After my big birthday celebration at the end of June, Heidi Robertson (childhood friend and road trip buddy- LA to Seattle) and I took off for the Berkshires. Heidi lives in California and could not get enough of the lush green foliage. We began our journey with the Thomas Cole House in Catskill, NY.
Thomas Cole (1801-1848) was founder of the Hudson River School of Painting. He spent part of his time at Cedar Grove when not in his NYC studio. Recently opened, in the footprint of his original studio, is a state-of-the-art exhibition space for displaying changing exhibitions and provides a flexible space for lectures and educational programming.
While we were there we saw the exhibit Artist as Architect curated by noted scholar Annette Blaugrund and associate curator at the Cole site Kate Menconeri. The exhibit, on view thru Oct 30, 2016, includes 26 paintings and drawings, as well as a scale model, two of the artist’s books about architecture, and primary source documents. The central work of the exhibition is Cole’s 1840 painting “The Architect’s Dream,” depicting the artist overlooking a panorama of architectural styles. More at thomascole.org
We enjoyed a picnic on the grounds before we headed across the Hudson river to Olana, home of Frederic Church when not in his NYC studio.
Olana is a unique mixture of Victorian architectural elements and Middle-Eastern decorative motifs. Church (1826-1900) was able to support building this gorgeous estate with funds from the sale of his paintings. In 1845, while a student of Thomas Cole, Church first sketched on the property he would subsequently purchase in 1860 that would be Olana. Architecture and landscape were also very important to Church and every window in the house was designed to give glorious views.
What has been a recent focus at Olana is preserving the viewshed — what was seen during the time Church lived at Olana. The grounds are artwork unto themselves and thousands of artists come and paint on the property.
I was at a gallery years ago that had a group show of paintings of the view from Olana— perhaps one of the more famous vistas for artists to paint in the Hudson Valley. Olana was inherited by Church’s youngest son who died in 1943; his daughter-in-law Sally lived there until her death in 1963. The furniture and furnishings are original to the house, quite unique in historic homes where replicas have replaced the original content. The house went into decline after Sally’s death and was put up for sale by her heirs. Fortunately for the art world and the preservation of an important milestone in American art, the art historian David Huntington and James Biddle worked tirelessly to raise funds to purchase the property until Governor Nelson Rockefeller signed a bill making Olana a state historic site on June 27, 1966- 50 years ago.
We had an excellent tour guide, Daniel Bigler, who has been with Olana for nearly 15 years. For more about Church, programs, tours and the history of Olana Olana.org