by Beth Bathe
This August, while at the Adirondack Plein Air Festival, I was invited along with several local artists to paint at Eagle Island Camp on a private island in Upper Saranac Lake.
Eagle Island is a 30-acre camp built in 1903 by Adirondack architect William Coulter for Levi Morton, a former New York governor, U.S. representative, and vice president under President Benjamin Harrison. The National Register of Historic Places recognized the camp in 1986, and in 2004 the property was named a National Historic Landmark. Eagle Island has been described as a quintessential and highly intact example of an American Adirondack Camp, considered by some as perhaps the finest example of Coulter’s work.
In 1910, Morton sold the camp to Henry Graves, an industrialist from Orange, New Jersey. In 1937 Henry and his wife, Florence, gifted the property to the Girl Scouts in memory of their sons, with the intention that Eagle Island be “a place to keep the spirit of childhood alive.” The Girl Scouts operated Camp Eagle Island continuously for 70 years, from 1938 to 2008. For the last year and a half, Eagle Island Inc. has been working to restore its historic buildings for a future youth summer camp.
Access to Eagle Island Camp is by boat only, and it is currently not open to the public, so being invited to paint there is very special. The buildings look much the same as they did in the ‘30s, which is pretty incredible. Original Stickley furniture, animal heads, and benches are still in their original locations.
I get to paint in some pretty awesome places. This past year I am a juried/invited artist in 10 national plein air competitions from Utah to Maine. I have painted in Cuba with PleinAir magazine and in the far reaches of China. But to paint something that is truly part of Americana, like this grand lodge, was very special.
I find beauty in the “vanishing landscape” of old buildings, sometimes beyond their prime. It might be an old barn, or a row of Victorian houses. My painting style of monochromatic oil washes evokes a nostalgia for the past, like that of an old sepia photo. I painted several paintings that day on the island, and was honored that my painting “Welcome to Eagle Island” was awarded the “Best of Eagle Island Award” at the Adirondack Plein Air Festival 2017. I am hoping to continue a relationship with Eagle Island Inc. and return to paint in the future, and proceeds of the sales of my paintings will go to help in restoring this marvelous piece of history.
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