Adirondack Experience has been collecting and interpreting objects that represent the lives of Adirondack visitors and residents for more than fifty 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 collections are available to researchers by appointment. Curatorial staff are available Monday through Friday from 8:30 am to 4 pm. If you have any questions or would like to schedule a research appointment, please call the Collections Department at 518-352-7311.
Adirondack Experience’s collection of art includes more than 600 paintings, nearly 2000 drawings and sketches, more than 1200 prints, and 25 pieces of sculpture in a variety of media. The majority of the works are landscape paintings, a pictorial record of the Adirondack landscape and environment reflecting the ways people have understood, interacted with and been inspired by nature for more than 200 years. There are also some genre scenes, portraits, and advertising art, a proportionally smaller group than the landscape views.
The boat collection at the Adirondack Experience, consisting of more than 250 craft, reflects the development and refinement of regional boat making from pre-contact Native American dugout canoes, to small steamboats of the nineteenth century, to a 1989 Kevlar open pack canoe. The bulk of the collection dates from about 1880 to 1950. The Adirondack region was a leader in small craft use and development for the century between the Civil War and the Second World War, and everything from iceboats to river drive bateaux and lightweight sailing canoes to Gold Cup class speedboats was used and built here. The Adirondack guideboat, one of the most important cultural artifacts of the region and internationally known as the ultimate refinement of the bateau type, is well represented by more than 70 examples. The best-known small boat builder of the nineteenth century, J.H. Rushton of Canton, NY, is represented by 31 examples covering all the major types he built.
This 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, consisting of more than 75,000 images, 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. They are primarily albumen and gelatin silver prints, but also daguerreotypes, ambrotypes, tintypes, cyanotypes, carbon and cibachrome prints, crayon enlargements, glass and film-based negatives and transparencies, and lantern slides. Formats include panoramic photos, 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.
Native American culture
The museum collected its first Indian artifact in 1957, a pestle used for pounding corn (1957.190.1). 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. Native groups represented include Abenaki and Mohawk as well as those from outside the Adirondacks: Seneca, Apache, Navajo, Hidatsa, Kiowa, and Crow. Artifacts in the collection were made or used by Adirondack Indians and/or were collected by Adirondack camp owners for use as decorative objects.
The architectural collection ranges from entire structures to building materials such as nails, hinges, and window glass. The collection documents the history of the built environment in the Adirondacks with particular emphasis on rustic architecture and design. The earliest acquisitions (wooden pegs and a hewed log from a Clinton County log cabin) were collected in 1957, the year the museum opened. Since then, the collection has grown to include a small rustic privy, a clapboard one-room schoolhouse, a hunting lodge and a small lean-to addition built in 1957 to house the first African-American student at the Seagle Music Colony.
Artifacts of Daily Life
The collections include 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 and equipment. They include a child-sized car from the Land of Make Believe, a horse-driven treadmill for generating power, cooking utensils from Adirondack family camps, light fixtures, skis and ice skates, Olympic uniforms, pneumatic drills from the iron mine in Tahawus, snowshoes, cast iron stoves, and a prohibition-era still for making liquor.
A significant portion of this collection (approximately 150 items) is the rustic furniture. Made by hand in the Adirondacks of natural materials, mostly trees, these artifacts represent a regional artisanal tradition of more than 150 years. Structural members of rustic furniture are often unpeeled cedar, yellow birch poles or slab pine (sometimes recycled from packing crates and other salvaged objects). Makers used materials at hand. Bark, split twigs, burls, and other tree parts are used for embellishment. Although the Adirondack tradition of rustic furniture making began as a necessity, with crude, temporary construction, rustic design has been refined and some pieces (new and old) are collectors’ items bringing premium prices. Adirondack rustic has influenced furniture and interior design across the country and has become synonymous with cabin and lodge décor.
Highlights of the rustic furniture collection, the largest collection of its kind, include the work of Ernest Stowe, George Wilson, William Jones, Frank Alger, Joseph O.A. Breyere, Lee Fountain, Jason Henderson, Barry Gregson, and Jonathan Sweet. The collection includes furniture and furnishings such as sewing boxes, planters, and fireplace wood boxes.