Long considered beautiful photographs of the Adirondack landscape, Seneca Ray Stoddard’s views also serve well as documents of the plants that inhabited the region in the 19th century. The Chapman Historical Museum’s summer exhibit, S.R. Stoddard’s Natural Views, which will run from May 4 through September 2, will feature fifty enlarged photographs of different Adirondack settings – lake shores, marshes, meadows, riverbanks and mountainsides. Highlighted in modern color images will be examples of the plants discovered in Stoddard’s photographs —- from small flowers to shrubs and trees.
Since he was rediscovered in the late 1970s, Stoddard’s work has been featured in numerous exhibits that explored the history of 19th century life in the Adirondacks. A survey of the 3000 images in the Chapman archives, however, revealed hundreds of images that are purely natural landscapes. The subject matter is the Adirondack environment – not great hotels, steamers, camp scenes or other obvious evidence of human activity.
The summer 2012 exhibit will examine these photographs as documents of the history of ecological habitats, providing an opportunity to compare the present environment with the past. To address this issue the museum is consulting with Paul Smith’s College biologist, Daun Reuter, who will identify botanical species in Stoddard’s photographs, and exploring 19th century biological fieldwork records housed at the New York State Museum.
By bringing attention to a group of Stoddard photographs that have been overlooked but are significant examples of his work, the exhibit will give visitors the opportunity to discover and reflect on the changing environment – a topic of urgent concern in the region. Through their experience visitors will gain greater understanding not only to Stoddard’s photographic vision but also of the natural world of the Adirondacks.
Photos: Above, Silver Cascade, Elizabethtown by S.R. Stoddard, ca. 1890. Below: modern color photo of Wild Raisin by Dawn Reuter, Biology Dept., Paul Smith’s College.