The Adirondack Experience has been collecting and interpreting objects that represent the lives of Adirondack visitors and residents for more than 65 years. The stories these objects tell form a rich documentary of the ways people have understood and interacted with the environment of the Adirondack Park. These are stories that touch on our innate need to connect with nature, our struggle to survive and adapt to a changing environment, and, ultimately, lessons in balancing the needs of human communities with the natural world. Although the stories we tell are Adirondack, they have meaning and relevance for people around the world. The collection is available to researchers by appointment. Curatorial staff are available Monday through Friday from 8:30 to 4 pm. If you have any questions or would like to schedule a research appointment, please call the Collection Department at 518-352-7311. You may read more about the collection below or go directly to Search Online Collection Database
Adirondack Experience’s collection of art includes more than 700 paintings, nearly 2000 drawings and sketches, more than 1200 prints, and dozens of sculptures in a variety of media. The majority of the works are landscape paintings, a changing portrait over time of the Adirondack landscape and environment that reflects the ways people have understood, interacted with, and been inspired by nature for more than 200 years. The museum collection also includes genre scenes, portraits, and advertising art. Works range in style from Hudson River School to abstract by artists such as Arthur Fitzwilliam Tait, Levi Wells Prentice, Thomas Cole, John Frederick Kensett, William Trost Richards, John Marin, David Smith, and Dorothy Dehner.
The boat collection includes more than 250 small inland watercraft, and reflects the development and refinement of regional boat making–from a Native American dugout canoe (1958.350.0001) to a 1989 Kevlar open pack canoe (2005.027.0001). Most of the boats date from between about 1880 to 1950. The Adirondack guideboat, one of the most important cultural artifacts of the region, is well represented with more than 70 examples. There are 32 examples made by the best-known regional small boat builder of the 19th century, J.H. Rushton of Canton, NY. The boat collection also includes patterns, motors and engines, paddles and oars, sails, steam whistles, seats and backrests, lights, anchors, bilge pumps, hardware, boat covers, ballast, fenders, boat builders’ tools and workbenches, and other boat-related accessories.
The photograph collection consists of more than 75,000 images and depicts a wide range of human activity and landscape views from about 1845 to the present, with the bulk of the collection dating from 1875 to 1950. Photographic media include albumen and gelatin silver prints, daguerreotypes, ambrotypes, tintypes, cyanotypes, carbon and Cibachrome prints, crayon enlargements, glass and film-based negatives and transparencies, and lantern slides. Formats include panoramas, stereoviews, cartes-de-visite, cabinet cards and larger presentation formats, photo albums (personal, corporate, and photographers’ proofs), real photo postcards, and prints tipped into bound volumes. The images represent virtually every aspect of life in the Adirondacks, from logging camps to family gatherings to community celebrations. Photographers represented in the collection include Margaret Bourke-White, Henry M. Beach, Alfred Steiglitz, and Seneca Ray Stoddard.
Native American Culture
The museum collected its first Indian artifact in 1957, a pestle used for pounding corn (1957.190.0001). It was a gift to the museum from Maude Nagazoa, great-granddaughter of Sabael Benedict. Today, the Native American-related collection spans prehistory to the present, with the bulk of the collection dating from either prehistory or the turn of the 20th century. Artifacts include baskets and basket-making tools, snowshoes, souvenir items, moccasins, potsherds and stone tools, ceremonial items, beaded bags, arrowheads, and birchbark canoes. Nations represented include Abenaki and Mohawk as well as some from outside the Adirondack Park: Seneca, Apache, Navajo, Hidatsa, Kiowa, and Crow. Artifacts in the collection were made or used by Adirondack Indians and/or collected by Adirondack camp owners for use as decorative objects.
The architectural collection ranges from entire structures to building materials and hardware such as nails, hinges, and window glass. The collection documents the history of the built environment in the Adirondacks with particular emphasis on rustic architect and design. The earliest acquisitions (wooden pegs ad a hewed log from a Clinton County log cabin, 1957.270) were collected in 1957, the year the museum opened. Since then, the collection has grown to include a small rustic privy (1961.016.0001), a clapboard one-room schoolhouse (1987.078.0001), a hunting lodge (Buck Lake Camp), and a small lean-to addition built in 1957 to house the first African-American student at the Seagle Music Colony (2017.082.001).
Artifacts of Daily Life
The collection includes household furnishings, clothing and textiles, firearms, hunting and fishing gear, sports equipment, toys and games, models and miniatures, advertising, agricultural and food processing equipment, entertainment, religious items, and tools. These artifacts range from a horse-powered treadmill (2008.020.0002), cooking utensils from Adirondack family camps, light fixtures, skis and ice skates, Olympic uniforms, pneumatic drills from iron mines, snowshoes, cast iron stoves, and a prohibition-era still for making liquor (2004.021.0001).
The Adirondack Experience collection includes the largest assemblage of Adirondack rustic furniture, approximately 150 pieces. Made by hand in the Adirondacks of natural materials, mostly trees, these artifacts represent a regional tradition of more than 150 years. Makers use materials at hand, often unpeeled cedar, yellow birch, or slab pine (sometimes recycled from packing crates and other salvaged objects). Bark, split twigs, burls, and other tree parts are used for embellishment. Although Adirondack rustic furniture making began out of necessity, with crude, temporary construction, Adirondack rustic design has been refined and some pieces (old and new) are collectors’ items. Adirondack rustic has influenced furniture and interior design across the country and has become synonymous with cabin and lodge decor. Highlights of the collection include the work of Ernest Stowe, George Wilson, William Jones, Frank Alger, Joseph O.A. Bryere, Lee Fountain, Jason Henderson, Barry Gregson, and Jonathan Sweet.