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Bloomingdale BogScapes & A “How To” On Birch Boxes

An Enjoyable Evening at the Adirondack Artists’ Guild

Celebrating the Beauty of The Bloomingdale Bog

Featuring a “How To” demonstration on the creation of birch boxes

By Friend & Photographer Eleanor Sweeney

Followed by a presentation & discussion

on the art of painting Bloomingdale Bogscapes

By Artist Stephen Horne

My wife Robin & I capped off our annual late summer/early fall Zen Boat canoe trip into Middle Saranac Lake via South Creek with a trip into town for Eleanor Sweeney’s evening presentation on Bloomingdale Bog art & creating birch bark box photography, as part of the “Oh… For Peat’s Sake!” Featured Artist exhibit at The Adirondack Artists’ Guild.

I must confess to still feeling a bit awkward calling Mrs. Sweeney “Eleanor”. I’ve known her since my days as a young outlaw lad growing up in Saranac Lake. Her son John was one of my very best friends all through high school.

I have many fond memories of evenings spent with the Sweeney family at their beautiful home on Oseetah, sitting around the dinner table, engaging in all sorts of fascinatingly entertaining discussions.

In fact, during the spring of ’81, while Mrs. Sweeney & the rest of her family were away, our high school “crew” used the Sweeney’s Oseetah Lake home as our Saranac Lake High School graduation week “crash pad”. However, for some reason, my memories regarding the events of THAT experience are a bit blurred, out of focus, and hazy.

While I pray I did not get John into the doghouse with that somewhat belated disclosure, I suppose, at this point, one month shy of my sixtieth birthday, addressing Mrs. Sweeney as “Eleanor”, as well as accountability for any lingering youthful transgressions, falls beyond the statute of limitations of any outstanding warrants. At least, I hope so!

At any rate, Mrs. Sweeney, (forgive me-“Eleanor”, I mean) & I lost touch over the years, only to reconnect recently, when she began reading my articles, adventures & stories in The Adirondack Almanack & began following my blog.

Most recently, Eleanor surprised me by attending my July open mic reading at The Adirondack Center for Writing’s bi-monthly “Barkreader’s” event.

So, when I heard that her photography would be featured at the Adirondack Artists’ Guild and she would be making a presentation on creating photography birch boxes, Robin & I put it on our calendar as a “must see” event.

I’m glad we did. Just like all the dinner table discussions I remember from my time at the Sweeney household as a lad, it was fascinating. Eleanor explained & demonstrated how she takes one of her photographs, transfers it onto contact paper,

And then using a “secret recipe” the name of which I do not recall, binds the photo to the birch box with a roller. Making it, in Eleanor’s words “A part of the wood”.

Come to think of it, maybe THAT’s why my memories of graduation weekend are so out of focus. I mean, whatever that substance she uses as photographer’s glue’s name was, I clearly heard Eleanor say it was “at least 90% alcohol”, and she does keep it stored in a mason jar…

Whatever the name or composition of Eleanor’s high octane “glue”, her demonstration of the process was fascinating, & the outcome stunningly beautiful.

While she uses this process primarily on birch boxes, apparently Eleanor has, through the years, had some success transferring her photos onto a number of materials, including aluminum, glass, and fabric.

Eleanor also explained that generally, she has found that “smaller is better” when transferring photos, as larger transfers are better done with an extra set of hands and greatly increase the chances for bubbling, incomplete transfers, or wrinkles.

Eleanor’s birch bark box demonstration was followed by an equally fascinating presentation & discussion by artist Stephen Horne of his beautifully done Bloomingdale Bog paintings.

Any Saranac Lake connection I may have to Mr. Horne is far less concrete than my childhood memories of the Sweeney family & Eleanor. However, based on his references to past involvement with The Adirondack Park Agency and the development of the Visitor’s Interpretive Center, I strongly suspect he well may have known, encountered, or even worked with my father on various projects and issues during Dad’s NYSDEC tenure.

Regardless, as with Eleanor, I found Mr. Horne’s presentation engaging, educational and fascinating. I learned a number of things I would never have considered or even contemplated about the process of creating painted art.

Of course, considering my repertoire as an “art connoisseur” consists of:

“Wow! That one’s really cool! I like all the bright colors of fall paintings with trees in them.”

Teaching me something I don’t know about painting and painted art is not all that monumental a task.

Mr. Horne shared several aspects and challenges of the artist’s process that I would never have considered, such as the fact that certain paint colors are more expensive than others, some shades of (red? – I may not have gotten that right) even being prohibitively expensive.

Stephen went on to discuss how the quality and color longevity of paints has evolved, to the point where in some paintings he can now even use simple house paints he buys in small containers at Lowes.

He even discussed how his choices of colors, paint types, and painting sizes for a particular painting, are often influenced by the price the end product might have to be sold for, and what his intended client base can afford.

I never would have guessed that the cost of a painting is greatly influenced by the types and colors of paint an artist chose to use in that painting!

Some other interesting things Mr. Horne shared:

He has completed some of his work displayed here in one day(!), while many other pieces took months. Apparently, the type of paint he chooses (oil-based paints vs acrylic) plays a big role in that, with acrylic paint being faster.

He also shared a tidbit about how, prior to today’s toxicity (lead, etc.) awareness, artists used to engage in the habit of “tipping” their paint brushes with their tongues.

Eleanor chimed in and shared that historically, photographers had similar issues with fume and skin exposure to chemicals in dark rooms.

All in all, I found the evening’s Bloomingdale Bogscapes presentation by Eleanor & Stephen both educational and fascinating.

Their “Oh…for Peat’s Sake” Bloomingdale Bog artwork and photography will remain featured at The Adirondack Artists’ Guild through October 3rd.

I strongly encourage folks to take the time to stop in and admire their work.

Fair warning though, if anyone decides they want to buy one of the beautiful pieces, Eleanor’s Bloomingdale Bog birch box photograph #19 is “NLFS”.

“No Longer For Sale!”

Because her son’s best friend from high school has already bought it.


Until Our Trails Cross Again:


(Author’s Endnote: This story appeared in the 9/8/23 online edition of the Adirondack Almanack.)

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