Posts Tagged ‘Adirondacks’

Portrait of a Group of LumberjacksI’ve got a soft spot for pictures of lumbermen.  I’ve written here before about my great-grandfather, Gilbert Perry, who was a pioneer in the Adirondack logging of the late 1800’s.  It was in the days before chainsaws and gas-powered tractors when everything was done with axes, crosscut saws, teams of horses and the brute force of large crews of men.  My aunt once had a photo of him alongside a huge stack of logs atop a horse-drawn sled but it was lost before I able to see it.

But besides Gilbert, early loggers from the Eastern forests are pretty numerous in my family and in my wife’s family.  I am always surprised at how many turn up when I am doing research. Being a lumberjack was a rough and dangerous job, one that was romanticized in the late 1800’s in magazines such as Harper’s Weekly and the Atlantic as the Eastern equivalent of the Western cowboys of that time.

A number of those in our families lost their lives in the forests.  Among them, Cheri’s great-grandfather was crushed beneath a large log and died before he could be extracted.  I read an account of a great-uncle of mine in the Pennsylvania Black Forest whose leg was crushed between two logs in a sluice that was being used to move them.  The article tells how they  rushed him to a train and sped at breakneck speeds towards Williamsport trying to save him.  Unfortunately,  he passed away as they pulled into the city.

So whenever I run across a photo from of early lumberjacks I have to stop and take a look.  I don’t know anything about the photo at the top, when or where it was taken.  I suspect it’s from around the turn of the century but whether it is from the Eastern forests, the Northwest or the great forests of the upper Midwest is beyond me.  Regardless, it’s just a great photo on so many levels and is one of my new favorites.

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GC Myers Icon-Gilbert 2016This is the next step in the Icon series of paintings that I talked about a few days ago.  It’s an 18″ by 18″ canvas that I call Gilbert, going with the French pronunciation–  more jill-bear than gill-bert.  There’s a reason for that.

I had mentioned using this Icon series showing plain folks leading simple and uncelebrated lives in the pose and style of religious icon paintings.  But because these are personal pieces for me (by that I mean that these paintings are being done for me alone at this point) I decide to try to channel the spirit  of an ancestor into these pieces.  Kind of like the spirit portraits that famed folk portraitist William Matthew Prior did in the  19th century, where he would  paint a portrait of a dead person’s supposed spirit which of course didn’t look anything like their actual physical form.

I’m not claiming to be painting spirits here.  I don’t have that ability or the proper amount of belief to even attempt that.  But from doing genealogy I have come across figures that stand out for me, people that sometimes make me proud and sometimes make me not so proud.  Both have an attraction for me because as I stated  in the post about Frank the Icon,  I believe we are all capable of being both gods and monsters and every family has its fair share of both.  I thought it would be interesting to do  a take on those folks, good and bad, in the iconic form.

Gilbert is based on my great-grandfather, Gilbert Perry, a renowned lumberman of the early Adirondacks.  I have never seen a picture of him nor do I know much of him on a personal level.  He died nearly 25 years before I was born and was born in 1855.  But using old newspaper accounts and historic records I have been able to piece together a life that was based on life in the forests of the Adirondacks.  He went out his own at age 17 and immediately had a contract and a crew of workers to bring in a large number of logs in the burgeoning logging business of the late 19th century.

This was a time when the work was all by hand and the transport was all by horse sleds or by river.  The accounts of some of the river drives are pretty amazing.  Itw as time when being a cowboy or a logger were the most exciting jobs in the land. I read an account from the Atlantic magazine of that time that detailed a day in one of his camps.  Fascinating stuff.

He was  well known and did well in the Adirondack lumber world, at one point employing over 350 men and owning more than 50 teams of horses.  Born of French-Canadian descent, he brought many French-Canadian loggers and their families into this country.  That’s where the jill-bear comes from.  His nickname was Jib.

I wrote last year of going to North Lake in the Adirondacks where several of his logging camps had been located and standing on a dam that he had first built there in the 1890’s.  It was great to be in that space and air, not so unchanged as of yet from his time.  The sheer quietness of the place and the light of the sky off the lake made me think of how he must have felt in his early days, axe in hand and a huge task before him.  I think he was probably a happy man in that moment.

There’s more I could tell but it’s probably not that interesting to anyone outside my family.  And even many of them have eyes that glaze over when I do speak of it.  I will spare you that but his is how I choose to see my great-grandfather.

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View Arts Center-Old Forge, NY

View Arts Center-Old Forge, NY

We spent the last few days up in the lower part of the Adirondacks, around Old Forge.  Being just a day or so past Labor Day, most of the tourists were gone  and the region was beautifully quiet.  It sometimes felt as though we had the place to ourselves.  One of the highlights of the trip was visiting the View Arts Center, formerly the Old Forge Arts Center.  It was my first time visiting the View Arts Center.  What a gorgeous facility!  It is a 28,000 square feet gem with four galleries, a spectacular performance center and several large classroom and studio spaces, including a ceramics center that has an artist in residence.  Exhibitions Manager Cory Card gave me a tour and I was so impressed with every aspect of the place.  Just a beautiful arts center, one that would be the pride of any place fortunate enough to have it.

View Arts Center- Adirondack National 2014 Will Bullas PaintingI had first heard of the Arts Center because of its fame for hosting the  annual Adirondack National Exhibition of American Watercolors, a prestigious juried exhibit of some of the finest examples of watercolor and other water based media painting from around the country.  This year’s edition was hanging and definitely did not disappoint. Just a spectacular show with something for every taste, including some from artists who had inspired me early in my career, before I had ever dreamed of a career as an artist.  For instance, Dean Mitchell, a watercolor master whose work rally drew me to painting early on,  had a prize winning entry in the show.  The painting used in the image above on the right is excerpted from one of my favorites from this show, Geek from California artist Will Bullas.

The show hangs until October 5 so if you have a chance , I highly recommend that you head up to the Adirondacks for some wonderful scenery and some great art at a first rate arts facility.

Another highlight was heading out to North Lake, a little known mountain lake that is well off the beaten path with only a handful of seasonal cabins around it.  I wanted to visit this place because it had once been one of the locations for my great-grandfather’s logging camps in the late 1800’s.  He built one of the original dams and sluiceways there that create the North Lake Reservoir which forms the headwaters of the Black River.  Standing on the newer dam that  stands in that location made me feel a bit closer to this ancestor, to look across that pristine mountain lake and possibly feel the same sense of awe at the natural beauty that he once felt in that same spot.  I was glad to finally see that spot.

Just a nice getaway to the lakes and streams of the mountains that makes me want to head back again soon…

North Lake, NY -View from the dam

North Lake, NY -View from the dam



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9914-152 Purifying Light smWell, the work for my  fifteenth show, Traveler, at the Principle Gallery has been delivered and now there is some time to exhale a bit before the opening this coming Friday, June 6.  It was a good trip yesterday with no complications during the drive , stunning weather and a really nice time at the gallery–  such a warm and upbeat group of  people there. While there, a  friend  popped in for a good visit and I also  met a few other  interesting folks, including one who also had a family connection to the early logging trade in the Adirondacks.  There is a good possibility that our great-grandfathers knew one another in those days of the late 19th century when that part of the mountains was abuzz with lumbermen.  But that is a story for another time.

Delivering the show brought the usual feeling of relief that comes with completing a task but without the anxiety that often accompanies it as I wait to see if the show will be successful.  I suppose I have enough experience with this scenario to know that things always work out if I have put in the effort.  And I have.  This show was very satisfying, during the process when I was the creator and in the aftermath when I became an observer.  There were pieces that came from hard fought struggles and some that seemed to fall from the hand with no effort, each ultimately achieving that life of their own to which I often refer.  In the end, it all seemed to come together very well.  I will be eager to see how it hangs in the space.  I hope that if you are in the area, you can stop in and see the show.

It’s a Sunday morning , which means it’s time for a little music and I thought today I would feature something from Leonard Cohen.  I chose the song Anthem simply because of the chorus that goes  Ring the bells that still can ring/ Forget your perfect offering/There is a crack, a crack in everything/ That’s how the light gets in .  That has long been a theme in my work.  My second show at the Principle Gallery was titled Seeking Imperfection because I felt it was the imperfection  in the work that made it brought it to life, that gave evidence of the imperfect person behind it.  To me, perfection was cold and sterile concept, far from the human experience.  I wanted the blood and heat of humanity in my work.  Maybe that’s why red has been such a vital color in my visual vocabulary.  Perhaps the piece shown at the top is a good example of this.  Purifying Light, a 20″ by 60″ canvas, is part of the show.

Anyway, here is Anthem from Leonard Cohen.  Have a great Sunday!




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When we were driving back from my great-nephew’s birthday yesterday, Cheri mentioned something that a friend had told her earlier this week.  It was a minor incident, one of no great consequence, that happened locally.  Neither of us had heard anything about it nor had we seen it in our local newspaper.

I said that it was the type of thing that you would have seen in local newspapers of the past but which no longer appeared in the new reality of print journalism.  Our local newspaper, the Elmira Star Gazette, which was the first newspaper that Frank Gannett operated on the way to building his news empire, has evolved over the years from an informative, vital chronicle of the local area to  a much leaner, less informative leg of a group of local  newspapers that is more regional in coverage, sharing reporters and coverage.   As a result, there are  fewer reporters covering much greater areas with less space to fill on the pages of each paper.  Local coverage consists of a page or two, at best.

Gone are the little details that newspapers of the past provided, the minutiae of day to day life in a locality that gave the reader a true feel of the newspaper’s area of coverage.  Less coverage of small incidents, minor arrests, social gatherings, small local events, etc.  The type of things that give an area’s readers a sense of definition of what they are as a community.

That’s a lot to lose.

My fear, which is beyond nostalgic longings for a return to some idealized past, is that the generations of the future will actually have a harder time trying to put together the day to day life of any specific area because of the loss of this minutiae  that was in the past always gathered in one convenient source, the newspaper.  For instance, as I’ve written before, I didn’t know much, practically nothing, about my great-grandfather’s life in the Adirondacks in the late 19th and early 20th century.  But by reading the old newspapers of that time and locality ( St. Regis Falls) I was able to get a very good an detailed idea of how that area’s inhabitants lived their lives, their social  and family networks and how they operated and interacted as a community.  It seemed like every little detail was chronicled in some way that I would never be able to find in today’s papers.

It gave depth and detail to a time and place that is a distant point in the past.

With the loss of the newspaper’s effective local coverage, I don’t know if the same could be said today, even with all the awesome sources of information available to us.  There is an enormous amount of data, given all the new technology such as the internet, out there but it’s not unified and day to day in one specific area.

Maybe I shouldn’t care about this.  Who does?  And maybe I’m just plain wrong.  Maybe it will be easier in the future to pull all the data together and get an idea of how specific people lived in specific localities.  I just feel there is a loss here that goes beyond the purely nostalgic, especially when examining the historic anthropology of a given area.

I think a small part of our cultural voice and identity will fade away…

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This is the image I was searching for the other day when I was distracted by the portrait of Willie Nelson.  This is a scene from the very early 20th century at the railroad station in Forestport, NY, in the lower part of the Adirondacks.  It’s where my great-grandfather had his logging operations back then and maintained a home as well as a couple of other businesses.

As I’ve read about that area and that time I am struck by the contrast between then and now.  If you drive through the Adirondacks you encounter town after small town, all sleepy little affairs with hardly anyone around except for the seasonal tourists.  Forestport is one of those towns.  But back in the day, Forestport was a buzzing, vibrant town.  It had numerous mills, processing the trees coming from the Adirondack wilderness to supply the lumber to build the growing cities of the northeast.  There were huge numbers of loggers going into the forests every day — my gr-grandfather had 250 lumberjacks working for him at one time.  There were canal workers that transported the lumber with mules and horses down the Black River Canal to the Erie Canal.  There were boat-builders there who built the barges that traveled the canals and carriage builders to make wagons to haul logs and people.  These workers spawned a whole support network that created cheese factories, breweries, retail stores, restaurants and taverns, all employing numbers of other workers.

Everything was local, nearly everything produced nearby.  Ironically, the very canal and later highway system that allowed the town to ship out the resources that allowed it to grow were the beginning of the end, as new products from outside the local area were now easily shipped in on these transportation portals.  Products became more regional then national and most of the products consumed were no longer local in any sense of the word.

As the forests depleted from the voracious cutting, there were fewer and fewer loggers.  Fewer and fewer mills.  The canal was replaced by the railroad at first then the highway so the canal workers and boatbuilders became obsolete.  The newly popular car and truck replaced the local carriage builders.  And with the loss of these workers came the end of the need for the businesses that supplied and supported them.  The cheese factories closed.  The stores and restaurants were boarded up.  Slowly, the town dwindled until all that remained was sleepy little burgh that wouldn’t be recognizable to the residents from that time.

I’m not saying this time or that time was better or that it’s a crying shame that this place no longer is the same.  Things change.  For many reasons.  There are thousands of places like Forestport throughout the northeast and spreading through the midwest of this country, towns that are like little dying planets whose heyday has passed.

The interesting thing for me is that bustling, life-filled world is barely remembered, only existing in a few photos and a few writings.  Makes me wonder how what we view now as the centerpoints of our lives will change and if, a century from now, this time will exist only in memories and images that may be of little interest to the citizens of that time.

Of course, Ted Williams, Walt Disney and I will be there to remind the people then of this time, after they revive us from our cryogenically induced naps.

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Logging near Forestport, NYThis is a scene from the Adirondack Mountains of New York near the town of Forestport, taken in the 1890’s.   There’s a possibility this is one of my great-grandfather’s crews.  I don’t really know.  Never knew much about  the man as I was growing up, didn’t even know his full name.  My family had little link to the past, few photos and very little oral history.  So little was known of our ancestors and their lives. Thanks to the access to old records and newspapers that is now available via the internet I have been able to find out much that would have been otherwise lost to our family.

For example, the great-grandfather I mentioned above was known to have ran a lumber camp in the Adirondacks, supposedly in the north near St. Regis Falls, where my father’s mother ( who died in 1979) was born and raised.  That was about the extent of our knowledge of the man.  I knew his last name was Perry and he ran a lumber camp.

A couple of years back, I did a quick Google search with what little info I had and much to my surprise an entry appeared.  There was a Gilbert Perry listed in a book from 1895 profiling the citizens of Oneida County, NY, in the southern part of the Adirondacks.  That didn’t seem to jive with what I knew but when I read the article it stated he was from St. Regis Falls and maintained a farm there as well.  His children were listed and I recognized one name as being a sister of my grandmother, who was not listed as she wasn’t yet born.

It was a thrill to finally find something on an ancestor, something that gave their life form.  I learned that he was a hard-working, ambitious entrepreneur who ran a number of lumbering enterprises as well as a couple of retail stores and his farms.  He was considered one of the pioneers of Adirondack logging, having several camps and crews of men numbering in the hundreds along with 50 or more teams of horses.  At the time, he was signed to bring in the largest contract of lumber in the Adirondacks.

After that I started doing more research and a whole new world  opened up to me when I came across the digitized newspapers from that time and region.  Local newspapers at that time were a true mirror of the area and people they covered, giving many details on their everyday lives and their travels.  I was able to piece together a full picture of the life my grandmother’s family lived in St. Regis Falls and Forestport.  I was even able to come across a full account of my grandmother’s wedding to my grandfather, something my dad and his siblings had never heard or seen.  It gave my memories of my grandmother a new depth.

I was even able to find numerous mentions of his lumber camps, including an account of a normal day in the camp, in a number of books outlining the history of the Adirondacks along with many stories of the men who worked for him.  One was a character named Atwell Martin, called the Hermit of North Creek, who is recalled in many stories and tall tales, including one where Paul Bunyan, having heard the tales of Martin’s exploits, traveled east to visit him.  They got along famously at first but ultimately ended up in a fight where trees were upended and used as clubs and the great Paul Bunyan ends up slain.  His body was buried in the headwaters of the Black River, the dam at North Lake.

I am still doing research but it’s an interesting and different world I keep uncovering, filled with great exploits and hard lives in a harsh environment.  It’s just been a thrill to find a link to a past of some sort…

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