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The Thomas Cole Historic Site Blog


A "Claude Mirror"

Now, no matter where you are, what time of day, or what season of the year, you can enjoy the same view of the Catskill Mountains that Thomas Cole enjoyed every day from his porch at Cedar Grove. How? We are streaming live on the website the reflection seen in a "Claude Mirror," a 19th-century optical device, recently installed on our site. The installation is thanks to a unique parternship with contemporary artist Alex McKay who is, wonderfully, just as interested in 19th-century landscape aesthetics as we at the Thomas Cole Historic Site are! Claude mirrors were used in the 18th and 19th centuries by tourists and artists for viewing, drawing, and painting the landscape. Named for 17th-century French painter Claude Lorraine, Alex McKay has revived this unique optical device in creating exciting new artistic work for the 21st-century. You can learn more about Alex McKay at his website, You can view the "Claude Mirror" at the Thomas Cole Historic Site online anytime, anywhere, at: Enjoy the view!



Springtime is for gardening

This week we started intalling the new kitchen garden, right on the very spot where it was in Thomas Cole's time. A crew of volunteers will plant the seeds and tend it -- let us know if you would like to join the garden team! The garden is part of our overall landscape restoration project: The landscape architect Robert M. Toole researched the history of the land around Cole's home and drew up a detailed restoration plan for us, and now we are implementing it. If you would like to help with the garden this season, you can contact Melissa at 518-943-7465 extension 5.


For all you collectors out there

Almost every week I get a call or email from someone with a painting that might be by Thomas Cole, or perhaps it is a Hudson River School painting by someone else, and the painting's owner looks to me for answers. I wish we had an expert on staff with such knowledge, but alas, we don't. And the folks at the Kellogg business school didn't delve into painting-identification when I obtained my MBA in marketing and non-profit management. So what to do? I'm pleased to announce a new section of our website called "For Collectors" that attempts to answer the questions that we hear the most, drawing upon the expertise of experts in the field such the owner of a gallery devoted to 19th-century painting. In the future, we plan to add an upload feature where collectors can post a photograph of their painting so that other collectors can weigh in on it too. There seems to be a need for a place for collectors to show and discuss objects. In the mean time, I hope that the new "frequently asked questions" page will get people started. Please feel free to offer feedback here on the blog page about the new section, and what you would like to see there.


Our Upcoming Exhibition

Robert S. Duncanson, Untitled, 1861. Courtesy Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, LLC, NYI have recently received some beautiful images of the paintings that will be coming to us in May as part of our 2011 exhibition, Robert S. Duncanson: The Spiritual Striving of the Freedman’s Son. Duncanson was the first African-American landscape painter to gain international renown, and his work is magnificent. It is especially significant that this exhibition will bring the work of this ground-breaking artist to the home of Thomas Cole, as Cole was a major influence on Duncanson. The exhibition is curated by Joseph D. Ketner, the Henry and Lois Foster Chair in Contemporary Art and the Distinguished Curator-in-Residence at Emerson College in Boston. He is the author of the definitive book about the artist, The Emergence of the African- American Artist: Robert S. Duncanson 1821-1872. The catalogue for this exhibition will contain an essay by Mr. Ketner including new information on the artist and color illustrations of many new paintings discovered over the past fifteen years. We will post more of the images on our Facebook page,


Picturing this house full of paintings

The stories are pouring in now, thanks to a grant from the IMLS (Institute of Museum and Library Services) that funded research into the look and usage of the rooms in these historic buildings. This past weekend, the researcher Jean Dunbar presented some of her extensive findings to our volunteers and docents, and she has opened such wonderful new windows into an earlier world! One aspect of her research that I find particularly enticing is the notion of Cole's home as a gallery and "sales room" for his art, and the involvement of the entire household in the effort. He writes one day (in an undated letter) from the great hotel known as the Catskill Mountain House to his wife Maria's sister Harriet, who lived here in the Main House in Catskill along with a great many other family members:

Dear Harriet,
The gentleman who will present this [letter] to you is Mr. McConkey from Ohio. I should wish you to be polite to him & show him the pictures in both the House & in the Studio -- put the pictures in as good a light as you can. We did intend to come down this morning, but it appears so hot a day that we shall defer until to-morrow morning...

Who knew that Harriet doubled as the gallery assistant? Through the many accounts of her life, she is emerging as a most capable and fascinating woman. Thomas concluded his letter saying: "Maria says don't let the children run in the Sun."


About that stone wall...

By far the most visible part of our sprawling landscape restoration is the stone wall and picket fence that is currently being installed along Spring Street. In this photo, the wall is about 75% of its final height, and the picket fence has been added to one side of an opening for a pedestrian entrance. The wall and fence are going to be beautiful additions to the site, and the best thing about them is that they are exact replicas of what was there in Thomas Cole's time. There is a detailed pencil sketch by the artist Frederic Church that was done just a few months after Cole died in 1848 (see below), giving us a highly skilled, first-hand account of what was there. In addition, we conducted archaeological digs to locate the original wall, and we are able to reuse a great deal of stone that we found still buried there. The final work will include large brick piers to mark the main carriage entrance, wooden posts to mark pedestrian entrances, and graceful wooden gates at several points. It is now too cold to do the final painting, so the fence pieces were primed indoors and will receive their paint in the spring.

Frederic Church, Thomas Cole's Cedar Grove, 1848. Courtesy of the Olana State Historic Site


200-year-old paint uncovered

A man in a white suit has been visiting the Thomas Cole House this week. Through a new grant that we received, we have been able to hire one of the top specialists in the field, Mr. Matthew Mosca, to conduct a “Paint Analysis” throughout the Main House. He has been taking paint chips from our old doors, window trim, and other areas, in order to find out more exactly what the rooms here once looked like. In certain cases, he carefully stripped away layer after layer of paint in order to reveal a whole area of decorative painting that was here in Cole’s time!  In this photo, Mr. Mosca discovers decorative painting on a door in the West Parlour. In the East Parlour, areas of marbling in blue and pink were uncovered. After he conducts laboratory analysis of various samples, Mr. Mosca will deliver a full report to us in a few weeks.


Just on NPR...

Our show, Remember the Ladies, was just on NPR! The New York City station, WNYC, featured the co-curators in a 15-minute interview with Leonard Lopate. Here is the link where you can hear the interview:


Another building was here?

This season we have been blessed with a team of "Cole Fellows" who have brought their considerable talents and training to many different needs here. I'd like to give you a sense of the amazing work they've been doing, starting with a true archaeological dig conducted by Anna Cressotti. After consulting with our landscape architect, Robert Toole, she decided to dig in a place where the grass would not grow, indicating the possibility of something underneath. Sure enough, she found a substantial stone foundation! A map of Catskill from 1867 shows several outbuildings in the same area, but their uses are unknown. Many thanks to Anna for providing us with another fascinating window onto the past.


Secret Room Uncovered

Ok, it's small, but we found a space that we did not know existed, underneath an attached shed. It has wood floor boards and it looks like a great place to stash some extra paintings. (Alas, no paintings were found. In fact, it was completely empty.) The room was opened up as part of the construction we are undertaking all over the Main House. This shed was probably added to the 1815 building in about 1880. A construction worker can be seen here digging up the old foundation, which had crumbled pretty severely. Pretty soon it will be in tip-top shape again, thanks to the "stimulus" funding (aka ARRA funds) we received through the National Park Service. The overall project makes critical repairs all over the building's exterior, with rotting wood, peeling paint, sagging porch, leaky windows, etc., all getting fixed. Thank goodness!

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