Back from Shangri La

Old Forge Hardware, Old Forge, NY, Q. Cassetti, 2010Rob gave a great presentation Friday morning about the “three legged stool” of budgeting and how to compress your strategy into a single, workable document that becomes the milestone from which management, the museum board and each individual contributor can work off the same “song sheet”. The day was brilliant and surprisingly warm, “indian summer” with all of us searching our bags for the singularly cooler thing to wear contrasted with the clothes of the week. All the participants were melancholy as the time dwindled and they all had to go back to reality—energized and motivated by all they had heard, participated and responded to during the week of The Museum Institute at Sagamore from Museumwise. It was thought provoking for me to hear about the work and tribulations of these focused and stressed individuals trying their best despite odd board dynamics, small budgets, high expectations and the general accountability and record keeping around each and every accessioned object in their collection whether it be a museum or a historic building, site or event. Each shared in the same push pull…and took heart from each other.

While on the other hand, there was little old me, reveling in the language and nods to Adirondack fabricated romance and romanticism, imagery and iconography, language and form.

Sagamore Yin Yang, Q. Cassetti, 2010Where I am going with that is this: I am fascinated by the iconography of what makes up “Adirondack”. You know the drill: birch bark, canoes, ADK guide boats,  log or tree inspired architecture, twig chairs and furniture, adirondack chairs, taxidermy and “trophies” on the walls, snowshoes, enamelware, pine trees, hemlock trees, pinecones, stone, mossy/lichen, fish/ jumping fish, all things fish (creels, rods and reels, tied flies etc.), loons, ducks, herons, glassy lakes, rocks, pack baskets, bear, moose, deer, pine scent, wool blankets, plaid, all things native american, lean-tos. You get the drift.

What is curious to me is that all of this stuff is derived from a victorian style that emerged in these Great Camps (with Mr. Durant driving this forward) that romanticized the working man’s Adirondack lifestyle for these imports, these city dwellers who came North for vacation to participate in sampling this rough and ready, scrappy life that the loggers and true outdoorsmen lived. It was adapted and modified into this lovely depiction for these brownstone dwellers of fresh air, and a refined unrefinement which were polished and presented “naturally” (with hordes of servants and staff in the background) and became the style that we think of as Adirondack. Not to just make it stylistic, Tuffitts of Moss, Q. Cassetti, 2010Durant and others borrowed quite liberally from James Fennimore Cooper’s writings (Sagamore and Uncas being just two of the characters from his books)…to the naming of houses and lakes, places and things that were derivative of this victorian view of Central New York and the Adirondacks. It is inspiring me to see if I can chew on this a bit, read a few of these books and see how this romanticism is manifested (when John Muir lived in nature and spoke cleanly, and purely on his interpretation of his experiences). When it all comes down to it, it is a fictionalized, romanticized view of this life, which we have just accepted…somehow as more historic than it really is…a “disney-ifcation of reality”.

And yet, if we think of the Adirondack identity—it is the art, architecture and craft from this golden era, this fantasy—which is presented to us as the historic reality it isn’t.

I was horrified and delighted by the real life photographs at the Adirondack Museum of the loggers ridingfrom the collections of the Adirondack Museum, Blue Mountain Lake,  these sleighs atop pyramids of enormous logs…with the narrative speaking to how these vehicles might lose control with the drivers jumping off and the poor horses left to fend for themselves if the sheer weight got the downward momentum of the load got to be too fast/too much. The impaled logger poster…and the descriptions of the camps and the absolutely primitive life these men had…eating and working with outdoors sport and hunting as the fun independent of family, or others. It was gritty, hard and though outside, as hard a job as any coal miner or railroad man might have had at the time. The trick was to stay warm, fed and active during the winter…and not to die getting the logs from the forest to the trains where they were taken away to the cities. Imagine the black flies and issues in the summer. At least if you fell in the river— the water might not freeze you…but being swept away with the tide and millions of pounds of wood would be horrendous. Not the cushy, pine scented, warm rooms with blazing fires in stone fireplaces with inglenooks and tea, oysters and champagne, (and people to make it for you and heat up your beds). 

Curious. Bring on the Cooper.

Speaking of continuing the fantasy, we left on our trip home to stop by the Old Forge Hardware Store.

Old Forge Hardware is the Vermont Country Store of the Adirondacks. They have all things woven, camping, enamel, food, outdoors wear, from bungee cords to campfire percolators (enamel or stainless?), from cast iron to smoked food…You could provision a cabin or a castle here…with chairs and back baskets, to canoes to Orvis fly fishing gear. It was fun. I was tempted but did not succumb. We have enough stuff regardless of how much I love this stuff. I mean, canoes and portable saw mills—beautiful enamel dutch ovens and tons of cool crockery that you can add a spiggot to in an instant (I adore these things). Gradient and colorful Pendleton shirts that put both of us in the way back machine (def. need to start thrifting for this sort of stuff). Crusher hats…the whole magilla. All there with brass sleigh bells on things, and huge jugs of maple sugar to go. Hardware store meets brand identity for ADK.

We got back late—and then up early this morning to get Alex to school to catch a bus to get to the Baldwinsville Cross Country invitational. “Bee Ville” is always one of the best meets, so we always go…and did. Alex and team did very well with some happy surprises in the JV, and a new varsity crew that did well. Tonight is a homecoming dance. I have thrown all sorts of leftovers from the week into a pot with some tomatoes and have a recycled soup in the works for the team next week.

Need to go…Alex awaits. More later.