LEARN: The Collections
Visitors touring beautiful Olana will see the paintings, sculpture and furnishings Frederic and Isabel Church acquired over the course of their lives, which surrounded them and their children, servants and guests in their daily life at Olana. The collection was described by a 19th century guest as, "a museum of fine arts rich in bronzes, paintings, sculptures and antique and artistic specimens from all over the world."
Today's visitor experience is remarkably unchanged, with the public encountering interiors that look as they did in the 1890s-- the virtually intact home of one of America's most important painters. The sheer richness and depth of the collections speak to Church's life-long interest in acquiring intriguing objects from around the world.The whole is an exemplary example of an early Aesthetic Movement interior.
Highlights of the collection include paintings by Frederic Church and fellow Hudson River School artists Martin Johnson Heade and Arthur Parton, and numerous works by his close friend sculptor Erastus Dow Palmer.
The eclectic assortment of furniture and art collected on his many travels abroad and purchased from the growing number of purveyors in New York City include, Middle Eastern carpets,
metalwork, ceramics and costumes; old master paintings; Mexican and colonial folk art; pre-Columbian art; and 19th century American and Oriental furniture.
July Object of The Month: Frederic Edwin Church and his son Frederic Joseph Church on a camel in Beirut
Felix Bonfils, Frederic Edwin Church and His Son, Frederic Joseph, in Beriut, 1868, carte-de-visite, OL.1984.446, Collection Olana, NYSOPRHP
This image of Frederic Edwin Church and his son on a camel in Beirut is a highlight of the exhibit "Preserving Creative Spaces: Historic Artists' Homes and Studios," on view in the Coachman's House at Olana.
"I had never mounted a camel so after mounting amid the increasing growls of the animal I clung to the horns before and behind...then I was afloat on the ship of the desert"-Church writing in his diary, February 18, 1868
Frederic Church immersed himself in culture and adventure during his trip to the Middle East, posing for this carte-de-visite atop a camel with his young son Frederic Joseph. Church, his wife Isabel, Frederic Joseph and mother-in-law Emma Carnes all traveled through the Middle East and Europe from 1867 through 1869. Of the many stops on their tour a few were Beirut, Damascus, Jerusalem, Jaffa, Lebanon, Baalbek and Egypt. Church enjoyed the view from the camel, and commented on the singular experience: "The motion was peculiar-exactly like that of a rocking horse compelling an involuntary bowing of the body so we sailed along..." Besides his newfound flair for exotic animals, this trip to the Middle East influenced Frederic Church's creation of the Persian-inspired home at Olana.
This image is a carte-de-visite, which was a popular way to share images in the nineteenth century. A small photograph was mounted to a board around 4 1/4 x 2 1/2 inches, making it the perfect size for trading with friends and family. The photograph was taken by Felix Bonfils, a French photographer who was well-known for his romantic Orientalized images of the Middle East in the nineteenth century.
"Fred on a Camel" can be seen amongst 38 other reproduction images of artists on display in "Preserving Creative Spaces." To learn about other historic artists' sites, visit their website. To coincide with this exhibit, pick up your own note card of Fred on a camel in the Olana Museum Shop.
Submitted by Andrea Nero, Curatorial Intern 2014 Graduate candidate in Public History at the University at Albany, State University of New York