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The Thomas Cole Historic Site Blog


Announcing our 2015 exhibition: River Crossings: Contemporary Art Comes Home

There has been a lot of talk and attention given to our 2015 show, and the first press release hasn't even been sent out yet. First, the basics: It's an exhibition of contemporary art, opening May 1st, installed into the historic rooms and onto the landscapes of both the Thomas Cole Historic site and the Olana State Historic Site, which is just two miles from here. It is the first time that these two historic sites have collaborated on an exhibition. It is the first time that Olana has had contemporary art inside its Main House, although we at the Thomas Cole site have done some of this before: Stanley Maltzman in 2014, the late Thomas Locker in 2002, the esteemed scholar Barbara Novak in 2009, and over 200 artists in our "Postcards from the Trail" shows in 2012-14. This year, however, something is different. In fact, lots of things are different. First of all, we've invited outside curators to choose all of the art and artists, and one of the curators is an artist himself: Stephen Hannock. He recruited Jason Rosenfeld, PhD, to be his partner on this project, thereby bringing on a professor, curator and art historian. Stephen's paintings have referenced Thomas Cole and Frederic Church for decades, and for a long time it has been a dream of his to organize this exhibition. Through excited phone calls and emails, together they've recruited some of the best-known names in contemporary art to participate, including Romare Bearden, Chuck Close, Maya Lin, Martin Puryear, Cindy Sherman, and Kiki Smith. Wow. Not many people haven't heard a few of those names before. And what has excited us the most is that each artist jumped at the chance. They were thrilled to be part of this cross-centuries conversation with Cole and Church.

To kick things off, we invited a speaker to come and tell us about other examples of historic houses that have invited contemporary artists to create exhibitions and performances inside the period rooms, and to tell us about how it was perceived, what happened to attendance at the sites, and what kinds of things have been tried. What struck me, after seeing his entire presentation, was how widespread this practice has become. What struck our staff was how much attendance increased at the other historic sites as a result of these projects. (We need to get ready!) We realized also that there is something about our particular exhibition that is unique. It is summed up by the subtitle of our exhibition, "Contemporary Art Comes Home". This is where the whole trajectory of American art began, and now it is coming home. When Thomas Cole was alive, his house was not filled with already antique paintings by European "Old Masters". It was filled with his own art, fresh from the studio, i.e. contemporary art.



Thomas Cole's "New Studio" is underway

The plans are set, we have our building permit, the contractor has been hired, and the groundbreaking is next week. It is really happening: Thomas Cole's New Studio will at last be rebuilt. I invite you to follow our construction progress on the New Studio page: This beautiful little building was designed by Thomas Cole and built across the lawn from his home here in Catskill in 1846. Sadly it was torn down in 1973, but now after years of careful planning and research, it rises again.


Newly published - a different side of Thomas Cole

Currently splashed across the home page of "Virginia Quarterly" and soon to appear in the print edition is a new article by Jean Dunbar, a brilliant researcher with whom we've been working over the last several years to investigate the original look and arrangement of the interior rooms of Cole's home and studios. Along the way, she discovered something about Thomas Cole that had never been fully explained -- how did he suddenly emerge on the art scene in 1825 as an accomplished painter with seemingly little or no prior training? It turns out that the answer was hiding in plain sight.


Parry Archive Donated to the Thomas Cole Site

The late scholar Ellwood C. Parry spent a lifetime compiling a research library of Thomas Cole material, and now the entire archive has been donated to the Thomas Cole Historic Site by Michael Altman of Michael Altman Fine Art & Advisory Services. Parry traveled to all known public and private collections of Thomas Cole letters and papers and created his own copy set that is arranged in chronological order, narrating the artist's life. The archive also contains thousands of images of all of the Cole paintings and drawings that Parry could locate and authenticate, as well as copies of every article written about Thomas Cole that Parry could find until his premature death from cancer in September 2005. Parry taught art history at Columbia University (1969-1975) and the University of Iowa (1976-1981) before joining the University of Arizona where he taught for 24 years. Michael Altman Fine Art & Advisory Services is a private gallery located on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, specializing in rare masterpieces of American paintings from the 19th and 20th centuries. Altman has a history of supporting the Thomas Cole Historic Site and has sponsored exhibitions and research projects at the site. Shown at right is a snapshot of how Parry's archive appeared in his own home.


$500,000 Grant Awarded


Thomas Cole's "New Studio", demolished forty years ago, is now coming back to life. We have just been notified that our captial campaign to reconstruct this beautiful building has been awarded a grant of $500,000 from New York State as part of Governor Cuomo's Regional Economic Development plans. 


Built in 1846 according to Thomas Cole’s own design, the building stood a few hundred yards from Cole’s home at Cedar Grove for 125 years. Tragically, it was torn down in 1973 after falling into disrepair.

We will continue to update you on this blog and elsewhere as the schedule and other details are determined. Stay tuned.


"Dream of Arcadia" went like a dream

We are pleased to announce that our annual fundraiser on June 29th was our biggest yet, with a sold-out crowd of 360 guests and $136,000 raised! The theme of "Dream of Arcadia" was beautifully brought to life by Greg and Richard of "Hudson Home", and the entire affair was hosted once again by Lisa Fox Martin and Dick May at their magnificent river-front home. Shown at right is a shot of the dinner tent, with giant Caryatids bursting with willow branches adorning the central columns. A million thanks to the host committee: Lisa Fox Martin, Asli Karahan Ay, Michele Saunders, Hudson Talbott, Greg Feller and Rich Bodin, and to all of the staff and volunteers who made this night possible. Next year's event will be on June 28, 2014. Mark your calendars!


Art Trail Contest is Launched

Working with a $50,000 grant from New York State, and in partnership with Olana as well as the tourism agencies of Columbia and Greene Counties, we have launched an advertising campaign for the Hudson River School Art Trail with a contest and grand prize drawing. In a nutshell, if people visit all of the first eight sites on the Trail, and if they make a "rubbing" of the metal plaque at each site to prove that they were there, they can enter to win a weekend getaway package. The details are at

The Hudson River School Art Trail takes people to the magnificent views that appear in 19th-century landscape paintings by Thomas Cole, Frederic Church, and other masters of America's first major art movement, the Hudson River School. The contest encourages visitors to go to the first eight sites on the trail, all located in the Hudson River Valley of New York. Metal plaques have been installed at each of these locations and each plaque features a medallion with a relief (a raised design) of the view. Participants can easily capture the scene by placing a piece of paper over the medallion and rubbing it with a pencil, crayon or charcoal. You can create "rubbings" in either your own notebook or in the official Art Trail Passport, which is available for purchase at the visitor centers of the Thomas Cole National Historic Site and the Olana State Historic Site.

Upon completion, participants simply present the completed series of rubbings to representatives at either the Thomas Cole or Olana Historic Site by November 3, 2013 to receive a certificate of completion. Participants who complete all eight rubbings will be entered in a special grand prize drawing for a chance to win a weekend getaway to the Catskills. In addition, the first 20 people to show proof of completing all eight rubbings will receive a free Hudson River School Art Trail Guidebook.


Now open for the season

The 2013 exhibition is up. We held an opening event on Sunday April 28th and had a record crowd at the curator's lecture -- nearly 200 people. With the daffodils and forsythia all in bloom, the 75-degree weather and a bright blue cloudless sky, it was a sight to behold. An album of 15 photos from the event is now up on our facebook page. At right is my daughter Ellie (5-1/2) taking in the art. Thanks to all who came and spent the day with us!


Paintings newly added to the parlour

Four paintings by Thomas Cole will be on view starting this weekend along with eight other 19th-century landscape masterworks. The twelve paintings are by artists including Albert Bierstadt, Ralph Albert Blakelock, Susie M. Barstow, Benjamin Bellows Grant Stone, William Ladd Taylor, Thomas Doughty and Thomas Cole’s sister Sarah Cole. The paintings have been arranged in Thomas Cole’s home in a “salon style,” reflective of the way the room would have looked during Cole’s residency, from 1836 to 1848. Several of the paintings are on long-term loan from private collectors and others are new additions to the Thomas Cole Historic Site’s permanent collection, including a western scene by Albert Bierstadt and a lake scene by Thomas Doughty.

The installation was designed and overseen by Carrie Feder, a Trustee of the Thomas Cole Historic Site and Chairman of the furnishings committee, along with Kate Menconeri – the Collection & Exhibition Manager at the historic site – and Melissa Gavilanes, the Director of Education. 


University President Makes a Visit

Kyle Adams/Hudson-Catskill NewspapersThe new president of the University of Albany, Dr. Robert Jones, visited our site on Wednesday, March 27 as part of an effort to familiarize himself with the eight counties that comprise the Capital Region. Here he is with the Thomas Cole Site's director Betsy Jacks on the porch, getting a good look at the Catskill Mountains. Dr. Jones commented, "I've been hearing about the Catskills all my life, and now here we are!"