Seneca Ray Stoddard (1844-1917)
was one of the first to capture the Adirondacks through photographs. He shared and promoted that vision to a post-Civil War audience which was beginning to have the means to follow in his footsteps. Soon, those footsteps became a flood of tourists who adapted their vision of how to use and enjoy this new destination. Stoddard was instrumental in making the Adirondacks "forever wild". Certainly, our 21st-century perception of the Adirondacks derives from the same natural beauty that Stoddard explored through photographs, writings and maps. We continue to confront the same challenges to its preservation and appreciation documented by Stoddard.
Growing up in Wilton, NY, Stoddard was no doubt inspired by the Adirondacks from an early age. A self-taught painter, he was first employed as an ornamental painter at a railroad car manufactory in Green Island, NY. He continued in this field when he moved to Glens Falls in 1864, where he worked with sketches and paintings until his death there in 1917.
Stoddard veered to a more promising, if not more lucrative artistic endeavor. The recently introduced wet-plate process of photography enabled Stoddard to see the Adirondacks in a very new light. Though incredibly cumbersome by today's standards, the technique was the first practical way to record distant scenes, far from the studio. Multiple photographs could be sold to an audience intrigued with the innovation and the scenes.
Although Stoddard was not alone in marketing the Adirondacks, other commercial and competing photographers remain largely unrecognized today. While Stoddard's talents seem obvious to us, that appreciation was only solidly established decades after his death. Unlike many of his contemporaries, the tremendous scope of his work remained largely intact and was rediscovered by the noted Adirondack historian Maitland De Sormo in the 1960s. The New York State Museum acquired the Stoddard prints in 1972 from De Sormo, many coming from Stoddard's own personal files.
Get Education/Classroom Materials