Georgia O’Keeffe invited me to the Adirondacks. I’ve long admired the paintings she did around Lake George, New York, where she and Alfred Stieglitz spent part of each year from 1918 to 1934. These include images of bold barns, bowls of red apples, and — of course — voluptuous flowers.
When I learned that The Hyde Collection in Glens Falls, at the southern end of the Adirondacks, had opened the exhibition Modern Nature: Georgia O’Keeffe and Lake George, I knew I had to see it. And who better to share it with than a former college roommate who lives in Rochester?
I exposed my geographical shortsightedness in the first exchange of emails: Rochester, it turns out, is nowhere near Lake George (but she’d make the drive), and I was to fly into Albany, not JFK, as I had assumed.
“And we should stay at one of the Great Camps,” Jacque Cady continued.
All I heard was “camp,” and I flashed back to the summer we traveled in Europe together and didn’t always agree on where to stay. “No way. I don’t camp,” I protested, which just made her laugh.
“The Great Camps are grand family compounds that were built in the Adirondacks by guys like Rockefeller, Vanderbilt, and Guggenheim. I think you’ll manage.”
I arrived a day before Jacque and had fun exploring Lake Placid, the site of the 1932 and 1980 (“Miracle on Ice”) winter Olympics. The town is still an Olympic training center and has an outdoorsy, athletic vibe. Whiteface Mountain Ski Resort is in nearby Wilmington.
On a lake cruise I learned that the “Great Camps” were built in the latter half of the 19th century. However, newer “camps” line the shore of Lake Placid. “Camp Birch Point” belongs to the owner of Texas Instruments. Another belongs to the founder of The Vanguard Group. Bruce Springsteen rents a house and summers here with his family. (www.lakeplacidmarina.com)
At Whiteface Lodge I heard more about the area from the staff as I enjoyed a Great Adirondack craft beer under the gaze of wall-mounted animal heads: Adirondack State Park is six million acres — bigger than the state of Massachusetts and large enough to hold Yellowstone, Glacier, Grand Canyon, Great Smokies, and Yosemite national parks combined.
Whiteface Lodge is perfect for family vacations and an ideal choice for multi-generational reunions or destination weddings. The Great Camps often had bowling alleys and myriad other recreational options and so does this place, which Travel + Leisure called “the Northeast’s Best Mountain Resort.” (www.thewhitefacelodge.com)
Before heading out of town, I grabbed a deli sandwich at Simply Gourmet and met Mickey and Holly Healey who make bread in a pair of French baking ovens. Their 46 sandwich options are named after the 46 highest peaks in the Adirondacks. (www.simplygourmetlakeplacid.com)
Jacque and I rendezvoused at The Point, the impressive log mansion built on Upper Saranac Lake by William Avery Rockefeller near the end of the Great Camp Era. Here, the main lodge, a guesthouse, and a well-appointed boathouse are at the heart of the 75-acre waterfront property, and rustic chic interiors appear at once refined and lived-in. All 11 guest quarters offer lake views, antique furnishings, and sitting areas in front of large stone fireplaces where early-morning tea or coffee is served at the requested hour.
During our July visit, wildflower meadows filled the space between buildings; the sun made the stone terrace comfortable for breakfast al fresco; and the lake was just warm enough for a quick dip. On a quiet dawn kayak around the lake, a handsome loon let us paddle nearby and admire his beautiful plumage.
The Point prides itself, justifiably, on catering to individual guest’s needs. While we were trying to decide between a picnic and a leisure cruise, the staff made it possible for us to have both by setting an elegant table in the Elco electric lake launch.
This upscale hideaway also prides itself in maintaining the standards of a more gracious era, which includes asking guests to don black tie for dinner on Wednesday and Saturday nights. These multi-course gourmet evening meals are served dinner-party style in the great hall, where the blaze from massive stone fireplaces takes the chill off the night air. (www.thepointresort.com)
My education continued at the Adirondacks Museum, a sprawling complex of buildings on Blue Mountain Lake. Suffice it to say that a few hours weren’t nearly enough, and, on my next trip to this area, I will spend a whole day. The New York Times says this is the best regional museum in the country, and I agree. (www.adirondackmuseum.org)
The following day, I made a call on Ms. O’Keeffe, admired her work, and thanked her for inviting me to experience the part of the world that meant so much to her.
Modern Nature: Georgia O’Keeffe and Lake George will be in Glens Falls until September 15. You can also enjoy this thoughtful exhibition at the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe from October 4 through January 26, 2014, and at the de Young Museum in San Francisco from Febraury 15 through May 11, 2014. (www.hydecollection.org) ELIZABETH HANSEN
Georgia O’keeffe: courtesy of Georgia O’Keeffe Museum Additional photography courtesy of the point and ADAMS / HANSEN STOCK PHOTOS