Frederic Church: Collector and Shopper

by Melanie Hasbrook

Rachel Tice, Manager, The Olana Museum Shop

“I took Mrs. C. to New York on Tuesday . . . I bought some Persian brass work two rugs a three-tined spear, Persian, an Arabian coffee pot, an Arabian Table, a piece of Persian Embroidery, a Persian Battle Axe, a silk Turban, a Moorish plate, et cetera.” Frederic Church to Erastus Dow Palmer, Nov. 14, 1878, Collection Albany Institute of History & Art Library

As the manager and buyer for the Olana Museum Shop I often wonder what it would be like to observe Frederic Church on a buying excursion rummaging through stacks of tiles determining which ones he should bring to Olana. You can feel through his words the enthusiasm and passion that he found in shopping, treasure-hunting and discovering.  What adventures Frederic Church must have had traveling to Ecuador, Columbia, Jamaica, Egypt, Jerusalem, Austria, Rome, Paris and Lebanon among countless other destinations while collecting oddities to bring home.

Church described a typical day in Rome as follows: “We dine at 2 – after dinner I take my exercise and recreation – see sights and rummage among the shops of antiquities . . .” Frederic Church to friend and patron William Henry Osborn, Nov. 4, 1868, Transcript Olana Research Collection.

Writing from Rome in 1869. Frederic invited William Osborn to go to his New York studio and open boxes that had been shipped home from Constantinople, in order to retrieve their gifts:

“I think it would amuse you and Mrs. Osborn to see the medley in the box – for there are rugs armour stuffs curiosities, etc. etc., crowded in together and some of the other boxes have old clothes (Turkish) stones from a house in Damascus, Arab spears beads from Jerusalem stones from Petra and 10,000 other things.” Frederic Church to William Osborn, Feb. 4, 1869, Transcript Olana Research Collection.

Through blended pigments of plum, red, coral and gold Church pulls you in, beckoning to another world and another time. An assortment of ornate vases, a stuffed peacock, mother of pearl inlaid tables, brass candle holders, paintings, sombreros, old books, embroidered tapestries, starfish and seashells fill the rooms. Masterfully placed windows overlook the river and the landscape. It is an overload of the senses, and a feast for the eyes.

As written by a journalist in 1889, “One feels as if transported into the Orient when surrounded by so much Eastern magnificence.”

With his eclectic palette and diverse range of ornamental objects placed throughout the home, Church did more than just bring an Oriental experience to the Hudson Valley. Church created a feeling. It is this feeling that he evoked, this translation of the exotic that I try and bring to the Olana Museum Shop with a curated selection to share with our guests.

The Olana Museum Shop’s merchandise is inspired by the places that Frederic Church would travel, the collection, the time period and current exhibitions. The shop provides a diverse range from which to choose; something for everyone to take home with them while on their own adventure, be it a silk stitched scarf, a handmade throw from India or mug showcasing Church’s watercolor of the home. Olana is a place to explore and discover as Church did the world. It’s to be contemplated, studied, fallen in love with and returned to.