope by a pond.
An Adirondack Home

Seneca Ray Stoddard (1844-1917) was one of the first artists to capture the majesty of the Adirondack landscape through photography. Early on, he sought to preserve the beauty of the landscape with his talent for painting. This artistic background and an Adirondack vision attracted him to photography's unique ability to capture the environment. Stoddard mastered the then recently introduced wet-plate process of photography. Though extremely cumbersome by today's standards, the technique was the first practical way to record distant scenes.

An old photo of a person canoeing on a lake with an Adirondack inn on the shore in the distance
Prospect House, Ble Mountain Lake

Through his photography, Stoddard captured the changing Adirondack landscape. As railroads were introduced, the area became an increasingly important destination for tourists from the burgeoning middle-class as well as the newly wealthy in the "Gilded Age."

An old photo of small waterfalls and rocky ledges with trees behind
Bog River Falls, Adirondacks

Stoddard's photographs showed the constancy of the Adirondacks' natural beauty along with the changes that resulted from logging and mining, and the construction of hotels and railroads. As unregulated mining and logging devastated much of the pristine Adirondack scenery, Stoddard documented the loss of wilderness and used those images to foster a new ethic of responsibility for the landscape.

Four men play a card game in front of a rustic leanto in the Adirondacks
Game in the Adirondacks, 1889

In 1972, New York State Museum curators learned of Maitland DeSormo of Saranac Lake, NY, and his dedication to the work of the then relatively unknown Seneca Ray Stoddard. DeSormo had rescued much of Stoddard's material legacy-his photographs, paintings and writings. The State Museum acquired more than five hundred historic Stoddard prints from DeSormo.

Old photo of horse drawn carriages passing in front of a fancy hotel
Fort William Henry Hotel, Lake George, NY

Seneca Ray Stoddard: Capturing the Adirondacks is on display now through February 24, 2013 in Crossroads Gallery in the New York State Museum. Visitors are treated to viewing more than 100 of Stoddard's photographs, an Adirondack guide boat, freight boat, camera, copies of Stoddard's books, and several of his paintings. There are also several Stoddard photos of the Statue of Liberty and Liberty Island. Guided tours of the exhibition will be held on December 8 and February 29 from 1-2 p.m., and a film will be shown about Stoddard on December 29.

An online version of the exhibition is available on the State Museum website. For further reading, see the August 2005 Conservationist.