When the subject of a wild and unsettled country is discussed, it is understood in the Tidewater region to mean the time of the founding of the Virginia Colony in 1607.
Its cultivated fields and rich tobacco crop made it one of the wealthiest American colonies.
Some regions of our country, however, remained an untamed wilderness until quite recently. The history of one of those regions, the Adirondack Mountains, was the subject of an exhibit at the Adirondack Museum in Blue Mountain Lake. The untamed Adirondack wilderness was showcased through paintings, maps, prints and photographs. Another exhibit at the museum showcased the yield of 150 years of Adirondack quilts and comforters that kept families warm through the long winters.
Both exhibits have counterparts at the museums of Colonial Williamsburg. It would be an exciting, educational and visual experience to see selective items from both regions displayed side-by-side as part of a museum exchange program.
The permanent exhibits at the Adirondack Museum tell the story of people who have inhabited and visited this land of forests, lakes and mountains since the early 1800s. The 22 indoor and outdoor exhibits depict with great skill the history of the region and the ways inhabitants made their living.
The museum made great effort to gather the best samples of furniture, decorative arts, tools and transportation vehicles that reflect on the life, work and leisure activities in the rugged region. No wonder the New York Times called the Adirondack Museum “the best of its kind in the world.”
The museum has put together a grand tour. “It follows in the footsteps of explorers, painters and photographers and takes you around the Adirondacks to explore the scenic wonders pictured by 19th-century artists,” explains the brochure
The exhibit includes 40 paintings from such well known 19th-century artists as Thomas Cole, John Frederick Kensett, William Hevett and Russell Smith. They depict amazing sights in the Adirondack Park, a 6 million acre wilderness. There are, “sublime scenes with roaring waterfalls and lofty mountains or picturesque vistas of beautiful valleys and lakes.”
The Times also points out the significance of the exhibit: “For 19th-century artists, the Adirondack wilderness was a source of inspiration. Their images of it reflected the beauty and power of the natural world. …Their work promoted the Adirondacks as a public treasur, encouraging tourists and sportsmen to discover the region. The images artists, cartographers, and photographers created and contributed to a national understanding of wilderness. Wilderness became a national icon and reflection of the American character.”
More than a dozen rare maps illustrated the growing knowledge about the Adirondacks. One of the maps was the “1704 Edition of Lahontan’s Voyages.” It was created by Baron Louis-Armand de Lom d’Acre Lahontan, a French aristocrat, who was sent to New France, Canada, to serve as a military officer.
The exhibit of “Common Threads: 150 Years of Adirondack Quilts & Comforters,” showcased a tradition that has thrived for more than a century and includes creations plain and fancy. The quilts and comforters, many of them decorated with vibrant colors, tell a unique story of life in the mountains.
“Common Threads” explores themes of women’s work, domestic life, social networks in rural areas, generational continuity among women, and women’s artistic response to life in the Adirondacks. Quilts and comforters serve as paths to stories of the sort that don’t get recorded in history books.”
When a visitor compares the Colonial-era artifacts displayed at Colonial Williamsburg DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum, with items displayed at the Adirondack Museum, it becomes apparent that in spite of the differences in geography, climate and economic development, the human condition that prevailed in both places made us one nation: America.
Shatz is a Williamsburg resident. He is the author of “Reports from a Distant Place,” a compilation of his selected columns. The book is available at the Bruton Parish Shop and Amazon.com.