Throughout the history of the Adirondacks, artists commonly chose to focus on nature in its purest form. Even while people mapped and surveyed the area, some chose to make quick sketches or paintings of what they saw. The Adirondacks were originally seen as a place of harsh wilderness, and this was reflected in the early artwork of the region. However, as time passed, humans attempted to conquer the land through exploitation and development, and they started to see the Adirondacks as a place of opportunity and economic potential. Once this shift occurred, humans and man-made structures began to appear in the artwork. Several pieces in particular demonstrate this transition from landscape paintings focused purely on nature to landscape paintings that reveal evidence of human influence.

Works of Pure Nature

Early paintings and photographs of the Adirondacks captured landscapes and wildlife with very little human influence. Before the Adirondacks were explored, they were portrayed as mysterious and ominous wilderness. As more information about the area became known, artists were able to explore different parts of the park and they began to romanticize nature.


In Samuel Colman’s Untitled: Ausable River (1869, right), a waterfall cascades down large boulders lined by cliffs on both sides, and there is a mist thatalmost covers the mountains in the background. There is also a small man amongst the rocks, but he is dwarfed by the wilderness surrounding him (“Untitled: Ausable River”). This painting is fairly harsh and threatening, and the color palette is predominantly dark brown, green, and black. The use of spacing—enormous, jagged boulders dominate the line of sight, drawing attention to them—and the coloring make the image appear exotic. The fog gives the piece a mystical feeling, and the Adirondacks are accurately represented as wild land. While there is a man in the photo, he is in no way the focus of the painting. In fact, it is difficult to notice him without studying the image. In this particular instance, man had not yet conquered nature, and the wilderness is still a place of untamed beauty.

Homer Dodge Martin’s Mountain View on the Saranac (1868, right) was used to help publicize William Murray’s book Adventures in the Wilderness, and itshows the Saranac River valley with mountains in the background (“Mountain View on the Saranac”). The painting focuses on color over line, and the dark green, brown, and black colors on the top and bottom contrast with the light blue and white colors in the middle. Martin romanticizes the wide landscape, using soft colors and lines to draw viewers in to Murray’s picturesque image of the Adirondacks. Overall, the piece is serene and calming, making the wilderness very attractive. This piece, along with Murray’s book, drew a large crowd of people to the Adirondacks—Murray’s fools—who expected the wilderness to be much more inviting and accommodating than it actually was because of how it was advertised to them.
Works with Evidence of Human Influence

Even though modern works of art still show scenes of pure nature, it is common to see evidence of human impact and human activity in art today. For example, human impact can be seen through the construction of buildings, the destruction of trees, abandoned mining operations, the creation of hiking trails, litter and pollution, etc. Recreational activities often appear in Adirondack art as well, and while the focus of the piece remains on the landscape or wildlife, human activity is there to play a more minor role. As people conquered and developed the land, artwork reflected the idea that nature was there for humans.

Thomas Cole’s Schroon Lake (1846, right) is a painting that examines the relationship between humans and nature. A log cabin sits in the center of the piece, and there is a tree stump in the foreground with rugged mountains in the background (“Schroon Lake”). The cabin and stump represent humans taming the wilderness, while the mountains and luminous sky represent the enchanting, untamed wilderness. The development of land clearly indicates human activity, and the tree stump shows the impact of humans on the land. This represents the opinion that people have the right to their own personal part of nature. While some residents do respect the land, others believe they can alter it to fit their needs, which takes advantage of something that cannot fight back and unfairly disrupts the ecosystem.

A pair of engravings done by Julian Rix, captioned “A Feeder of the Hudson – As It 
Was" (1885, right) and “A Feeder of the Hudson – As It Is” (1885, far right), compare images of the same water source before and after human influence. In the first engraving, lush trees tower over a waterway that flows down a series of moss-covered ledges (“A Feeder of the Hudson – As It Was”). In the second engraving, the vegetation and water have been replaced by dry boulders and a barren landscape dotted with tree stumps (“A Feeder of the Hudson – As It Is”). This pair of images reflects the common fear of losing the Adirondacks as a source of water in the late 19th century, which was one of the main reasons people wanted to protect the land. People were scared of the destruction caused by logging, and these powerful images reflect the bad opinion most people held of the Adirondack timber industry at the time. These engravings also demonstrate the drastic impact humans can have on the land. An entire ecosystem was destroyed, and while succession and natural disasters change ecosystems, they do not knowingly disrupt such a complex arrangement that can never be recreated.

Works Cited

“A Feeder of the Hudson – As It Is.” The Adirondack Museum. The Adirondack Museum, n.d. Web. 1 April 2015.

“A Feeder of the Hudson – As It Was.” The Adirondack Museum. The Adirondack Museum, n.d. Web. 1 April 2015.

“Mountain View on the Saranac.” The Adirondack Museum. The Adirondack Museum, n.d. Web. 1 April 2015.

“Schroon Lake.” The Adirondack Museum. The Adirondack Museum, n.d. Web. 1 April 2015.

“Untitled: Ausable River.” The Adirondack Museum. The Adirondack Museum, n.d. Web. 1 April 2015.


Image Sources (in order of appearance)

Banner courtesy of: Amanda Lodge (original photo)

Untitled: Ausable River courtesy of:

Mountain View on the Saranac courtesy of:

Schroon Lake courtesy of:

"A Feeder of the Hudson – As It Was" courtesy of:

"A Feeder of the Hudson – As It Is" courtesy of: