Life After Life – Preserving Olana
Nearly a half century ago, Olana was almost destroyed. Olana Preservation, a group of concerned art historians, preservationists and individuals living in the Hudson Valley and New York City, joined forces to save Frederic Church’s three-dimensional masterpiece. A LIFE Magazine article entitled “Must This Mansion Be Destroyed?” brought national attention to the campaign and ensured the venture’s success. In 1966 Olana Preservation and New York State partnered to purchase Olana and establish it as a state historic site. This collaborative effort has provided a standard of excellence for the preservation of this national treasure—moving well beyond “the mansion” to undertake major restoration projects throughout the 250-acre designed landscape.
Since 1966, when Olana was saved from being sold and the collection dispersed at auction, The Olana Partnership (the descendant of Olana Preservation) and New York State have worked together in an extraordinary public-private partnership, investing millions of dollars and countless hours of staff and volunteer hours to preserve Olana. Life after LIFE: Preserving Olana discussed past and future projects to restore the landscape, the farm complex, the house, and the collections—all critical elements of the integrated artistic and personal environment that Church spent four decades creating. We invite our visitors to join the campaign to preserve Church’s last and arguably most enduring work of art, Olana.
Olana was designed by Church to include a farm complex, orchards, meadows, parkland, a native woodland, a man-made lake, and a Persian-inspired house, all connected by five miles of carriage roads that offer spectacular views of the Hudson River valley. On view for the first time was the 1886 Plan of Olana by artist’s son Fredric Joseph, which illustrates Church’s vision for his property. Future restoration efforts will include the revival of Church’s ornamental and working farm.
The first piece of property that Church purchased in 1860 was a working farm—and Church maintained the working portion of the estate throughout his lifetime. By the 1960s many of the farm buildings were in disrepair and some had been lost. Focused preservation of the farm area began in 2006 with the restoration of the Churches’ first home, Cosy Cottage, nestled in the farm complex. Church’s only oil sketch of the building, shown in the exhibition, aided in the recreation of a missing wing. The extant barns are being preserved and missing buildings are being re-created. The Wagon House was recreated in 2008 using historic surveys, archeological evidence and historic photographs. The vantage point from atop Crown Hill, one of Church’s great landscape features, provides views over Olana’s historic farm complex.
The exhibition further explored the extensive efforts to preserve the Olana viewshed. Church designed both the landscape and the house to frame the views. Thousands of visitors come every year to admire the unparalleled views toward four states. Olana works with Scenic Hudson, the Columbia Land Conservancy, The Open Space Institute, and neighbors to preserve the historic viewshed for future generations. To date more than 2,000 acres have been protected.
A multi-year project to restore the main house began in 2001. The entire stone façade was re-pointed, broken slates on the bell tower were restored and replaced, the windows and doors were painted and decorative cornice stencils were recreated. Inside the house paintings, furniture, textiles and decorative objects have been preserved. All these projects help convey the richness of Church’s original vision and intent for the decoration and displays of the rooms within his home. Other projects are less visible but imperative to preservation. In 2006 a state-of-the-art fire detection and suppression system was installed. In addition to safeguarding the house and collections, the system allowed for the opening of the second floor, enabling visitors to tour the Churches bedroom, dressing room and to open a new space for annual exhibitions: the Evelyn and Maurice Sharp Gallery.
Essay by David Schuyler
“Did you know that Mrs. [Sally Good] Church has died?”
When in September 1964 David C. Huntington heard these words from Stuart P. Feld, then a curator in the Department of American Paintings and Sculpture at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, he contemplated an ominous development-the sale and possible destruction of Frederic Edwin Church’s magnificent Persian inspired dwelling, the subdivision and development of the handsome landscape the artist meticulously created on approximately 250 acres, and the dispersal of the contents of the house. Huntington was a forty-two-year old art historian then teaching at Smith College who was a scholar of Church, then largely forgotten but today generally considered the greatest of the Hudson River School landscape painters. Alarmed, Huntington contacted Charles T. Lark, Jr., Mrs. Church’s nephew and a New York City attorney who was one of the heirs to the estate, as Sally Church and her late husband Louis were childless. Lark had decided to sell the property, he told Huntington, because he had four children and “needed money to send them through college.” In speaking with Lark, Huntington made two requests: that he be able to document Olana prior to its sale, and that he have time to organize an effort to purchase and preserve Olana.
Organized and supported by The Olana Partnership and the Bureau of Historic Sites, New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.
This exhibition was made possible through the generous support of:
Jazz and Christopher Merton
Eli Wilner & Co., New York
Romancing the Woods
and the following:
Mr. and Mrs. Brock Ganeles
The Olana Partnership Exhibition Fund
Richard T. Sharp
Susan Winokur and Paul Leach
The Trustees and staff of The Olana Partnership wish to recognize the support of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo; New York State Office of Parks,Recreation and Historic Preservation Commissioner Rose Harvey; Deputy Commissioner for Historic Preservation Ruth Pierpont; Former Director of the Bureau of Historic Sites John Lovell; Current Acting Director of the Bureau of Historic Sites Mark Peckham; Regional Director,Taconic Region Linda Cooper; Olana Site Manager Kimberly Flook; Lewis Gleason, Architectural Conservator, Jan Hird Pokorny Associates, Inc.; Ryan Scott, Pro-Printers; the staff at the New State Parks Conservation Center, Peebles Island; and Robert Hills and the Taconic Region Restoration Crew for preparing the exhibition gallery.
Additional support was provided by public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts, a State agency.
We are particularly grateful to John Lovell for all of his assistance with this exhibition.
Photographs were contributed by Richard Gromek, Sarah Hasbrook and Nelson Sterner.