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Canada Lake’s art tradition highlighted in new exhibit

June 24, 2012
By BILL ACKERBAUER ( , The Leader Herald

CAROGA - A century ago, Canada Lake already was a popular retreat for folks eager to escape the summer heat of the city. Among those who took up seasonal residence at the lake was a group of New York City-based artists of national reputation.

The lake's long history as a destination - and source of inspiration - for visual artists will be the focus of "Reflections 2012," this summer's exhibit at the Caroga Historical Museum.

The museum, celebrating its 35th anniversary this year, is co-sponsoring the exhibit with an even older community organization, the Canada Lakes Protective Association.

Article Photos

Standing outside her summer home at Canada Lake on Thursday, Carole Fisher holds?a painting titled “Driftwood,” a watercolor painted by her mother-in-law, Milderena Fisher, in 1975. The painting is one of about 125 pieces by Canada Lake artists that will be shown in the exhibit “Reflections 2012”?this summer at the Caroga Historical Museum. (The Leader-Herald/Bill Ackerbauer)

Last summer, the museum issued a call for submissions of work by Canada Lake artists past and present. According to Carole Fisher, one of several volunteers coordinating the show, the response was strong. About 125 pieces were accepted, in total - so many that they have to be presented in two separate shows.

"It's a neat collection of things of all kinds," Fisher said, noting the media represented include oils, watercolors, pen and pencil drawings, prints, glass and ceramics. "A lot of it is impressionistic."

Photography was not accepted for this show, but a future exhibit at the museum might be dedicated to that medium, Fisher said.

The first installment of "Reflections" will open this Thursday with a public reception at 7 p.m. in the museum's barn, and it will remain on display through July 29.

The second act, featuring an entirely different selection of artwork, will open Aug. 10 and continue through Sept. 2. The museum, at 145 London Bridge Road, is open from 1 to 4 p.m. Thursday through Sunday all summer, and admission is free.

A gallery program scheduled for 7 p.m. July 12 will feature a panel discussion about the work with Diane Forsberg, deputy director of the Arkell Museum, Allen Farber, an art professor from SUNY?Oneonta, and participating artists Tom Healey and Pat Snyder.

Early artists

The earliest known artist to capture views of Canada Lake and its surrounding landscape was artist-illustrator Rufus Alex Grider, who visited in the 1890s. Grider, also known for his sketches of scenes in the Mohawk Valley, was the subject of an exhibit at the Caroga museum two summers ago.

In the summers of 1905 and 1906, artist Clare Victor Dwiggins and his wife, pianist Betsey Lindsay, visited the lake as guests at the Fulton House hotel. The following year, they bought property on the south shore and built a camp that would come to be known as the "Dwigwam."

Dwiggins, a noted cartoonist and illustrator for several national magazines, worked in the mornings at his studio in a separate cottage on the property. He soon brought friends and fellow artists such as Charles Sarka and Paul Bransom and their families, and soon Canada Lake was the site of a bustling summer colony for creative people of many stripes. Among their circle of friends were writers such as James Thurber and Lillian Case Russell.

Friendly atmosphere

Decades later, another Canada Lake writer, Helen Ireland Hays, described Bransom and Sarka in her book "Heritage" and in other works.

"More than any other artist who has made Canada Lake home, Charles Sarka found inspiration in the surrounding mountains and changing scene," Hays wrote in her contribution to "Caroga," a 1979 local history volume edited by lake resident and historian Barbara McMartin. "He was a resident of Canada Lake for 50 years, and every day from spring to fall, he set out from his cottage on the north shore to make a watercolor sketch of the views he enjoyed."

Bransom, whose camp was next door to Dwiggins', was famous for his illustrations of animals, many of which graced the covers of publications such as The Saturday Evening Post. He took inspiration from the wildlife at Canada Lake as well as its human camaraderie.

"The Bransoms' gift for friendship has drawn many people to them," Hays wrote in "Heritage." "The magnetic quality of their personalities has been a lodestone for many and, for some, a lodestar."

Organizers of the "Reflections" exhibit say the friendly, creative spirit of Canada Lake's early artists continues to this day and is reflected in the enthusiasm of the living artists who've contributed pieces for the exhibit.

Members of the CLPA and others familiar with Canada Lake and its adjacent lakes might expect one image in particular to dominate the art show: The lake's iconic Nick Stoner Island, with its strand of outlying rocks and weathered pine trees, has become a beloved but cliched image, decorating T-shirts, books and travel brochures.

Not to worry, says Fisher.

"We anticipated we'd have 9 million pictures of the island, but we really didn't," she said. "We have nature scenes, boats, kids jumping off the dock ... the whole cross-section of what you are likely to see at the lake."

Features Editor Bill Ackerbauer can be reached by email at



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