Insider Perspective Blog

Fig. 5. Dragoman Suit, mid-19th century. Ottoman Empire. Wool,
cotton, silk. Olana State Historic Site, Hudson, NY. Office of Parks,
Recreation and Historic Preservation. OL.1982.123.A,.B. Photo
© Peter Aaron/OTTO

Fig. 6. Jose Villegas Cordero, The Slipper Merchant, 1872. Oil on
canvas, 19 x 25 9/16 inches. Walters Museum. Acquired by
William T. Walters, 1876. 37.105

“Made Picturesque by the Costumes”:
Clothing of the Holy Land Collected by Frederic Church

An excerpt by Lynne Zacek Bassett, “Costume & Custom” Exhibition Co-Curator

Frederic, while expressing great admiration for the landscape, was conflicted about the native Middle Eastern people. While he considered the Bedouins “picturesque,” he also repeatedly described them in his diary and letters as dirty, savage, lazy, and dangerous. Beyond the meat, milk, and fur provided by their animals, the Bedouin also historically made a living by raiding caravans and villages, and extracting payment from such groups in exchange for protection.9 Extortion was still sometimes their practice in the nineteenth century.

Isabel noted in her diary the experience of the Jeromes10:
“ . . . these terrible Bedouins threatened to take the life of the dragoman if he did not give them more bakceesh [baksheesh]—So they were compelled to give the wretches an enormous sum in addition to what they had already given.”11

Dragomen acted as guides, interpreters, and often protectors for tourists in the Middle East. While the roughness of the impoverished Bedouin dismayed Church, he very much admired his dragoman Mikayel El Heny, who guided him on a two-week side trip to Petra (in modern-day Jordan): “One thing is evident— A party who comes here should have a thoroughly tried and reliable Dragoman otherwise the trip must be a failure and as has sometimes happened be even dangerous.” 12 The gray wool suit (fig. 5) with the full “sirwal” trousers resembles that worn by the guide who holds the head of Church’s camel in the photograph taken during his journey to the Holy Land (fig. 4). Such suits
were readily distinguishable from the clothing of the Bedouin, who did not wear fitted jackets, and set the dragoman apart as a man from a village or urban setting— and thus, more respectable to their Western clients.

Frederic and Isabel shipped home multiple crates of objects that Church called his “pickings”13 for furnishing their home and property, which would eventually be called “Olana.” Writing from Rome to his friend and patron, William H. Osborn, Church anticipated getting home to check his crates, which had been shipped ahead from Constantinople: “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., 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—stone from Petra and 10,000 other things.”14 Church gathered these items from a variety of sources, including hawkers, antiques dealers, and bazaar merchants. Isabel described the bazaars of Damascus in her diary as long streets covered with either a stone roof or a wooden lattice with “vines trained all over, very pretty. Bazaars seem interminable, whole streets sometimes devoted to selling one article….”15 But she complained of the “exhorbitant” [sic] prices aggressive peddlers demanded of tourists for their wares. Although the scene in The Slipper Merchant, 1872 by José Villegas Cordero (fig. 6) depicts Morocco, Frederic and Isabel would have experienced similar shopping situations. Church brought back yellow boots and curled-toe shoes (checklist 33, 34, 35, 40) like those offered by this “slipper merchant.”

To reserve your copy of the “Costume & Custom” exhibition catalog, Email.

A World without Volunteers is a World without Olana
Holly Kelly, Membership and Volunteer Coordinator, The Olana Partnership

Imagine Olana without volunteers. If you tried to book a tour, you would find far fewer options- over 4,000 people would be disappointed this year and unable to view the inside of the main house and collections. Imagine Olana in the past without volunteers. Who would have saved Olana over 50 years ago without the dedication of the volunteer advocates who rallied the community, journalists, and politicians? Who would have tirelessly raised funds, given tours, and thrown events to secure Olana’s future? Who would have founded Friends of Olana in 1971, which later became The Olana Partnership?

Without volunteers, Olana as we know it wouldn’t exist. The house and belongings would have gone to auction. The landscape wouldn’t be a public work of art with over 170,000 annual visitors. The Olana Partnership wouldn’t support the preservation of Olana and more than 90 public programs wouldn’t have happened last year. In 2017 volunteers contributed over 1,600 hours of their time to Olana. It’s due to the decades of dedication from volunteers that we can continue to preserve and interpret Frederic Church’s Olana today and for the generations to come.

Volunteers have done so much for Olana, but we still need more volunteers. We need you to give tours so visitors don’t leave disappointed when they can’t experience the entirety of Olana. We need you to help with our education and public programs. We need your support to throw events that connect our community with Olana. We need you to be a part of ensuring a positive visitor experience through the Museum Store. We need you to be an Ambassador, a public face for Olana when people visit. We need you!

We have volunteer opportunities available that range from a few hours a year to a several hours a week, depending on your capacity. There really is something for everybody! As a volunteer you can also join fun educational programs and trips and connect socially with other volunteers. For example, in the next three months volunteers will venture to The Metropolitan Museum of Art for Thomas Cole’s Journey: Atlantic Crossings* and the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art for Frederic Church: A Painter’s Pilgrimage, you will enjoy an exclusive Volunteer Cocktail Hour on the Piazza of the Main House at Olana, and will be invited to attend an Appreciation Luncheon. To volunteer, please email or click here for more information.

*Thank you to the Hudson River Valley National Heritage Area for partially funding this trip

An Educator’s Perspective: First-Order Logic
Written by A. Hufnagel, Director of Education

The Olana Partnership’s Education Department spent January and February in research, planning, partner building, fundraising, reading, and training mode. We also use the winter months to review and evaluate last year’s programs, our systems that support the public events, and resources and staff capacity. What emerges from looking backward and forward at the same time is that we try to create better systems of working while also launching new ideas and programs. The result is an even stronger weave of shared purpose and, in turn, honed content and audience impact. TOP staff, like Frederic Church, spend their winter downtime planning for the next big thing and it is in this planning that we work toward the best possible panoramic view of Olana.

It is hard to select a few tours or programs as “highlights” because we design and conceptualize the educational programs as an organism, an eco-system, serving a range of different audiences and institutional goals all interrelating for the site’s success. We see our programs just as Church saw his house and landscape- inseparable from one another with no part more important than the other. It is the sum of the parts that illustrates Church’s brilliance. To this end, I decided to filter this year’s public programs through the lens of all the “first ever” programs in place for 2018.

On April 28th at 4pm the first public program of the Spring season launches to set the stage for this year’s exhibition and overarching themes that relate to Church and the Middle East. Travelling Talks: Justyna Badach and the Land of Epic Battles shares Middle Eastern and USA landscapes/scenes in the geo-political time that spans from 19th Century Church through to now. Her illustrated talk presents both her American landscape works (pulled from early color Western films) and a new series of large, hand-made dichromate photographic prints of landscapes, made using film stills from ISIS training videos; the photographic prints use gunpowder as a pigment. Badach’s work feels both contemporary and historic at the same time. She is a Philadelphia-based artist, educator, and museum professional whose work is in numerous museum and collections. Tea & cake served. Meet at the Wagon House Education Center. Cost is Members: $5; Non-Member $10; Ages 15 and Up.

On May 2, at 3:30PM TOP launches a ALL NEW bi-monthly free tour option for people with early onset Dementia & Alzheimer’s and their caregivers called Gray Matters: Connecting Dementia & Alzheimer’s to Olana. This once a month program will be outside in Frederic Church’s artist-designed landscape; participants will be driven on the historic carriage roads in an electric carriage. The second program each month will take place inside the Persian-style Main House. Participants are welcome to join us at 3:30 for tea and cake in the Visitor Center before the program begins. The Olana Partnership is collaborating with Albany Medical Center of Excellence for Alzheimer’s Disease who is also sponsoring this program. These tours repeat twice a month throughout the 2018 season. Please make advanced reservations as this program is limited to 10 people.

In mid-May TOP will, for the first time, install honey bee colonies as we take another small step toward shoring up our landscape (and preparing a few years ahead of the kitchen garden restoration) with partner and local holistic biodynamic apiary NY Buzz. NY Buzz is helping install a new colony of bees onsite, near the farm and old orchard. Nancy Wu Houk is caring for the bees and the environment at Olana as part of this program. She says “Olana is an ideal and pristine environment. For so many visitors, Olana is all about the stunning view and the stewardship of the unspoiled natural landscape. But this landscape’s health is much more complicated and interconnected than what you see at first glance; this project is about supporting and understanding a much bigger idea of the ecosystem of this place. Church cared about farm production and ecological issues- he understood the idea of human’s place and interconnectedness with land, water and air.” Ms. Wu Houk raises her honey bees on clean forage without pesticide to provide the most delicious raw honey possible. Her product is available at TOP’s Museum Store and she will be doing programs at Olana throughout the season. Stop in and respectfully introduce yourself to our new and important bee colony, and certainly leave with honey from the Museum Store for your tea or toast!

On Saturday May 26, TOP launches another first ever with OLANA’s Facebook Book Club. If you are on Facebook, and like Olana’s online content, join Olana’s dynamic, interactive, virtual book club. TOP will launch this online book club, including occasional online appearances from the author and TOP educators, with the newly published book Embattled River: The Hudson and Modern American Environmentalism, by David Schuyler. Embattled River describes the efforts to reverse the pollution and bleak future of the Hudson River that became evident in the 1950s. Through his investigative narrative, Schuyler uncovers the critical role of this iconic American waterway in the emergence of modern environmentalism in the United States. Order your copy through the Olana Museum Store (To order your book in advance click here: link). Like Olana State Historic Site’s Facebook page to find the interactive group titled: OLANA’s BOOK CLUB. This program is free and anyone can participate.

On Saturday, July 14 (through December 1) we encourage visitors to be the first ever to see The Wander Society’s Adventure Lab in the Landscape (situated near Church’s old studio location). The Wander Society is a secretive underground organization who believes in the intrinsic power of wandering to transcend the problems of modern society, access a higher plane of consciousness, and participate in direct experiences of life. The Wander Society’s Adventure Lab, is a tent and platform that functions as a secret portal into the operations and activities of the underground organization. Designed as a space to facilitate exploration, the lab is complete with various wandering tools, images, a random assignment machine, and a wandering library. Why a tent at Olana you ask? In the 1860s when the Churches were travelling in the Middle East, Isabel Church said she “loved the tent life” while they were travelling in remote areas by caravan. They also tented in the Adirondacks, Maine, and on many of Church’s remote painting expeditions. The family’s library is filled with tales from adventurers, travel books, and particularly William Prime’s Tent Life in the Holy Land. Installed in parallel with this season’s exhibition, conceptual artist and NYT’s best-selling author Keri Smith created the Adventure Lab and in turn pays homage to the tent and adventuring from the Church’s 19th century experiences, while layering the past with contemporary participatory adventures for visitors to Olana. Designed for all ages, free and open 8:30am to sunset daily.

If individuals and families become a Members of The Olana Partnership as the touring and education season starts, you will save all season long receiving free house and landscape tours, public program fee savings, and significant discounts on purchases at the Museum Store. You will also receive special event invitations to member-only occasions like our Member’s Mimosas and Hard Hat event on April 22, in which we will sip a cocktail while seeing the current construction developments at Olana. Membership now makes the next 12 months at Olana affordable while also showing your support for OLANA’s innovation. Visit the website today to sign up, or give our Membership Coordinator Holly Kelly, 518-828-1872 ext. 102, a call now for more details.

JOIN THE FIRSTS in 2018 but also don’t ignore all the programs that are continuing this season due to their popularity. TOP will continue our Historic Landscape and special interest landscape tours, Tom Lee’s Free Family Storytelling and Questions Tour, a third iteration of Artist on Art Tours, and the ever-popular Tasty History Series. Programs through July are now live, click here.

By Paul Banks, Interpretive Program Assistant

There is no greater insider at Olana than Frederic Church himself. The collection at Olana contains not only a great number of his works of art, but a great number of works from his pen as well. We have letters, journals, diaries, cancelled checks and ledgers all in Church’s hand. One of these was donated to Olana by Maria Burroughs Livingston, a descendent of Church, and it’s quite special as it is the diary he kept as he journeyed to Petra in the Middle East. On February 24th and 25th 1868 Frederic Church and his traveling party explored the “lost city” of Petra. Below is an excerpt from pages 66 through 71 of the diary—original spelling, line breaks, and punctuation retained. The diary provides insight into, not just his travels, but also his artistic process–so much of it is a written description of a site that would become the subject of one of Church’s acclaimed masterworks. The masterwork that has resided in the Sitting Room of Olana since the 1870’s, El Khasne Petra!

150 years ago this week, Church’s writes in his journal:

We started off I carried
my large sketching portfolio-
We started for the Khasne
We presently came in sight
of a mass of tombs temples
etc cut out of the face of a
rocky mountain at the
South- We began to enter
a ravine of wild
rocks of surprising beauty
of color ribboned with graded
stripes and crossed barred with
other tints and worn by time
etc into fantastic honeycombed
forms yet with the edges rounded
and softened-
The scenery became wilder &

  1. 67.

wilder- and presently
we were walled in by lofty
ragged precipices which
overhung the narrow pathway
we followed the tortuous
road until we came in
sight of the far famed Khasne
This wonderful temple is
cut in the face of a
tremendous precipice
which where it has not been
comparatively recently broken
is of a black coler
with an olive tinge in it
greys of various shades and
occasional warm tints run
in seams and layers
The rock when freshly exposed
is of a beautiful rich reddish
salmon coler- Miscalled
pink by some travelers
It is of a light hue delicate
and remarkably uniform
considering the great size

  1. 68.

of the temple There are
of course some variations and
indeed a beautiful clove tint
and blue grey breaks out
in bands in a few places
The general effect on the
inexperienced eye must qive
the impression of a uniform tint
It is wonderful to see
so lovely and luminous a
color blazing out of black
stern frightful rocks
and to still heighten the
effect behold the beautiful
temple rich in sculptured
ornament shining as if
by its own internal light
some of the sculptures are
as sharp as if but just
finished. The capitals are
very rich and beautiful
among the ornaments of the
frieze I observed grapes and

  1. 69.

pomegranate with
appropriate leaves,
Eagles were sculptured
at the corners- also some
animals probably
lions- & & &-
We followed up the Sik
which is a narrow cliff
or gorge opening directly
upon the Khasne- this
is so narrow that we could
hardly follow it with out
wetting our feet in the little
stream which flowed along
the stony bed- on one
side we noticed a small
aqueduct sometimes built
of tiles but generally cut
in the rock- it was very
small the tiles not being
more than seven or 8 inches
in diameter quite insufficient


to carry off the amount
of water which was flowing
today- The bed of the
stream was once a road-
way as many parts are
paved with large stones
A half mile or so
brought us to the Arch
springing over the chasm
this I believe is settled to
be a portion of an acqueduct
I did not go further in
that direction but thought
that the acqueduct formerly
carried the water to the
city which now flows over
the pathway-
Oleanders are very abundant
in all these gorges and many
plants & vines-
I made some rapid
sketched in this vicinity
and one in coler of a part

  1. 71.

of the Khasne
Showers came
up and we retraced our
steps to the tent- lunched
and started for El Deir
which lies diagonally opposite
to the Khasne across the
valley where the city
formerly stood-

We hope you enjoyed this look into the past and can come to Olana sometime soon to admire the magnificence of El Khasne Petra and more.


In October 2017, Dr. Linda S. Ferber received the Frederic Church Award for her significant contribution to the world of American art. The Olana Partnership was honored to highlight Dr. Ferber’s vast accomplishments over several decades.   Dr. Ferber is Senior Art Historian and Museum Director Emerita at the New-York Historical Society.  From 2005 until the end of 2013, she served as Vice President and Museum Director at NYHS.   Prior to that, she was the Andrew Mellon Curator of American Art at The Brooklyn Museum (now Emerita),  where she was also Chief Curator.

Alice Walton, Dr. Barbara Novak, Dr. Louise Mirrer, Barry Harwood and Dr. Elizabeth Kornhauser participated in our short film to congratulate Dr. Ferber.  To view the film, click here.

by Mark Prezorski, Senior Vice President & Creative Director

In October 2017, Laurie Olin received the Frederic Church award. This was the first time a landscape architect had accepted this award, and The Olana Partnership was honored to highlight Laurie Olin’s vast accomplishments in the world of landscape architecture and the design of pubic parks. Similar to Frederic Church, Laurie Olin is an artist who also views landscapes through a civic lens. Laurie Olin is a Guggenheim Fellow, an American Academy of Rome Fellow, a Fellow of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), an honorary member of the American Institute of Architects (AIA), a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and he was presented with the prestigious National Medal of Arts in 2013.

Our Frederic Church award video about Laurie Olin can be see here.

Laurie Olin has been a great friend and supporter of Olana over the years. In 2011, he was the keynote speaker in our award-winning symposium, “Framing the Viewshed: The Transformative Power of Art and Landscape in the Hudson Valley”. In 2016, Laurie’s work was featured in our design exhibition “Follies, Function & Form: Imagining Olana’s Summer House”. His concept sketch can be seen in a NY Times feature story, and Laurie can also be heard speaking about our Olana exhibition in an WAMC interview.

In preparation for our Frederic Church award film, we interviewed Laurie here at Olana earlier this year. The following is an edited transcript from that interview:

LAURIE OLIN: Olana is a much larger composition. It’s in the tradition of country villas that goes back to actually ancient Rome, but probably the thing that most Americans and others today would think of would be the English landscape garden and those great villas and houses they built in the 18th Century. This isn’t really an English landscape. This is an American landscape. But it’s also not a natural landscape.

People make a lot of mistakes. They look at it, and they see trees and grass and shrubs and they think — Oh, it’s nature. Well, those are natural elements, but the whole thing is a work of art, and the house is the centerpiece of it. It has drives, it has the forest that Frederic Church planted, it has lakes that were built, the whole thing is a vast composition done by a great visual artist in the history of American art. It’s a wonderful thing.

Church came here because of his interest in the vision of the Hudson River, which you can see. The house looks at in several different directions. There are verandas and porches that look out. Church was one of the great view painters in history. He was one of America’s greatest landscape painters, and he had studied under Thomas Cole across the river. He came here, bought this land and began developing it, and it took many decades for him to do. The drives of course had to be laid out and built, trees moved, trees planted. There was a farm. It took him a long time, and we don’t really have a lot of drawings of it because he built it in place. It’s a work of art that took many years for him to kind of elaborate, and one of the things is — if you know Church’s paintings and his sketches and great landscapes — he did a number of the Hudson River from here. There are great views from this very house. From right where I am standing there are views out across this pond below me to the Hudson. In the snow, there are views in sunset, there are views in different seasons. He was very interested in the passage of time and in nature, and the design of time. Of course, time is part of the palette of landscape architects and landscape designers.

Church — Some people would say, “Oh, he was an amateur”, but we forget that many of the greatest gardens in history were done by amateurs. They were done by people who never did another one. They only did that one. They weren’t professionals who did twelve parks or gardens. They did one great thing that they worked on for a long period of time. There is one in Britain that people know called Stourhead, done by a great banker who had people come and do things and help him. Church had people help him here. Calvert Vaux, his partner, helped with the house with certain parts and did some drawings, but this is Church’s baby. He lived here, he made it, it took him a long time, and he designed — basically it’s a studio on a hill, which is what this really is — but it’s a polychrome studio for him to have his own work and his life and his family, and it’s really an incredible total work of art.

I had known Church’s paintings, I had known Church’s landscape… I first came here a number of years ago because I knew Church’s paintings. I had always admired his drawings and paintings, especially the sketches, which I thought were quite wonderful, and so I wanted to come. So I came with my wife, and we visited, and I was just kind of blown away because, you know, it’s one thing to know a place in photographs and to know about it through literature and history. It’s another to actually walk into it and walk through it and be there and sense the spatial structure of the whole. The house is at the top, but it takes you a while to get here. It unfolds, and when I came, I thought — Oh, wonderful, the way he leads you to it, and you come behind it, and then you come through the house and come out, and there is the Hudson and the valley. It’s extraordinary. And it’s like walking into his paintings. It’s truly astonishing how you look up towards the mountains and everything, and the weather comes in, and he could see the weather coming, and he did a lot of paintings of clouds and skies in different climates, different times of year, and this was perfect — just like an observation post for him to be up here on this hilltop.

When you come here to Olana, it’s interesting because it’s one thing to see a Church painting in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, or something like the National Gallery, but when you come here, you actually see how he processed the natural information. I think for anyone who is not familiar with Church’s work or with Olana, this is quite a revelation to see the place that the work was gestated in and made. It’s also the place that inspired him, and you understand something about the difference of how he looked at things, and then he found ways to explain them through visual media, through his painting. He was trying to show us things beyond just a picture. He was trying to get us to think about time and the passage of time, was trying to get us to think about the cycles of nature and about life itself. So I think when people come here, they are quite taken by it, because I think many may make the mistake of thinking: Oh, it’s natural, this is an abandoned farm or something. It’s not. It’s a design, and it’s a composition, but it’s a painter’s composition of a world that he then could turn around and make his own work from. So it’s like doing a setup. It’s like when Cezanne sets the skull and the bottle and the things on the table. Church is a landscape painter who is setting the table with what he is doing here, with his own design of the landscape.

Photos by Beth Schneck Photography

OLANA MUSEUM STORE: More Than Just A Gift Shop
Rachel Tice, Museum Store Manager, The Olana Partnership

The Olana Museum Store is more than just your average gift shop. Located in the historic stables, the Olana Museum Store’s mission is to tell the story of Frederic Church’s life. Beautiful objects carefully chosen gives modern day meaning to what Frederic Church’s Olana was and is. The Olana Museum Store reflects the exotic places that Frederic Church traveled to, the unique treasures that he collected and decorated his home with, 19th century life, the picturesque landscape designed by Church, and highlights from our featured exhibitions.

2017 was a busy year for the Olana Museum Store. We are excited to be the first state historic site to launch a Taste New York Store. Now you can visit Olana and enjoy the food of the Hudson Valley and the bounty of New York State. Hawthorne Valley Farm Store’s freshly made cheese and yogurt, Oliver Kita Fine Confection’s Olana Moroccan Orange chocolate bar, CurrantC Farms Black Currant Nectar, and Don Baker’s fresh picked apples grown in Olana’s viewshed are just a few of the delicious snacks that you can now enjoy when you visit us.

We’ve also been busy creating. This summer we partnered with Harney and Sons Master Tea Blenders to launch an exclusive custom tea tin inspired by the historic Master Bedroom wallpaper. There were so many amazing flavors to choose from, but we finally decided upon their black currant tea. What makes this flavor so special is that Frederic Church grew currants on his working farm here at Olana. Our custom tea tin has become an instant hit, and makes the perfect gift.

“Delicious cream and perfect coffee,” “…vegetables, fruit, cherries, raspberries, currants, all from our
own gardens . . .” are served.
(Susan Hale to her sister, Lucretia, July 6, 1884)

Sip out of our custom mug, featuring vintage artwork of Frederic Church, circa 1960’s, as we celebrate our fiftieth anniversary of Olana opening to the public in 1967. Limited Edition.

What better place to set your tea, than our marble coasters inspired by the door panels within the home. These coasters are based on details from the stenciled borders that grace most of the interior doors at Olana. Church used stencil patterns throughout the interiors and exteriors of his Persian-inspired house. The artist drew from ornamentation he saw while traveling in the Middle East throughout 1868, and from books he collected on Persian architecture, which remain in the Olana historic library collection. In this instance, the design can be traced to an illustrated lithographic plate in the book Les Artes Arabes (1868) by Jules Bourgoin. The source for the pattern illustrated in this book is from the door of the Church of St. Jacques of Armenia in Jerusalem (a 12th-century building which still stands in the American quarter of the city). For his interpretation of the pattern, Frederic Church used metallic paints to create reflection on the door surface.

The Olana Museum Store’s most popular items are our books, featuring titles reflecting Frederic Church’s life and work, the Hudson Valley, art, out of print editions, and the Hudson River School. Our newest title is the catalogue to accompany the exhibit featured at Detroit Institute of Arts, Frederic Church: A Painters Pilgrimage, traveling to Reynalda House Museum of American Art, and Wadsworth Athenium Museum of Art in 2019. This catalogue focuses on Church’s travels to Athens, Rome, Jerusalem, and surrounding places. Also highlighting Olana, this book is filled with stunning images and text by Kenneth J. Myers, Kevin J. Avery, Gerald L. Carr, and Mercedes Volait.

We also have a limited quantity of Frederic Church by John K. Howat, the most extensive work on Frederic Church’s life, out of print.

Some images in Olana’s collection are available to purchase as prints, in 8”x10” and 11”x14”.

Frederic Edwin Church, Southwest Façade, Olana, c. 1870, watercolor, ink and graphite on paper, 13×21 15/16 inches.This is a limited edition notecard reproduction of an original artwork by Frederic Edwin Church in the collection of Olana State Historic Site, New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. All rights reserved.

One of the wonderful things about the Hudson Valley is its local artisans. The Olana Museum Store works with many local consignors for unique, handmade, and exclusive items to add diversity and variety while supporting its local artists. One of our new consignors, Sherry Stevens, has created one-of-a kind tiles inspired by Charles Kingsley’s 19th century children’s book, The Water Babies exclusively for the Olana Museum Store. Frederic Church had multiple editions of this book in his personal library, and we bring attention to it today with these gorgeous tiles. Starting with a sketch, Sherry creates the mold and does hand painted glazes. Church had a vast tile collection of his own, seen throughout the home.

Handmade earrings, statement necklaces, embroidered jackets, beaded dresses, silk scarves, and batik textiles are ever changing at the Olana Museum Store. Rarely are two items the same, from Turkey, India, Lebanon, Pakistan, Indonesia, and more.

We have something for everyone at the Olana Museum Store. As you shop for your family and friends this holiday season, stop by. We’re open!

Friday-Sunday 10-4 pm
Members receive an extra 15% off, and our Double Discount Member’s Sale are 11/18 and 12/16.
For all of our guests, spend $75 now through the end of December and receive the gift of an exclusive Olana Harney and Sons tea tin for FREE!
We look forward to seeing you!

Upcoming Event:
December 2 pop-up store with Dawn Dishaw featuring Persian-inspired pottery

Contact information:
Rachel Tice, Olana Museum Store Manager
518-828-0135 ext. 314

Mark Prezorski, Senior Vice President & Creative Director, The Olana Partnership

Every summer at Olana, things turn more yellow.   In June, the park-like meadow between Olana’s upper main house and the lake below comes alive with yellow coreopsis flowers.

This summer, things were more yellow than usual at Olana.  Penetrable by Jesús Rafael Soto (1923 – 2005) hovered like a mirage in Frederic Church’s landscape, part of a larger exhibition titled OVERLOOK:  Teresita Fernández Confronts Frederic Church at Olana, a collaboration with the Colección Patricia Phelps de Cisneros.  Visitors are encouraged to move within Soto’s interactive sculpture, similar to the way visitors move through Olana, Frederic Church’s large-scale landscape.  Both Olana and Penetrable are experiential works of art.  A signature work within the Cisneros collection, Penetrable has traveled throughout the Americas and has been sited in built environments.   This sculpture recently completed a long and popular run at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.  For a limited time, it can now be experienced in a naturalistic setting at Olana.

Teresita Fernández’s site-specific installation spans the two upstairs rooms of the Sharp Family Gallery within Olana’s main house.  This installation combines works from Olana’s collection and the Cisneros collection, and Teresita Fernández has integrated her own original work.   One of her portraits is of Jesús Rafael Soto.

Soto’s portrait faces east and is intentionally positioned within the larger installation to overlook the sculpture outdoors.   Soto began as a landscape painter in Venezuela and progressed into three dimensions.   Church followed a similar artistic evolution as he created Olana over many years, from landscape painting to landscape design.

One floor below, also facing east, a portrait of Frederic Church hangs in the corridor of the studio wing which he designed.

Around the corner from Church’s portrait, the sculpture by Soto can be viewed through the corridor’s large windows.

Some long-time visitors to Olana have asked why a contemporary sculpture has been sited in Olana’s historic landscape, and why it’s sited in this particular location.  There’s a story behind this location.   The 1886 “Plan of Olana” includes a structure labeled “SUMMER HOUSE”, yet there is no known documentation of its style or design.  This mystery was the basis for a 2016 design exhibition at Olana called Follies, Function & FormImagining Olana’s Summer House.   When this exhibition opened last year, The Olana Partnership could not have imagined that Penetrable would stand a year later in Olana’s approximate summer house location.   It’s as if Frederic Church also had a hand in siting Penetrable.

The Soto sculpture seems a natural fit at Olana.   Church included yellow glass throughout many rooms in the Olana’s main house, and this starts at the front door.

The great window near the Court Hall staircase is yellow.

So is the window along the corridor in the studio wing.

The large window in Church’s painting studio features tinted glass.

In Church’s bedroom, every sunrise and sunset is framed in yellow light.  Today, Penetrable can be glimpsed through this window.

Now that fall has arrived at Olana, goldenrod can be seen in Olana’s meadows.   In 1891, a visitor to Olana wrote: “No daisy is allowed to be pulled, no cats tail – and as for goldenrod! The other day we drove miles to get some yellow daisies & sweet fern, when there were prairies of it all round about here – but that would have despoiled the place – taken a little from its beauty.”

This year’s exhibition is a conversation among artists, including Jesús Rafael Soto and Frederic Church, and thanks to Teresita Fernández and our collaborators at the Colección Patricia Phelps de Cisneros, visitors to Olana can join in that conversation  — and see lots of yellow.

Photographs by Mark Prezorski

June 1, 2017

“Trans-American Landscape Art”
Colección Patricia Phelps de Cisneros & Olana in dialogue in the exhibition OVERLOOK
By Dr. Katherine Manthorne, Professor of Art History, Graduate Center, City University of New York

Click here to read the full article.

R.S. De Lamater, Frederic Edwin Church, c. 1855, carte-de-wisite, 4 x 2 3/8 in., a photograph of a daguerreotype taken in 1844.  Collection Olana State Historic Site, NYS OPRHP.

Teresita Fernández photo by Billy Farrell,

Question by Martin Puryear, River Crossings 2015 photo by Peter Aaron

April 20, 2017

“A Healthy Kind of Discomfort”: Contemporary Art at Olana
By Sean E. Sawyer, Ph.D., Washburn and Susan Oberwager President

From May through October this year Olana will witness a confrontation between two of our country’s most prominent artists; one, Frederic Church, who achieved fame 150 years ago, and another, Teresita Fernández, who is reaching it today.

This has come about through a collaboration between The Olana Partnership and the Colección Patricia Phelps de Cisneros, one of the world’s most important collections of Latin American art. Together, we have invited Fernández to respond to Church’s artistic legacy by drawing upon the Cisneros’ collections, as well as our own, to create new work. The result is OVERLOOK: Teresita Fernández Confronts Frederic Church at Olana, an immersive exhibition that centers on three large-scale installations by Fernández and puts visitors “into this situation where there is a healthy kind of discomfort,” in her words.[1] I won’t discuss Fernández’s specific artistic goals here, as I hope you will come see for yourself, and, instead, I want to explore why The Olana Partnership, as stewards of Frederic Church’s legacy, would want to put visitors in this situation.

In his lifetime, Church actively sought international fame and the broad audiences it brought. In March 1863 a New York newspaper reported that:

“A new picture by Mr. Church is as considerable an event in the world of art as a new novel by Victor Hugo, or a new poem by Tennyson would be in the literary world. He has proved himself a master and an elaborate work from his easel is certain to represent the highest contemporary development of American art.”[2]  

Indeed, it was this startling success, much of it achieved through his immersive “great painting” exhibitions, that funded his creation of Olana over 40 years.

In achieving fame and fortune, Church also engaged in artistic exploration, both literally in his travels from the Andes, to Arctic ice fields, to the Mideast, and metaphorically in his creation of emblematic landscapes that are more proto-Cubist collage than topographic renderings. Church reached the pinnacle of fame with Heart of the Andes in 1859, and one of the most evocative descriptions of the experience of viewing it was given by Mark Twain:

“You will never get tired of looking at the picture, but your reflections –your efforts to grasp an intelligible something–you hardly know what –will grow so painful that you will have to go away from the thing, in order to obtain relief. You may find relief, but you cannot banish the picture–It remains with you still.” 

So, psychological discomfort brought about by challenges to the received patterns of perception characterized Church’s work as a contemporary artist. Here we are firmly in the realm of Fernández’s “healthy discomfort.” The most meaningful and contemporary art – of any period – engages and challenges us as viewers; it rouses us from our comfort zone and leads us to expand our mental and aesthetic horizons. Ultimately, its success is marked by its power to endure through time. Witness Church’s “great paintings” that are now the centerpieces of major collections across the country. This is why contemporary art and the inherent discomfort it often stimulates are at the center of The Olana Partnership’s goals in creating exhibitions at Olana.

This is a very recent turn of events. It began with Groundswell, a day-long presentation of site-specific works in sound, text, and movement done in collaboration with Wave Farm from 2013 to 2015 and installed in the landscape along Ridge Road. However, the embrace of contemporary art at Olana came with River Crossings: Contemporary Art Comes Home, the major exhibition undertaken with the Thomas Cole National Historic Site in 2015. River Crossings was the vision of Stephen Hannock, the renowned artist who is a member of our National Advisory Committee. Hannock threw all his artistic passion into the project and succeeded in bringing works by some of the world’s most recognized artists, including Maya Lin, Chuck Close and Cindy Sherman, to be exhibited in the historic interiors at the Cole House and Olana. The juxtapositions were startling and newsworthy, including articles in The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal and a segment on CBS Sunday Morning. Also, attendance went up that season, although the demographic profile of the average visitor did not shift notably; that will come with repetition and more outreach.

As we launch our collaboration with Teresita Fernández and the Cisneros Collection this spring, we anticipate mixed reactions and welcome the dialogue that the “healthy discomfort” of contemporary art that engages with the issues of our day brings. Fernández’s installations raise questions of identity that are extraordinarily timely.  As she says in The Art Newspaper, “It seems particularly relevant to me in this moment: who gets to define American art and who is excluded? The United States is the only country that uses America as though it’s exclusive. Throughout Latin America, we say ‘Americas’. This is a way of expanding what we think of as the American landscape.”

I can see Frederic Church climbing the Andes or crossing the Negev, smiling broadly.

[1] Julia Halperin, “Teresita Fernández wants to change the way you look at American landscapes,” The Art Newspaper, March 2, 2017.

[2] The New York Leader, March 21, 1863.

To read the recent article in ArtNewspaper, click here.

April 6, 2017

The Olana Partnership Launches 2017 Programming
By Amy Hufnagel, Director of Education

The complex challenges facing cultural organizations today require an ability (and willingness) to be contemporary in intention and action (even when historic) and mindful of every opportunity to delight visitors. I aspire to SuperMuseum qualities (as defined by Aimee Chang, Director of Engagement at the UC Berkeley Art Museum). SuperMuseums are driven by why they do what they do and for whom they work as their priority; these successful organizations then plan backwards from why to what they do.

The Olana 2017 Public Program Calendar is one result of why The Olana Partnership staff comes to work every day and is also the what of their labors; ultimately we want visitors to share with us our collective commitment to art, history and learning as these are fascinations that inherently matter to the cultural fabric of our nation. The Olana Partnership commits to the programs and exhibitions each season because learning, making art, exploring history and culture, and discovering the natural world is at the root of our shared identities as residents and visitors to the Hudson Valley Region and are far from being frivolous. Visiting Olana is an experience that gives meaning and value to our region and to our daily lives.

Church poured heart, soul and creativity into Olana in the 19th century and his actions inform why we continue to pour those same things into the historic site today. This season visitors can attend many creativity and heart-nurturing tour programs delivered by artists and scholars including the Artist on Art Tours or Tom Lee’s storytelling and question tours. We have several lectures and workshops that explore unique and specific topics that end or begin with looking at aspects of the collection inside the main house at Olana, like the history of scientific travel, the history of religion and environmentalism in the region, and the art of Persian ceramic tiles. We have artist-inspired landscape tours developed in collaboration with The Cultural Landscape Foundation, horse-drawn carriage rides during fall foliage, and naturalist-inspired hikes that teach about geology, fireflies or turkeys. In September, we will launch a weekend-long “Performing Olana” program where visitors will be immersed in the landscape while a play unfolds with actors bringing life at the Church’s farm alive.

We have also designed several “edutainment-style” programs in 2017. Gracie’s food truck will participate in the Food Truck Picnic Day (we like to think of it as a pop-up restaurant with the best viewshed in town!), and Tasty History pairs historians with a chef to taste Olana’s past.  During the Thanksgiving and December holiday seasons, we have stellar marionette performances for all ages, as well as workshops that teach wreath-making, wrapping papers (from marbleizing to veggie printing), and beeswax candles. We have designed our public programs so that there are many topics and styles of activity. The public is invited to all our educational programming, and all ages are served through the specific age appropriate events. Ultimately we are most happy when 5 year-olds are here with 80 year-olds and both are having a fun-filled learning experience.

If the cultural education field is saying that best practice SuperMuseums think and act differently about typical museum-like functions, then we hope you will see the launch of Olana’s 2017 high season as testament to our institution responding to these challenges to better serve our audiences. We are committed to why we do what we do, working in more cross-departmental ways, and being contemporary in intention. We hear our constituents loud and clear and have designed a season set on wowing you. Please join us!  There are dozens of reasons to fall in love with Olana again and again, and perhaps this year you will renew or make a new commitment to the creative heart and soul of our work together!

Olana’s original guides and hosts Mary Ann Bikes, Alice Gold, Kay Sterns, Ruby Funk, Ruth Karmer and Mary Mazzacano in the Court Hall, c. 1960s, Olana Collection

March 23, 2017

Olana’s Volunteering Pioneers
By Daphne Mayer, Membership and Volunteer Coordinator

In this 50th anniversary year of Olana opening to the public as a NY State Historic Site, I would like to highlight the efforts of Olana’s first volunteers.  These pioneering men and women led the charge to save Olana in 1966, tirelessly gave tours and hosted events to raise the funds needed to secure Olana’s future, while helping to catalog and research Olana’s collections and history.  We celebrate the legacy they have left for us.

One of the most prominent of these volunteers was Mary Mazzacano.  Mary grew up in Columbia County and, as a child, she and her friends would sneak onto Olana’s landscape in winter to sled down its hills or skate on the pond.  Later in life, the Mazzacanos had a farm on Middle Road near Olana, and Mary became very involved with local causes and organizations including running the local Apple Blossom Festival.

When Olana was imperiled after the passing of Sally Church, Mary helped gather signatures from Olana’s neighbors to show local support for saving the house and landscape.  She was then recruited by Sam Aldrich and David Huntington (two of the leaders of the campaign to save Olana) to help organize these local volunteers to give tours of Olana, which she did for three summers.  “It was the best thing I ever did!” she told Dorothy Heyl, who has helped document the story of how Olana was saved.  David Huntington called her “the Olana Dynamo.”

Mary continued to be involved with Olana for many years to come.  In 1971, she was one of the founders of the Friends of Olana, which would ultimately become The Olana Partnership. Upon Mary’s passing in 2012, then Olana Partnership President Sara Griffen stated that Mary’s involvement at Olana “was a lifelong joy for her and I’m sure a source of great pride.”

We owe a great debt to Mary and her volunteer compatriots as they helped lay the foundations for the successful public-private partnership that Olana is today.  Volunteers continue to be at the heart of Olana’s story and our ability to serve our ever-expanding audiences.  Just as in the late 1960s, volunteers give tours of the house, help with special events, and make our visitors feel welcome.  Given our increasing number of visitors and ambitious program of events, the need for individuals willing to devote their time and skills is greater than ever.  If you are interested in being a part of the next chapter of Olana’s volunteer history, please visit our volunteer page (insert link) and consider dropping in during one of our upcoming Volunteer Information Sessions to explore the opportunities at Olana today.

March 9, 2017

Olana’s Summer House Designers: IN THEIR OWN WORDS 
Mark Prezorski, Senior Vice President & Creative Director

“I am building a house and am principally my own Architect. I give directions all day and draw plans and working drawings all night.”
— Frederic Church, 1871

“I am busy landscape architecturing!”
— Frederic Church, 1887

The words of Frederic Church were highlighted in Olana’s recent exhibition, Follies, Function & Form: Imagining Olana’s Summer House. This design exhibition, which unites 21 visionary architects and landscape architects, allowed The Olana Partnership to feature aspects of Frederic Church’s talents which are sometimes overlooked. In addition to being a famous landscape painter, Church also viewed himself as an architect and landscape architect while creating his great masterpiece, Olana. Our exhibition has since traveled to the Center for Architecture in New York, which is a perfect venue. From the start, we collaborated closely with the New York chapters of the American Institute of Architects (AIANY) and the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA-NY).

When Jane Smith (our exhibition co-curator) and I invited architects and landscape architects to submit a concept sketch of their design, we also asked them to submit an artist statement about their particular idea. These statements were included on our exhibition labels and in our printed catalogue. As we prepare for a panel discussion related to our exhibition at the Center for Architecture, I have revisited these original artist statements. Here are some excerpted examples, in the words of our summer house designers.

Unfolding the Framed Panorama by Adriaan Geuze (West 8 urban design and landscape architecture)
“Olana, Frederic Church’s chosen site, is a panoramic stage for atmospheric effects and painterly foregrounds, middlegrounds and backgrounds, many of which were created by his own hand.”

Man’s Nature in the Landscape by David McAlpin, AIA (Fradkin & McAlpin Architects)
“Olana’s summer house investigates how we inhabit, view, and interpret the landscape — how we reveal ourselves in making nature our own.”

Frederic Church Looks Back by Ken Smith, ASLA (Ken Smith Workshop)
“Using white athletic-field chalk and nitrogen turf-fertilizer, I propose to field paint an anamorphic projection portrait of Church as an old man looking back at Olana.”

Tentolana by Tom Krizmanic, AIA (STUDIOS Architecture)
“I imagined a temporary structure inspired by the tents that Church likely would have seen on his late 1860s Middle East trip.”

Cloud by Margie Ruddick, ASLA (Margie Ruddick Landscape)
“The artist-designed glass roof continues Olana’s tradition of considering every component of the built environment a rigorous work of art.”

To Be Seen and To See by Adam Yarinsky, FAIA (Architecture Research Office)
“I imagine the summer house as a microcosm of Church’s intention to unite nature and culture through experience at Olana.”

Summer Shadow by Michael Vergason, FASLA (Michael Vergason Landscape Architects)
“The design is a place of refuge, shade, and prospect— reinterpreting the essential spirit of Frederic Church’s beloved landscape for the contemporary visitor.”

Drawn Out by Joan Krevlin, FAIA (BKSK Architects)
“As a choreographed arrival sequence conceived by Frederic Church, his house is intermittently seen from the ascending carriage road as a gradual series of revelations. His summerhouse surely played a role in the unfolding.”

Framing the Landscape by Diana Balmori, FASLA (Balmori Associates)
“A simple cedar structure will serve as a framing device for the Hudson River landscape as painted by Frederic Church. Olana itself plays this role.”

Unidentified photographer, “Louis Palmer Church,”  undated, platinum print, 8 3/8 x 6 5/16 in., OL.1982.1369, Collection Olana State Historic Site, NYSOPRHP

Unidentified photographer “Louis and Sally Church in front of the Main House at Olana,” c.1905-1910, photograph, 3 7/8 x 3 5/8 in., OL.1987.50, Collection Olana State Historic Site, NYS Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation

JCW Floyd Gallery (Lock Haven, PA), “Sally Good (later Church),” July 1895, photograph, 5 1/4  x 3 7/8 in., OL.1982.1533.1.2,  Collection Olana State Historic Site, NYS Office of Parks. Recreation and Historic Preservation

February 22, 2017

Louis and Sally Church:  First Stewards of the Olana Legacy
Valerie Balint, Interim Director of Collections and Research

Last year we celebrated the saving of Olana in 1966, and its long-term successful stewardship and restoration through the collaborative efforts of New York State and The Olana Partnership. As we know, in 1953, over a decade before Olana Preservation Inc., and New York State saved Olana, Sally Good Church welcomed a young scholar, David Huntington for tea, and he was given permission to use the resources at Olana to research Frederic Church for his dissertation. This led to his passion for Church and Olana, and to his leading the charge to save Olana upon Sally’s death in 1964.

But truly Sally and her husband Louis Palmer Church served as the initial stewards of Olana. They were the first torchbearers for the legacy of Frederic Church, his art and all he had created here. Together they preserved the essence of Olana – changing very little during their over 60-year residency. It is because of their love of Olana that the intact richness remained here to save.

In 2017 we continue our celebration, in particular, the 50th anniversary of the site opening as a public museum in June 1967.

As a preservation story the saving of Olana is compelling, and by necessity focuses on Sally Church as an elderly woman, as that story begins to unfold. Yet, who was this woman who captured the heart of Frederic and Isabel Church’s youngest son, and what was their life like here at Olana?

Their story begins on the eve of their adolescence; likely meeting through mutual friends in the late 1880s. Sarah Baker Good, known as Sally, grew up in affluence in Lock Haven, Pennsylvania, the daughter of a Civil War veteran, successful railroad contractor and industrial entrepreneur, George Good Sr. She attended St. Agnes School in Albany, NY where she became friends with Hortense Ferguson, affectionately known by the nickname Hortie. Hortie and her brother Smith were close friends with the Church children, and their parents were friends with Frederic and Isabel. Their father was a successful doctor in Troy, and their summer home was at Mt. Merino, a stone’s throw from Olana. The two families socialized frequently, and Sally was often in residence at Mt. Merino on holiday. No doubt, the young Louis and Sally were thrown together on numerous occasions. In addition, Sally’s older brother Harry went to St. Paul’s School in Concord, which all three Church boys attended, so they likely knew each other as well. Lastly, their circles intersected through Sally’s cousin, the Reverend George Yeisley, a pastor in Hudson, and a longtime friend of Frederic Church.

Louis Palmer Church left St. Paul’s School in 1887, but unlike his older brothers he did not attend Princeton. Instead, beginning in late 1891 he agreed to come on, at his aging parents’ request, to assist them in taking care of Olana. As his mother wrote to his sister Downie: “He will be head, of our place – with a salary – Your father thought he needed one of his sons, to take charge, and Louis, dear boy is the one.” A year later his salary had been increased and over the next nine years he would prove himself indispensable to both his parents. By 1894, an ongoing and rich correspondence between Louis and Sally, still in the Olana archives, reveals they had become secretly engaged. Clearly in love, one can assume that responsibilities to his then ailing parents and to the upkeep of Olana led to the deferment of both official engagement and marriage.

Isabel Church died in 1899 and Frederic died the following spring, in April 1900. Louis inherited Olana. Shortly thereafter, he announced to friends and family his engagement to Sally. Many congratulations by friends and family were accompanied by clues that their previous “secret” was not as secret as they supposed. Longtime friend and family lawyer Miles Graves expressed to Louis that his father had suspected this before his death.

Upon the news, his sister Downie expressed to Sally that “It is just perfect the whole thing, my little Mother and you were so devoted and I couldn’t have chosen anyone in the whole world that I would rather see filling her dear place at Olana—and this you know is the biggest compliment I could pay you.” These sentiments were echoed again and again by friends who knew the couple closely and Sally’s sincere appreciation of Olana: “Not a girl who knows and loves Olana as much as you do.”

Sally Good, soon to be Church, was a fun-loving young woman and social butterfly. She had numerous suitors, one of whom upon hearing the news wrote she would be “gone but not forgotten.” Many in their circle understood the announcement to be the culmination of their sustained attachment and mutual commitment to Olana: “Head of a magnificent establishment and all the wonderful things which go with it . . . and you have had for a long time all the best of Mr. Church’s love.”

The couple planned a January 1901 wedding in her hometown of Lock Haven. Like so many brides Sally went on a crash diet – hers involved port and sugar pills – to look great in her dress for the big day. Many friends could not make the winter wedding but sent celebratory telegrams, teasing that they had “waited until the 20th century to do it!” The robust gift register still in the Olana archive confirms Sally’s own jokes to Louis that “the gifts are pouring in and I feel like two horse thieves.”

For their wedding Sally gave Louis cufflinks. Consistently throughout their marriage she called him “Old dearie,” “Lou” and “dearest Old Man.” These diminutives reveal her view of him as the ever responsible old soul that also marked his place among his family and intimate friends. After a honeymoon in Europe the two settled into Olana. They electrified the house and upgraded various mechanical systems, but much of life remained as it had been in Frederic and Isabel’s time including the working farm and they made very few changes to the decorative aspects of the house. They even kept much of the same staff, including Jane the cook.

The couple entertained frequently, and they were considered gracious hosts. At table there were often six courses with guests writing home about pancakes, cakes, salads and more, which all led to indulgence. “It is Sally’s exuberant, sweet hospitality that causes the flow of food.” Receipts and photos show Sally to be a bit of a fashion maven, a fitting mistress for Olana. There are wonderful descriptions of them setting out side by side in their motor car, eyes covered with big driving goggles, which were a must, and a huge picnic hamper strapped to the back. Excursions were frequent and they often went to visit Louis’ brother Theodore and his wife Amelie. The two couples were close—they would meet in Coney Island, or set out on Theodore’s boat “Olana.”

The couple would eventually buy a winter home in Port Sewall, Florida and often took friends to the camp Frederic Church had purchased in Maine in 1878. But Olana remained their locus. They hosted Downie, her children and even her grand and great-grandchildren. Louis would send his brother Frederic brandied peaches from the orchards to evoke the dreamlike memories of home.

Throughout their decades at Olana they changed relatively little and servants’ oral histories reveal a desire to keep everything in its historic place. The two were devoted to Olana and each other. Sally was always urging Louis to eat slowly and expressing concerns for his health. Every morning Louis had a flower laid out at breakfast for his wife as a token of his love. In 1943 Louis died at Olana, and for two more decades Sally continued to preserve Olana until her death in 1964 at the age ninety-six. Only a few years after Louis’ death, in a 1948 article for the Saturday Review of Literature, noted writer James Thrall Soby described Frederic Church’s art, and the visit he had recently made to Olana. He said: “It is to be hoped that ‘Olana’ will one day be preserved as a public park . . . Nowhere else that I know of is there so grand and complete a monument to later American romanticism in the fine arts.” We now know that the road to being a park and museum would take many twists and turns before coming to fruition.

That said, there is no doubt that we owe a great debt to the first two carriers of Frederic Church’s legacy — two teenagers who met in the Hudson Valley and went on to enjoy to the fullest all the magic that Olana had to offer to them.

Olana’s original guides and hosts Mary Ann Bikes, Alice Gold, Kay Sterns, Ruby Funk, Ruth Karmer and Mary Mazzacano in the Court Hall, c. 1960s, Olana Collection

February 9, 2017

Memories of Olana, to Olana
By Melanie Hasbrook, Development and Marketing Communications Manager


“Well here I am!  At last – looking at a perfect Eden of picturesque beauty.”  Novelist Grace King to her sister Nan from Olana, July 4, 1891

“It was an ideal holiday, in a Garden of Eden . . .”  Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain), June 11, 1887, writing a thank you note to Frederic Church after a recent visit to Olana

There’s no doubt, everyone has a memory of when they visited Olana for the first time.  It’s an experience that you don’t forget.  In fact, visitors to Olana when the Churches lived here often wrote letters and journaled about how they felt during or after their visit.  For me, Olana was a fourth grade field trip.  I knew it was a beautiful place, the “castle on the hill,” but did not fully grasp the totality of Frederic Church and Olana until I was in college taking a River Ecology course that included a visit to Olana.  It was then that this place came alive for me the first time.

This year Olana is celebrating 50 years since it first opened to the public in 1967.  Since then, Olana has welcomed thousands of visitors, each with their own first time memory.  We are fortunate enough to have captured the remembrances of many members who were part of the original Campaign to Save Olana through our oral history project.  Now, we’re asking you to share your story.  We are collecting memories and memoirs via our “Share Your Memory” 50th Anniversary webpage.  Simply fill out the form at the bottom of the page and hit submit.  Your memory could be shared on Olana’s social media or “Share Your Memory” page.  Not only will your story inspire others, it could help us with our curatorial work.  Maybe your story can help tell Olana’s history at a certain point in time.  Did you know Mrs. Church?  Did you visit when you were young before Olana was a State Historic Site?

As we move through 2017, we hope that you will be inspired to visit and recount your very first visit.  As former board chair of The Olana Partnership and 2016 Frederic Church Award Recipient, Washburn Oberwager recalls, “I grew up with my grandmother who knew Louis Church, the son of Frederic Church. She knew about Olana. For me, Olana was the magical castle on the hill. It was exotic and worldly—maybe a little other-worldly. I used to dream about Olana and it inspired me. The more I learned about Frederic Church, the more I wanted to travel the world like he did.  Our family connection to Olana inspired my love of Hudson River School paintings.”

To read all of the stories and include yours click here.

November 17, 2016

‘Tis the Season
Rachel Tice, Museum Store Manager

“I think that perhaps my pleasantest thoughts now-a-days are when they are about our home on the Hudson and all the surroundings.”  Frederic Edwin Church, November 9, 1868

Autumn comes gently to Olana and leaves all too quickly, a flurry of fallen leaves and crisp evenings hinting at a not so distant winter. Fall sunsets set the Catskill Mountains ablaze with colors that Frederic Church captured so beautifully. It’s easy for me to see more this time of year than any other why Church made the Hudson Valley his home. The Hudson Valley has continued to grow since Church’s time, a place rich and diverse with artists that create and make a home here just as he did.

With the approaching holidays, shopping lists will soon take priority. Thanksgiving’s bounty is swallowed up by Black Friday and the countdown to Christmas begins soon after. The rush and frenzy does not need to be so stressful though, as there are many places to shop in the Hudson Valley to find that special something. The demand for handmade items is on the rise as the ongoing trend is to have unique items with character, that tell a story and are representative of something more. There is newfound focus on originality and sustainability that captures authenticity and craftsmanship.

In 1878 Frederic Church wrote: “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

Today when you tour Olana you can see the story told as Church laid it out, pieces that he chose lining the tables and walls, filling the rooms and helping to create what was his personal masterpiece and his home. The pieces that he built around him to give him pleasure, comfort and enjoyment.

Not all of us can travel as far as Church did to bring back Persian embroideries and Moorish plates but as you look to start your holiday shopping come visit the Olana Museum Store, a store that reflects Frederic Church’s 19th century home and the places that Church travelled. We represent Hudson Valley artists as well as pieces from all around the world showcasing the different cultures that Church drew inspiration from such as India and Turkey. Vintage Indian saris, handmade kimonos, artisan’s jewelry, one of a kind scarves and museum worthy textiles are among some of the items you’ll see at the Olana Museum Store. A large book selection is available with topics ranging in art, history, landscape and gardening. Custom merchandise inspired by the collection is available, too, such as marble coasters featuring interior stencil designs, magnets based on Church’s fireplace tiles, prints from the Olana collection and Olana stationary. As we enjoy this beautiful time of year and start our celebrations come support Olana and the artists of the Hudson Valley. All proceeds go to support The Olana Partnership.

The Olana Museum Store is open Friday-Sunday 10 AM to 4PM with extended hours for our special Member’s double discount events 11/27 and 12/17 4-6 PM. Join us for holiday shopping and light refreshments.

Images Credits:

1. A detail of the painting loss on Frederic Church’s painting of Autumn (1856) as documented during conservation
2. Frederic Church, Autumn (after full conservation), 1856, oil on canvas, 54 x 75 7/8 in., OL.1981.32, Collection Olana State Historic Site, NYSOPRHP
3. A tree in its fall glory last week at Olana

October 27, 2016

Autumn Fires: Fall Foliage Arrives at Olana—Inside and Out
Valerie A. Balint, Interim Director of Collections and Research

“When the autumn fires light up the landscape you will see Nature’s palette set with her most precious and vivid colors. . .” Frederic E. Church to fellow Hudson River School painter, Jervis McEntee, autumn 1874

For some time I have been patiently waiting for the trees to array themselves in their full autumnal splendor, and this past week I was finally rewarded! From my office window on the second floor of the main house I can still see vestiges of the swaths of orange, red and gold, with a glimpse of the majestic Catskill Mountains beyond. These ever-changing views are what Frederic Church was drawn to here, and later used as enticement for his friends and family to visit Olana—saying they were “worth a pilgrimage to see.” And today, hundreds and hundreds of visitors daily make that pilgrimage during these final weeks in October. For many of us who call the Hudson Valley home, we wait for this all year—the cleansing deep crisp of the air, the crystalline skies with brilliant evening effects, and the foliage that is a hallmark of the American northeast. In the 19th century Frederic Church and his Hudson River School compatriots chose to paint iconic landscape scenery in part to establish a national identity tied directly the country’s vast natural splendors. Perhaps none was more recognizable as distinctly “American” than the unique vivid colors associated with fall—colors which do not really occur with such stunning saturation anywhere else.

Decade after decade Church and his family would have enjoyed this seasonal transition. Yet it is on rare occasion that the great painter chose to capture it on canvas, although it was a favored subject by others such as Jasper Crospsy, Jervis McEntee and even Thomas Cole. One exception is his large work entitled simply Autumn (1856), inspired by Vermont locales, which now graces the walls of the East Parlor at Olana. Only several weeks ago, as we celebrated the official start of autumn and our height of season, this painting was returned from a year-long conservation treatment at the New York State Conservation Center and Labs in Waterford, NY. It had been the first time the work was off the wall in fifty years.

At the death of Sally Church in 1964, Olana’s paintings were initially tagged for sale by the auction house Parke-Bernet (now Sotheby’s). The paintings were removed and placed in the hands of a restorer, who touched them up in preparation for sale. Autumn had suffered some painting loss over its lifetime and the restorer overpainted these areas quickly and thickly, obscuring the delicate and masterful hand of Frederic Church in numerous areas of the canvas. Ultimately, with the saving of Olana, and its establishment as a NYS Historic Site in 1966, all of the paintings were returned. Those involved at Olana have been aware of the overpainting on Autumn for many years, but thinking about viable conservation was a daunting task given the initial losses which would be revealed if the overpaint was removed. So the painting stayed where it was.

With last year’s exhibition River Crossings and the placement of contemporary works in historic rooms, there was an opportunity to re-examine this project and the painting was taken down and conservation was undertaken. Paintings Conservator Mary Betlejeski and Frames Conservator Eric Price have both done a magnificent job in returning the painting to its former glory. The original warm glow of the sunlit center and a formerly obscured cloud are just a few of the important elements recovered through conservation. Details of the conservators’ extensive research and thoughtful conservation processes are well covered in an article written by Carole Osterink in Gossips of Rivertown.

It is a joy to have this work back on the wall. It is a unique painting in several ways. A related small oil sketch by Church is on view at nearby Vassar College; many students from the college have visited Olana not only since it opened to the public, but in Church’s time as well. As many know, few of Church’s large-scale studio exhibition works hang in the house. Autumn is a notable exception. As I always say when I am showing a group around, painters never made any money by keeping all their finished canvases on view in their own houses; they were meant to be sold and if one was lucky, the buyer would commission a work to be produced. Autumn was in fact purchased and likely commissioned by Church’s parents, who did this several times throughout his career. They did so in part because they appreciated his talents, but also I suspect to help establish a strong market value for his works.

The work was painted in 1856 on the eve of Church’s meteoric rise to fame and debut on the international art stage. It is the year before his ground-breaking Niagara Falls (National Gallery in D.C.) was produced, which set him on a huge trajectory of mammoth critical acclaim, public appreciation and financial success. Like many of Church’s large canvases, Autumn was exhibited in multiple cities including Hartford, New Haven, Boston, New York City, and Washington, bringing increasing visibility to Church. Some critics doubted whether such brilliant colors could ever be found in nature. Jasper Cropsey would encounter similar skepticism in 1860 when he exhibited his painting Autumn on the Hudson River in London, where he placed actual leaves near the canvas to prove his accuracy. Other writers praised Church’s coloring as truthful and compared him to the great British landscape painter James William Mallord Turner, who Church greatly admired. Autumn remained in Church’s parents’ Hartford home until their deaths in the mid-1880s, at which point Church brought the work back to Olana.

It is fitting that the work be conserved and rehung at Olana as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Olana’s preservation and opening as a public museum. Long after this season’s leaves have fallen to the ground and winter sets in, the vibrant glow of the “autumn fires” Church masterfully captured in this painting will provide of a little piece of the heaven which is fall in the Hudson Valley.

On Saturday, November 26th, the conservators will be at Olana to present a public program on this conservation project. For more information click here.

October 5, 2016

Olana’s 50th – Celebrating the past, envisioning the future

Sean E. Sawyer, Ph.D.
Washburn & Susan Oberwager President, The Olana Partnership

A week from tonight The Olana Partnership will hold our annual Frederic Church Award Gala in New York City. This event is absolutely crucial to our work at Olana – providing over a third of our operating income and sustaining Olana’s curatorial and educational infrastructure. This year’s Gala is also the culmination of our celebration of the 50th anniversary of the saving of Olana – that pivotal, triumphant moment in 1966 when a remarkable coalition of public and private individuals, led by the young art historian David Huntington and the aspiring politician Sam Aldrich, succeeded against great odds in preserving America’s most important and intact artist-designed environment. Please consider joining us next Thursday evening or making a special contribution in honor of those heroic individuals from all walks of life who saved Olana.

This year’s Gala will honor visionaries of Olana’s past and future. We will present the Frederic Church Award to three of Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller’s grandsons in recognition of his crucial role in saving Olana and his broader cultural legacy as a champion of the arts and education. Looking forward to Olana’s next 50 years, we will honor Burn and Susan Oberwager, who are forward thinking supporters of Olana. Raised in Hudson, Burn grew up with an innate appreciation of Olana and the Hudson River School. He joined our Board of Trustees in 2000, and from 2006 to 2009 he served as Chairman. During his tenure he oversaw major capital improvements across the site, and he and Susan led in the creation of an endowment for my position. Right alongside the figures of the 1960s, Burn and Susan are “Olana Visionaries,” envisioning a bold, dynamic future for one of America’s most significant places.

Milestone Pictures3

Governor Rockefeller Signing the Lane-Newcombe Bill, 27 June 1966. Left to right: Assemblyman Clarence Lane, Senator Lloyd Newcomb, Governor Rockefeller and Alexander Aldrich, President of Olana Preservation. Courtesy of the Rockefeller Archive Center.

Burn and Susan (black and white) Photo by Jami Beere

We are marking Olana State Historic Site’s 50th anniversary this year and next with a wide range of public programs and special events. This June 27, 50 years to the day that Gov. Rockefeller signed the legislation saving Olana here on the front steps, over 200 people gathered at that spot for a commemoration, including Sam Aldrich and Trudy Huntington, David’s widow, along with his children, grandchildren, and great-grandson.

Olana, 50, anniversary, huntington, frederic church, FE Church, FEC, Frederic Edwin Church, Celebration, Hudson, Hudson Valley, Hudson River, Catskills Photo by Beth Schneck Photography,

Olana, Anniversary, June, Huntington, Celebration, Frederic Church, Hudson, Hudson Valley, Hudson River School, FE Church, Frederic Edwin Church Photo by Beth Schneck Photography,

Working closely with The Olana Partnership, WMHT has produced a new documentary focused on the saving of Olana, “Frederic Church’s Olana: An American Treasure,” which was broadcast this spring and summer and is now available online.  Prof. David Schuyler, a member of our National Advisory Committee, published a detailed account of the preservation campaign, “Saving Olana,” in The Hudson River Valley Review.

The Olana Partnership’s 50th anniversary projects also include the introduction of regular public tours of Olana’s 250-acre historic landscape and integral viewshed, a fundamental expansion of the visitor experience.  So far in this first season over 750 visitors have participated in historic landscape tours, and we plan on expanding the program in 2017 as well as redoubling our efforts in coordination with New York State Parks to improve the overall visitor experience.

Educational and public programs are another key area of The Olana Partnership’s work. Over the past two years, we have expanded participation in our educational and public programs by 54% and our school field trip participation has grown by an amazing 350%. In 2016 our public programs will serve over 3,500 individuals, and we will host over 1,800 local school children for immersive, hands-on educational experiences at Olana. In 2017 our goals are to expand these numbers to 4,000 individuals participating in public programs and 2,200 children participating in field trips.

Our 50th anniversary celebrations continue next year as we mark the opening of Olana State Historic Site to the public in June 1967. Today Olana is a flagship of the New York State Parks system and one of the most visited historic sites in the state, with over 170,000 visitors in 2015. As such, Olana is a major economic engine for the region, as of 2008 generating $8 million annually in visitor spending and supporting 297 jobs.  I believe we can double these numbers over the next 5 years.  Please join us today and be a part of Olana’s next 50 years.

Please contact Sean Sawyer at / 518.828.1872 to learn more about how you can be part of Olana’s future.

Plein Air at Olana photos by Daniel Region regionsphoto

September 22, 2016

Olana Plein Air: Artist as Inspiration

Valerie Balint
Interim Director of Collections and Research

“It is a particularly lovely Autumn here . . . mainly soft weather toned to suit an Artist’s eye.” Frederic E. Church to painter John Ferguson Weir from Olana, October 1891

This past weekend I had the pleasure of hosting a descendant of Frederic Church’s student Lockwood de Forest. As we stood in front of the main house and took in the sweeping southern view down the hill to the Hudson, I spoke of teacher and pupil sitting side by side painting the same sunset, referencing a pair of plein air oil sketches which remain in Olana’s collection.  In that moment I tried to channel the thrill de Forest must have felt given the opportunity to create beside the master in this spectacular setting.  For there were painters here all the time in Church’s era, friends and students, and of course, the great man himself sketching throughout his 250-acres for over half a century; in all seasons and in all conditions.  When I look at his sketches of views from this property, I can sense his joy and the immediacy of seeking to capture the scenes which surrounded him daily.

As more than twenty competitively selected contemporary painters converge here for Olana’s fifth annual Plein Air celebration (October 7-9), that electric excitement present in the Church sketches will become palpable here again. These talented artists were chosen by a blind jury including both judges from our local Hudson community (artists Joan Damiani and Kenneth Young), and from the national scene (PleinAir Today writer Bob Bahr). Beginning on Friday, October 7 the chosen artists will set out into the landscape with umbrellas, sketchbooks, paint boxes and materials. They will settle in diverse locales and capture the views which resonate with them personally. They will engage with our visitors, many of whom will witness the act of creating a painting for the first time in their lives.  For me, that exchange of artistic process is a highlight of the season here, and a fitting tribute to Church – both as painter and as Olana’s creator.

Olana is a complex intersection of many ideas: Church’s greatest and most personal artistic achievement, a family home, a painter’s studio on the grandest of scales, and today a place for creative inspiration and historical education for the tens of thousands of visitors who come here every year. This year, a reinvigorated Olana Plein Air spearheaded by The Olana’s Partnership Education Department has additional events that create connections between Olana’s many facets. Director of Education Amy Hufnagel and Education Coordinator Elizabeth Schanz have created new and exciting participatory aspects to the event.  They hope that the professional painters at the event will inspire our visitors to try their own hand at landscape art, and so will offer art supplies throughout for visitors to use.  All of us who work here, strive to have Olana be more than a fantastic testament to Hudson River School history – we want to convey to visitors that the creative impulse is universal and within reach of everyone.

On Saturday afternoon (October 8) participating artists will bring their canvases in, wet from the field to Olana’s Wagon House Education Center and place them on view for everyone to enjoy as part of a preview reception.  Attendees can participate in voting for their favorite, as part of the coveted “Viewers’ Choice” award.  Longtime Olana friend and noted landscape painter Jane Bloodgood-Abrams will select several winners based on excellence, and we are happy we are able to support our winning artists with cash awards.

While Olana was the personal center of Frederic Church’s world, Hudson was his and his family’s local community.  It is where they attended religious service, used the local post office, shopped for their shoes, bought groceries, went to the dentist, had photographic portraits made and even where Church bought some of the exotic objects which grace the interiors here. Church’s paintings hung on the walls of the Hudson Opera House during a Sanitary Fair in support of the Union troops for the Civil War. It is fitting then, that we bring our Olana Plein Air celebration into the city the Churches’ were so engaged with.  On Sunday (October 9), our artists will participate in an all-day tent sale in Hudson’s 7th Street Park. We are thrilled that many members of the Hudson Business Coalition have come on board to show their support of our educational programs by offering 2% of the proceeds from their sales that day to the event.

Frederic Church was known to be able to finish an exquisite sketch in 45 minutes!  In a fitting homage, for an hour Sunday afternoon the area around the park will be filled with artists participating in a Quick Draw, one-hour painting competition, which is open to anyone that wishes to register. After the hour is up, all will convene with their rapid-fire masterpieces on the steps of City Hall to be judged by civic leaders Didi Barrett (NYS Assembly member), Tiffany Hamilton (Hudson Mayor) and Gary Schiro (Director of the Hudson Opera House, Hudson’s original City Hall!). There will be a sea of paintings on those steps demonstrating that both Olana and Hudson are a locus of artistic energy. The entire day will be capped off with a reception and winners’ exhibition courtesy of our generous friends at the Caldwell Gallery.

As a curator at Olana I am excited that the tradition of artists painting together in the open air, wherever they are moved to do so, is alive and thriving; embodied in this annual Olana Plein Air event.  Please join us. For more information click here.

August 25, 2016

Fifty Years of Volunteers

Daphne Mayer
Membership and Volunteer Coordinator, The Olana Partnership

Do you want to help Olana?  If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance you do.  We need caring and enthusiastic individuals like you to become Olana volunteers.  Fifty years ago, the fight to save Olana was led by volunteers both young and old.  Without their dedication and effort, Olana’s treasures might have been scattered across the globe and the house and estate parceled off for development.  Volunteers were the lifeblood of Olana back then and they still are today.  If you’ve ever taken a tour of the house or attended one of our events, you’ve probably met one of our wonderful volunteers.  We could not do what we do without their gifts of time and energy.

Autumn, with its brilliant colors, brings visitors in droves to Olana.  With the crowds descending from all over the world to soak in Olana’s beauty and history, this time of year is also the peak of our need for volunteers.  To ensure that we can accommodate as many visitors to the house as possible, we have introduced self-guided touring this year on weekend afternoons.  This has created a new volunteer opportunity – becoming a Room Guide!  It’s a wonderful way to be in the house, sharing your passion for Olana with others without the pressure of giving a full-fledged tour.  Another new volunteer role this year is Olana Ambassador.  Many of our visitors are here for the first time and are unfamiliar with all that Olana has to offer.  As an ambassador, you can help them find their way, let them know about upcoming programs and events, and maybe even suggest a good place for a picnic after their tour.  We have a variety of other ways you can lend a hand, depending on your interests and availability.

Volunteering is a great way to get behind-the-scenes at Olana – to see the hidden nooks and crannies that the average visitor never gets to.  You’ll also get to interact with our passionate and knowledgeable staff and meet other like-minded volunteers.  It’s certainly not all work either – we host a year-end holiday party to thank volunteers for their contributions and plan excursions to nearby museums and sites of interest.  If this sounds like a fun and rewarding experience to you, please contact me here or 518-828-1872 x102 to chat about ways you can get more involved with Olana.  I look forward to hearing from you!

“Clouds Over Olana” by Frederic E. Church, Collection Olana State Historic Site

“A Place to Sit at Olana” by Laurie Olin

“Polychrome Summer House” by Steven Holl

August 11, 2016

Follies, Function & Form
Imagining Olana’s Summer House

Mark Prezorski
Landscape Curator, The Olana Partnership

Jane Smith
Exhibition Co-curator, Spacesmith LLP

The summer house was a feature in early American design, and examples appeared in both private and public gardens, such as New York’s Central Park.  One appears in the 1886 historic “Plan of Olana” and is labeled “Summer House”.  Everything on this plan is more or less accurate, yet there is no documentary evidence to support what Olana’s summer house looked like.  Its design remains a mystery.

Olana is the 250-acre creation of America’s great landscape artist Frederic Church.  It is a three-dimensional work of art – an early “earthwork” and American landscape garden – and it’s widely considered Church’s masterpiece.  Beyond that, Olana possesses a rare genius loci: it exists in the birthplace of America’s first native art movement, the Hudson River School, and Church was a leading figure in this group of artists.  As a large-scale composition, Olana combines varying architectural styles with native woodlands, naturalistic elements, a constructed lake, agricultural fields and far-reaching sublime views.  Olana’s landscape has roots in the Picturesque style, combined with 19th century American conservation and wilderness ideas.

Frederic Church was known for his great compositional paintings, and he often began his artistic process with quick sketches.  In building his house, the process was much the same.  Although he collaborated closely with the architect Calvert Vaux during the early design phase, Church created numerous architectural sketches for Olana’s main house when it was being built.  “I am building a house and am principally my own Architect,” wrote Church in 1871.  “I give directions all day and draw plans and working drawings all night.”  (There are hundreds of architectural sketches in Olana’s collection.)

As a young man in 1845, Church sketched the Catskill Mountain view from Olana’s hillside, years before he purchased the property and embarked on Olana’s larger creation.  Church later became involved in every aspect of Olana’s large-scale designed landscape, which incorporated distant views.   In 1887 he wrote: “I am busy landscape architecturing!”

In honor of Frederic Church’s diverse talents, The Olana Partnership has collaborated with the New York chapters of the American Institute of Architects (AIANY) and the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA-NY) to create an exhibition which features 21 visionary designers. Each designer contributed a  concept sketch to address what Olana’s summer house could be, much in the way Church sketched to experiment with design ideas.  Follies, Function & Form: Imagining Olana’s Summer House presents architects and landscape architects as artists.

Architects and landscape architects often approach projects from different perspectives, yet there is a symbiotic relationship between structures and their surrounding landscapes.  This show serves as a celebration of Olana and Frederic Church, and it also celebrates the two interrelated fields of architecture and landscape architecture.

The concept sketches in this exhibition vary in style and execution, yet each designer demonstrates a high level of talent and generosity of spirit, and this is evident in every sketch.   Reacting to Olana’s historic setting and iconic topography, the 21 works reflect a 21st century approach to environmental design.  America’s past informs its future, and here the future converses with the past.  Each concept sketch revolves around a central spatial idea and challenge, and as a group, these collected works reflect Frederic Church’s legacy and Olana’s deep sense of place.

This design exhibition runs from August 14 through November 13 in the Coachman’s House Gallery.  To learn more click here.


Details of an architectural fragment, exterior stencil decoration, tile and a Suzani textile, all from the Olana Collection, New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation

July 14, 2016

The Art of Conversation: Curatorial Practice at Olana
Valerie A. Balint, Interim Director of Collections and Research

“I think it would amuse you . . . to see the medley in the box-for there are rugs-armour-stuffs-curiosities . . . Arab spears-beads from Jerusalem-stones from Petra and 10,000 other things.” Frederic Church to William Henry Osborn, February 4, 1869

The word curator is derived from the Latin word “cura,” which means care. Frederic Church is a curator’s dream—he had a great passion for objects that is ever present at Olana.  He created beautiful and interesting things, whether his enviable paintings, the fantastical main house or the breathtaking landscape.  He amassed and artfully arranged an extraordinary array of objects from all over the world, bringing some back from his numerous excursions abroad and buying many more over the years that he lived in the place he called “The Center of the World.”  It is the job of every curator, including myself and my colleague archivist Ida Brier, to provide loving stewardship of and continued research into the items under our care.  It is the hope of every curator that the care and scholarly inquire they provide will insure the legacy of those same objects for future generations.   This is a driving force of the work.

But equally important is the desire to bring these objects and the stories linked to them “alive” for the contemporary visitor and viewer; for the things that surround them while they are at Olana to resonate with them, and to ignite inspiration, inquisitiveness, or personal association (and ideally all three simultaneously!)  To make these myriad things and the people who created and/or amassed them relevant to their own lives.  And ultimately, to spark an engaging dialogue, an ongoing conversation in which the visitor is an active participant.

Of course curators have the collaborative forces of the education and interpretation staffs to assist them in these efforts which lead to exhibitions, public programming and dynamic tours throughout Olana’s 250 acres.  And it is wonderful to see these efforts pay thousand-fold when visitors comment on how their experience here has moved them in some way.

The true joy of being a curator here is the unique opportunity to extend this conversation beyond the boundaries of the house itself.  This week I was fortunate to FACETIME with the 25 enthusiasts who are attending our annual youth camp Panorama.  Through the wonders of modern technology I was able to give them real-time access to collections storage and show them historic items owned by the Church family, which are rarely in view.  We discussed proper handling of objects, how they were made and used, and what they meant to the Churches – but most important – how those things were interesting to the campers themselves.  Their questions were thoughtful and their observations insightful.  We all created a memory together – it was an exchange – all topped off by a madcap virtual exploration of the hidden attic spaces once the playground of Frederic Church’s own children.  It is my sincere hope that these children have become inspired by what they have experienced and will one day become future artists, collectors, and even stewards of important cultural places like Olana.

An equally invigorating aspect of curatorial work is the opportunity to conduct discourse with those who have already lived long and incredible lives, who bring those rich encounters to discussions about Church, art, social history and any imaginable topic.  I recently completed my fifth semester teaching adults in the Bard Lifetime Learning program – the model of what continuing education can be.  I taught about exploration and scientific inquiry in the mid-nineteenth century using Frederic Church’s travels and his resulting paintings as departure points. My class of 27 was extremely varied; from retired businesspeople to artists, teachers and nurses.  I learned so much from students who had actually traveled to the distant places Church had explored.  One student had taken the class because when she had studied art history 50 years ago classes on Hudson River School paintings were not available.  My star pupil now travels throughout the northeast seeking to see Church and his colleagues’ works in every single museum he can find.  He shares his discoveries with me even now that class is over.  He has been bitten by the art bug for sure, and I am thrilled.

Some of the most unique conversations I have are with living artists, who come to do research at Olana for potential projects.  And I had the recent pleasure of serving as juror for the Woodstock Artists’ Association and Museum, one of the oldest continuing artist-run organizations of its kind.  The submissions were robust and the talent was in full force—artists still uniquely inspired by the region which first brought Church to study here over 160 years ago, some paying homage to his landscape painting tradition, and others to the views he created here at Olana.  The day after that amazing experience I reviewed the artists’ applications for our annual Plein Air event, which will be held this October.  As always it was a thrill to see artists most directly committed to Church’s tradition of painting in the field, who wish to spend time painting in the same landscape Church spent decades perfecting and enjoying.

These are just a few examples of how curatorial work is enriched through dynamic participation.  As Olana celebrates its 50th anniversary as a public institution, we are reaching out to Church family descendants, relatives and those who helped save Olana for oral histories.  And your personal memories are important too.  We are collecting personal recollections of the “Olana experience.”  In the 21st century we have embraced the internet age, hoping that you will take a moment to upload you own memories to our dedicated website at and help us keep the conversation going.

June 29, 2016

Live in the Landscape & Summer Edu-tainment at OLANA
Amy Hufnagel, Director of Education

The contemporary British painter David Hockney says, “people tend to forget that play is serious.” To this notion I add journalist Sydney Harris’s writing “the purpose of education is to turn mirrors into windows.” Then I feel compelled to layer a contraction of the two: Olana’s staff works daily to create “serious and playful windows” for the region’s education.

“What would Frederic Church do?” The hypothesized answers to this question often lead to programmatic decisions.  This year we wanted to link summer music and film nights to curatorial themes of Church’s travels and scientist Alexander von Humboldt, while designing very populist events that would appeal to a wide general public audience.  So we distilled the themes in the gallery to ideas of travel for enlightenment, time travel and sci-fi, artistic & adventure travel, and as a counter point home. We imagine that these are topics that Fred (and Fred’s children) would have enjoyed if they were here with us today.

Live in the Landscape in June took up time travel, sci-fi, travel for adventure and enlightenment and health, as well as notions of home. Over 120 people attended last Friday’s event, and the music by Illusha Tsinadze & Company was as stellar as the evening’s perfect summer weather. The next two events in the series are scheduled for the last Fridays of July and August, and at these events The Olana Partnership gives the community a free, all ages, series of serious and playful windows that immerse visitors in the Olana landscape and skyscape, all while enjoying live music and films.  You can come for any part of the evening from music, to stars and planets, to a film or two (at 8:30 or 10:30pm). What would Frederic Church do? He would organize all his gear and spend the whole summer evening outside under the celestial heavens.

In celebration of Olana’s 50th Anniversary as a NY State Park, we also have carriage rides available between 4pm and sunset on the last Friday (through October). Interested parties can reserve places for $25 a person, or couples can reserve the entire carriage for 2 people for $75. Space for this aspect of our summer evenings is very limited so advance registration is encouraged.

On Live in the Landscape evenings, the east lawn becomes a summer family friendly playground enabling the only nights of the summer when the general public can, for free, enjoy the site ‘til midnight. As anyone who has attended will attest, summer nights are magical on Olana’s hilltop and there are so few evenings when we can be here after dark; Live in the Landscape is an event where nature and twilight are married to live music, star-gazing, and outdoor films making serious summer play!  In June we had visitors attend whose age ranged from 3 to 80 and everyone had a lovely evening. So gather your friends and family and plan for this edutainment evening. We think this is one of those moments where no one will realize there is education embedded in all the serious play that will be going on!

Program outline:

Friday, July 29; 6pm/Free/All Ages (Saturday rain date)

6pm – Trio of wind instrument students from Bard College Conservatory playing classical music selected from the Church family music collection.

8:15pm – Home (G)

10:30pm – Art House (not rated)

Star-gaze with Mid-Hudson Astronomical Association


Friday, August 26; 6pm/Free/All Ages (Saturday rain date)

6pm – Music by 77th Regimental Balladeers- (Civil War costumed musicians and a visit from orator/impersonator Mark Twain who visited Olana)

8:15pm – Night at the Museum (PG)

10:30pm – 180 Degrees South (not rated)

Star-gaze with Mid-Hudson Astronomical Association


Turn of the century novelist Dorothy West writes, “there is no life that does not contribute to history” and we certainly agree with that sentiment as Olana highlights its 2016 anniversary. Join us as we celebrate the last 50 years by envisioning the next 50 years. We think attendance at these Live in the Landscape events this year will help us be sure that serious play and free public engagement is central to the history we build for the next generation. See you there!

Program Details: FREE and appropriate for all ages with parental supervision. No registration required. Carriage rides require advance registration and a fee. Site opens at 5:30pm; music begins around 6pm. Program continues until midnight.

Packing list: We suggest good walking shoes, a cooler, sweatshirts, chairs and blankets.

Weather concerns:  This program will be delayed to Saturday of the same weekend for rain only. Please check the website ( for weather alerts. We will move the program to its rain date at noon the day of the program. If we call the rain date, everything occurs on the same schedule, just a day delay.  More information: or by calling 518-828-1872 x105

Photo by Andy Wainwright

May 19, 2016

These are a few of my Favorite Things
Kimberly Flook, Olana Historic Site Manager

I never really grasped the scope of 80,000+ objects until I stood in a room during self-guided touring at Olana. I had worked at Olana for over three years, giving tours and moving through these spaces almost daily, yet, as I stood there, my eye caught pieces that I had never really seen before.

I have my favorites (the monkey skull in the curio cabinet), and I know our greatest hits (El Khasne, Petra) like the back of my hand, but I began to really appreciate the other pieces in the collection, realizing that each brought much more to the story than just acting as background or adding atmosphere.

With this new appreciation in mind, we are launching a series of themed highlight handouts, giving the staff and friends of Olana a chance to bring these objects to the forefront. As part of our 50th anniversary celebration, every three months in 2016-17, we will present a new theme and list of objects to help our guests discover the treasures of Olana.

Please enjoy the “Top Things You May Have Missed at Olana” and keep an eye out for new theme lists to come.

May 6, 2016

Humboldt and Church
An excerpt from the essay written by Andrea Wulf, author of “The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt’s New World,” for the “Capturing the Cosmos” exhibition brochure

Humboldt insisted that traveling provided the knowledge that was needed to understand the natural world. He urged scientists to leave their desks and books in order to explore. They had to look at flora, fauna, rock strata, and climates globally — otherwise they would be like those geologists who constructed the entire world “according to the shape of the nearest hills surrounding them,” he wrote in his Essay on the Geography of Plants (1807). His call to action for artists was similar: “It would be an enterprise worthy of a great artist to study the aspect and character of all these vegetable groups, not merely in hothouses,” Humboldt declared in his book Views of Nature (1849), “but in their native grandeur in the tropical zone.”

More than any other painter, Church answered this appeal. Such was his admiration (his library at the house at Olana still holds many of Humboldt’s books) that he retraced his hero’s footsteps. Whereas other American artists embarked on the Grand Tour through Europe, Church traveled to South America. He first went in 1853 for almost seven months and then again four years later, for a little longer than two months — “to refresh my memory with Tropical scenery,” as he wrote to a friend before his departure in 1857.[i] In addition to Humboldt’s own descriptions, Church most certainly used his copy of Heinrich Klencke’s early biography of Humboldt (1852) to work out his route through Colombia, Ecuador, and later Mexico — from a trip up the Magdalena River to Honda and Bogotá, and then across the Andes to Quito and Guayaquil. Church saw the same waterfalls and landscapes and climbed the same volcanoes (though never as high as the Prussian explorer). He even sought out one hacienda near Quito where Humboldt had stayed half a century previously and where Church commissioned the local painter Rafael Salas to make a copy of a Humboldt portrait (which he later displayed in his studio in New York and in the sitting room at his home at Olana).

Church also sketched Chimborazo, a volcano some 100 miles south of Quito that had been essential to Humboldt’s ideas. The explorer had climbed Chimborazo in June 1802, when it was believed to be the highest mountain in the world. As Humboldt had stood at the top of the world, his vision of nature clarified. He had realized, for example, that the journey from Quito and then up Chimborazo was like a botanical journey from the Equator to the poles. Where other scientists had viewed plants through the narrow lens of classification, he saw vegetation zones (stacked one on top of the other). In the valleys, he had seen palms and humid bamboo forests; further up, he had found conifers and oaks similar to those in Europe; and even higher, there were alpine plants like those he had collected in Switzerland and lichen that reminded him of specimens from Lapland. Here was nature as a global force with corresponding climate zones across continents. Church was deeply influenced by Humboldt’s descriptions. This, for example, is what Church wrote at the spectacular Tequendama Falls: “At the top of the fall you are in what is the cold country with trees and plants and fruits of temperate climates; at the bottom grow palms, oranges etc.”[ii] Church saw South America through the lens of Humboldt’s writing and then translated it into his paintings —The Heart of the Andes showed everything from the lush tropical species in the valley and the temperate zone higher up to the snow covered peaks of the mountains.

Like Humboldt, Church was at first almost overwhelmed by what he saw: the plants, he wrote to his mother shortly after his arrival in Colombia, “would be the making of a florist,”[iii] some blossoms were “magnificent” and other plants so large that they were of “monstrous size.” Even the flowers on the roadside “would have enchanted a Botanist.”[iv] The birds sang “sweet songs” and had “beautiful plumage,” while some of the mountains rose “in perpendicular Masses like Cathedrals.”[v] Church delighted in what he called in his diary “the great wonders of Nature.”[vi]

Also like Humboldt, he fretted over his luggage. Humboldt was forever concerned about his delicate scientific instruments (he traveled with forty-two instruments that were all individually packed into protective velvet-lined boxes), while Church was worried about his portfolios, paints, and brushes. Without being able to sketch, Church anxiously waited for eight days in the small river port of Honda, about 100 miles northwest of Bogotá, for his bags. When he finally was able to recover his luggage, he wrote in his diary that his “spirits were much raised.”[vii]

Church returned to the United States with sketches of the majestic volcanoes Cotopaxi, Chimborazo, Cayambe, and Pichincha, as well as with several dozen botanical drawings. During the 1850s and sixties, he painted several stunning South American scenes. His most famous painting, though, was The Heart of the Andes, which he began after his second South American trip. More than anywhere else, Church combined beauty with the most meticulous geological, botanical, and scientific detail — this was Humboldt’s concept of interconnectedness writ large on canvas. Even in its enormous size, The Heart of the Andes followed Humboldt’s ideas, for in his book Cosmos, he had written about “the improvement in landscape painting on a scale of large dimensions.” The painting transported the viewer into the wilderness of South America. Church was, the New York Times declared, the “artistic Humboldt of the new world.”

Cosmos, which made Humboldt internationally famous, was the book that influenced Church most. When the first volume was published in 1845, it became an instant bestseller and was soon translated into a dozen languages. With Cosmos, Humboldt took his readers on an incredible journey from distant nebulae to the core of earth, from geography to poetry, from the migration of the human races to the magical beauty of the aurora borealis. At a time when scientists began to crawl into their narrowing disciplines, Humboldt wrote a book that did exactly the opposite — he brought everything together. It was a description of nature pulsating with life — a “wonderful web of organic life,” as he called it.

[i] F.E. Church to William Henry Osborn, February 23, 1857, Collection Princeton University Libraries.

[ii] F. E. Church to Eliza Church, July 7, 1853, Courtesy, The Winterthur Library: Joseph Downs Collection of Manuscripts and Printed Ephemera (hereafter Courtesy, The Winterthur

Library), [Collection 66/57 x 18.36] as cited in Kevin J. Avery, Church’s Great Picture: The Heart of the Andes (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1993), p. 17.

[iii] F.E. Church to Eliza Church, April 28,1853, Courtesy, The Winterthur Library [57 x 18.29a].

[iv] F. E. Church to Joseph Church, June 9, 1853, Courtesy, The Winterthur Library [57 x 18.35].

[v] F. E. Church to Eliza Church, April 28, 1853, [57 x 18.29a]; and May 25,1853, [57 x 18.34], both Courtesy, The Winterthur Library.

[vi] F. E. Church, Diary of 1853 trip to South America (originally written in Spanish), entry for August 26,1853, Collection Olana State Historic Site, OL.1980.27.

[vii] Ibid, entry for May 30,1853.

Image 1: Margaret Saliske and Tony Thompson photo by Mark Prezorski

Image 2: View from Across the Lake in the Spring photo by Melanie Hasbrook

Image 3:  Robert and Emily de Forest, “Isabel Charlotte (Downie) Church and her Grandmother, Emma Carnes,” October 11, 1884, albumen print, 8 1/2 x 6 1/2 in.  Collection Olana State Historic Site, NYS OPRHP.

April 21, 2016

Mark Prezorski, Landscape Curator

“Because I have always enjoyed the juxtaposition of architecture and landscape, I see Olana’s carriage roads as architecture. They function the way the windows in Olana’s house do by arranging your position and relationship to the landscape. What is revealed from each window or turn in the road — the window framing, the road dividing – is all manipulated by Mr. Church.”
Margaret Saliske, Artist and Hudson Resident

Starting in 1860 and continuing until his death in 1900, Frederic Church created Olana’s 250 acres as a large-scale composition.   Much in the way a painter steps forward to adjust color and form on canvas, Church periodically focused on building and shaping Olana’s landscape over many years and many seasons.   Olana evolved through thoughtful and incremental changes by Church – the shaping of the lake, the addition of architectural elements, tree-planting and earth-moving.  Today Olana is considered Frederic Church’s masterwork, and its landscape represents Church’s evolution as an artist.

In 1884 Church wrote: “I have made about 1-3/4 miles of road this season, opening entirely new and beautiful views. I can make more and better landscapes in this way than by tampering with canvas and paint in the studio.”  Church had been America’s most famous painter in his earlier career, and it’s telling that he compared this talent to his later road-making efforts at Olana.   In many ways, the carriage roads at Olana – more than 5 miles, all designed by Church – are the lens through which Olana can best be seen and experienced.   Church’s carriage roads trace Olana’s ridges, zigzag up and through woodlands, circumscribe meadows and a lake.  Church’s roads approach architectural features at certain angles, they rise past orchard fields, and they provide far-reaching views in all directions.  To understand Olana as an experiential work of landscape art, the carriage roads are the key to the puzzle.

For those fortunate enough to live close to Olana, none of this is a secret.  Olana’s historic landscape is also a public park, open every day of the year, free of charge, morning to sunset.  On any given day, some of Olana’s supporters can be seen walking along these carriage roads, connecting with nature and enjoying the views.  Yet for many who visit Olana throughout the year (approximately 170,000 visitors annually), these carriage roads have remained largely undiscovered.  Landscape maps were made available, specialty programs were developed, but guided tours were only offered in the main house.  The majority of Olana’s visitors tended to drive directly to the top of the hill, spend most of their time in or near the main house, then leave.  Much of Olana’s landscape remained out of sight, out of mind.

Timed with the 50th anniversary of the saving of Olana from near-destruction in 1966, The Olana Partnership is launching a new public program in 2016:  Historic Landscape Tours along Frederic Church’s carriage roads.  A collaboration between The Olana Partnership’s curatorial and education departments, these tours were developed to offer visitors three variations: guided walking tours, guided tours in an electric open-air vehicle, and self-guided tours through a podcast.  These tours will provide a holistic view of Frederic Church and Olana – past, present and future.  Topics include art and design, the native woodlands and meadows, the farm at Olana, the constructed lake, Church’s original painting studio, the mingle garden, architectural elements, regional ecology, viewshed protection, and Olana’s ongoing preservation story through public and private support.  All three tours culminate with an arrival experience at the main house for Olana’s singular Hudson Valley view.  Please join us this year to discover Frederic Church’s Olana.

Olana’s Historic Landscape Tours begin on May 20, 2016.

Party of young adults (including the Church children) gathered in the Court Hall, by an unknown photographer, c. 1889-90, OL.1987.437, Olana Collection

Olana’s original guides and hosts Mary Ann Bikes, Alice Gold, Kay Sterns, Ruby Funk, Ruth Karmer and Mary Mazzacano in the Court Hall, c. 1960s, Olana Collection

Gardener, Charles Frier in the Kitchen Garden near the barn complex at Olana,  photo by John Eberle, September 29, 1906, OL.1987.131.32a, Olana Collection

April 7, 2016

A Taste of History
Elizabeth Schanz, Education Coordinator with Valerie Balint, Associate Curator

“We have delicious things all out of our own gardens . . . and wonderful floating islands and such with Mexican dulces with odd names, forms of guava and nougat.” Guest and author Susan Hale writing from Olana, 1884

We are what we eat. Cliché . . . I know.  However, when trying to understand a historical moment or individual we must pause to consider what was being consumed and the political and social implications of one’s cuisine.

This past summer while trying to get a better sense of Frederic Church and his family’s daily life at Olana, I began asking questions about the food and drinks served in the home. I was immediately pointed to speak with Valerie Balint, The Olana Partnership’s Associate Curator.  As a social historian and classically-trained cook, Valerie has dedicated a portion of her work over the past 15 years at Olana researching the collection of letters revealing the social lives and personalities of the Church family, the handwritten and newspaper-clipped receipts assembled by Olana’s servants (today referred to as recipes), and the dining and drinking customs of the 19th century.  Over the past several years she and her colleague NYS Curator Amanda Massie have presented numerous public lectures and food tastings at museums and conferences related to dining in Church’s era.

As Valerie and I began chatting, she provided me with such a wealth of information that I knew it needed to be shared; I wanted to infuse her expertise into a program which would allow our public audiences to understand the Church family in a whole new way. . .through their taste buds.  This was the birth of The Tasty History Series—a sequence of programs where Valerie and Amanda will set the historical stage for an evening of sampling of treats made by Chef Julie Gale, owner of At the Kitchen Table Cooking School, paired with creative cocktails invented by Marianne Courville, owner of The Hudson Standard. In honor of Olana’s 50th Anniversary, the series has been split into three programs to celebrate three distinct and pivotal years in our history—1872 the year the house was built at Olana, 1966 the year the house was saved from destruction, and 2016 celebrating 50 years of accomplishment, as well as future plans—restoration, exhibitions and education.  Our desire is to evoke entertaining at the Church family home, and in the greater Hudson Valley— to illustrate historic trends and continuums—while giving people a chance to enjoy a yummy and fun evening at Olana.

Our first call to action was to create a menu in collaboration with our historical documents and Chef Julie.  We began our initial research by poring through the pages of a menu planning book of printed clippings likely compiled by Jane the cook, who served the Church family for over 20 years.  We also reviewed some of recipes given to the Churches by their friends and family such as caramel custard from the wife of Mr. Church’s patron William Henry Osborn, and calves liver “á la mode” from the home of the sculptor Erastus Dow Palmer—never fear—we did not select that as one of our inspirations!  While looking over these 19th-century culinary treats, some may find it hard to believe that we found a recipe for spaghetti sauce which called for a few teaspoons of curry; however, Indian food was commonplace in the era in part due to our fascination with Queen Victoria and her Empress of India designation in 1877.  As a result exotic spices were all the rage and were frequently integrated into western dishes.

Together we created a list of ingredients that were used repeatedly throughout the book; we also paid special attention to the myriad fruit and vegetable crops grown on Olana’s farm.  Certain ingredients, such as cow’s tongue were left out despite being a family delicacy, but other ingredients appeared so frequently they could not be ignored— sorrel being an unexpected example. We also considered the types of foods which might have been served at the numerous soirees held to help raise funds to save Olana in the 1960’s and thought about the renaissance of “food to table” taking place in our region right now.

Sitting down with Chef Julie with the list, she was able to riff off of it to create three separate delicious menus, all of which get at the heart of each specific era.  At each program, guests will get to make and taste three hors d’oeuvres and a dessert; for example, for dessert during the 1966 program Chef Julie will be serving a Jell-O mold made with wine.  (Although you may think of Jell-O simply as a short-lived fad in the 1960’s and a démodé dessert . . . you are mistaken! You will have to come to the program to learn about rich historical significance of this sweet, jiggly substance.)

After Chef Julie completed the menus, we passed them along to Marianne who paired two alcoholic beverages for each program. One of our personal favorites from her menu is the Gentleman’s Punch, a lemon, rum and wine punch which is being served at the first program celebrating 1872 (punches were extremely popular in the 19th century, with roots tracing to Colonial America).  This drink will be served with a fresh take on the recipe we found for “Humboldt Pudding,” a lemon tart with slivered almonds and apricot sauce.  We found this recipe when we were on one of the final pages of the Church cookbook; and we knew it was something that had to be included since this year’s Sharp Family Gallery exhibition Capturing the Cosmos explores the influence of the great German Naturalist Alexander von Humboldt on Frederic Church.

We hope these programs bring a bit of the nineteenth-century and mid-century back to life and that they inspire attendees to create some of their own culinary memories.

The Tasty History Series will take place on Saturday, May 28, Saturday, June 25, and Saturday, July 23 from 3:00-5:00pm. Tables will be set near the flower garden close to the Main House, overlooking the Catskill Mountains.  In the case of rain the program will take place in the Wagon House Education Center (please check online the day of the program for weather-related updates).  To purchase your tickets, please click here.

Photo by Amy Hufnagel

March 24, 2016

Olana’s Best Friends
By Paul Banks, Interpretive Program Assistant

Did you take a tour of the house at Olana last year? If so, you’re in good company. Last year nearly 28,000 people toured the house. That’s rather impressive when you consider that’s roughly equal to all the other tours given by New York State historic sites last year. That’s right. Olana alone accounts for about half the tours given in the 35 sites in the state of New York! How do we do it? Well, we have a reservation system that streamlines the process and helps us plan our staffing level, and we have self-guided tours on weekends, which allows more casual perusal of the home, and we have a small paid staff both of state employees and of The Olana Partnership that chip in to give tours. But what really makes this possible is all the hard work and dedication of our great volunteers. Volunteers make all the difference at Olana and they always have!

50 years ago a group of dedicated volunteers set about to save Olana from the wrecking ball. Think about that. In 1966 most Americans were focused on the future. Futurists wowed people with talk of sending a man to the moon. They promised labor saving technology (like the Facsimile machine) would reduce the work week to fewer and fewer hours. But the future of our history was looking fairly bleak as there was so little support for historic properties. Fortunately, that was not the case everywhere nor with everyone, and Olana was spared from oblivion. Volunteers, more than anyone else, saved Olana. They held fund raisers and gave tours and did whatever else they could to raise money until they had succeeded.

Volunteers remain a crucial component in the saving of Olana today. For even today, historic sites are white elephants in a state or county budget. They are usually the oldest, most unique places in most states and counties. That is why they are worth saving, but that comes at a cost. They are also often the most expensive to keep up. And in these times of super-tight government budgets, what bridges the gap between government finances and failure is the volunteer. They are the unsung heroes of historic sites throughout the world.

Our longest serving volunteer started in 1982 and she is still going strong today. We have volunteers who drive over an hour each way to get here. We have volunteers with full time jobs who drop by on weekends to lend a hand for a few hours. Last year, we had two volunteers who each donated close to 250 hours of their time. Overall, volunteers donated over 1,100 hours in total to Olana in 2015. Can you imagine how many fewer people would have been able to tour the house or how many fewer events we could hold–not to forget all the other help volunteers give from being board members to chairing fundraisers? Olana is popular because it’s an amazing place, but Olana is possible because of great volunteers.

This year we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the saving of Olana, and it’s important to keep in mind who made this place what it is today. Frederic Church? Sure! And our volunteers carry forward the vision of Frederic Church every day! Saving Olana was largely a volunteer effort. Running it today isn’t what it was back then, but the volunteer component is still key. So while we don’t have 25 hour work weeks, and we no longer go to the moon, luckily, Olana and a few other historic sites are still here. So the next time you’re at Olana and see a volunteer in action, please show them a little gratitude, or even better, become one yourself.

Members of The Olana Partnership Board and National Advisory Committee gather for lunch on Olana’s Ridge Road in May 2015.

February 25, 2016

With a Little Help From Our Friends: Olana’s National Advisory Committee
By Sean Sawyer, Washburn and Susan Oberwager President

It’s great to have good friends, especially when they are brilliant, worldly, and well-placed AND willing to share their experience and expertise freely. Olana has just such a group of allies in our National Advisory Committee (NAC), who are listed below. This is an estimable assembly of national leaders in the fields of American art (art history and contemporary artists), history, historic preservation, decorative arts, and landscape design and history. NAC members constitute a standing advisory group to which The Partnership can turn for advice on a wide range of matters, both individually and as a group.

For instance, since starting as TOP’s President last May, I’ve discussed preservation and viewshed stewardship issues with Wint Aldrich, Bonnie Burnham, and George McDaniel, who is a national leader in “whole place preservation,” a fundamental concept for Olana. I’ve sought advice on exhibition development and museum operations from Betsy Broun, Barry Harwood, Frank Kelly, and Laurie Norton Moffatt. Stephen Hannock was the Co-Curator of last year’s River Crossings: Contemporary Art Comes Home exhibition, and Valerie Hegarty’s Picnic with Downy Woodpecker and Table and Chair with Pileated Woodpecker were featured works at Olana; both artists are central to our engagement with contemporary art. David Schuyler has led the way in celebrating Olana’s 50th anniversary by writing an essay that documents Olana’s remarkable, nationally-significant preservation story and will be published in a forthcoming issue of the Hudson River Valley Review. Moreover, David constantly advances Olana as a focus of both research and philanthropy, as do many of his NAC colleagues.

As a group, the NAC holds an Annual Meeting focused on discussing issues of larger significance for the direction of our work. This year’s meeting took place last month and concentrated on how the revitalization of Olana’s historic farm complex could enhance and expand TOP’s mission. It was a wide-ranging discussion from which individual conversations are continuing, and I will be visiting Leslie Bowman at Monticello and Alec Webb at Shelburne Farms in the near future to see their historic farms first-hand.

TOP’s work to preserve and interpret Olana in partnership with NYS Parks has many elements, and I am extremely grateful and fortunate to have such a great group of wise friends to help guide our work and to learn from.

National Advisory Committee Members
J. Winthrop Aldrich, Former NY State Deputy Commissioner for Historic Preservation
Leslie Greene Bowman, President & Chief Executive of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation
Elizabeth Broun, Director of the Smithsonian American Art Museum
Bonnie Burnham, President Emerita of World Monuments Fund
Linda S. Ferber, Senior Art Historian and Museum Director Emerita at the New-York Historical Society
Stephen Hannock, Artist
Barry R. Harwood, Curator of Decorative Arts at The Brooklyn Museum
Inge Heckel, Former President of the New York School of Interior Design
Valerie Hegarty, Artist
Franklin Kelly, Deputy Director and Chief Curator at the National Gallery of Art
George McDaniel, President Emeritus of Drayton Hall
Laurie Norton Moffatt, Director/CEO of the Norman Rockwell Museum
Elizabeth Barlow Rogers, President of the Foundation for Landscape Studies
David Schuyler, Arthur and Katherine Shadek Professor of Humanities and American Studies at Franklin & Marshall College
Theodore E. Stebbins, Jr., Curator of American Art, Emeritus, Harvard Art Museums
Elliot S. Vesell, Evan Pugh Professor Emeritus of Pharmacology, and Professor of Medicine
Alec Webb, President of Shelburne Farms

Photos: Amy Hufnagel

February 11, 2016

Teaching AWE and WONDER
Amy Hufnagel
Director of Education

“Thank you for showing us Frederic Church’s estate Olana. I liked it when Mark showed us the stone wall and what it looked like before it was fixed. Ms. Amy I really liked the house tour, Church’s art, the views, and the activity when we got to make a 3D paper Olana. Thank you for helping us to understand all of Olana.” –Owen, 3rd Grade, Albany (11/5/15)

So what is a workday for someone seeking to teach awe and wonder? A recent grant awarded to The Olana Partnership and the Thomas Cole National Historic Site can help illustrate as grants are a lot of administration and reporting work mixed with hopeful and visionary goal setting. This year the National Park system celebrates its 100th Anniversary, and The White House is promoting an initiative called Every Kid in a Park. The National Park Foundation granted Olana and the Thomas Cole House $9,000 to underwrite busing for any 4th grade classroom in the region (first come first served) because they are aware that schools are struggling to fund field trips, and that exposure to historic structures and publicly owned parks is the first step in people feeling awed enough to preserve them. The Register-Star’s Publisher Mark Vinciguerra recently wrote:

“In the 1800s American artists made the long journey to Europe to hone their skills. In 2016, young students will be able to travel a much shorter distance to experience the unique art those geniuses created. Nine-thousand dollars doesn’t seem like a lot, but in the hands of Olana and the Cole House it is truly a fortune.” (1/19/16)

Resources, learning standards and curriculum, as well as access to quality learning opportunities are driving Presidential initiatives, national funding priorities, NY State education goals, and local museum partnerships. And while most of these policies seem very far away from minds of youth and adults as they stare out the window of Olana across the landscape, the Hudson River, and up to the Catskill Mountain range this one slice of land can help build a culture that never stops protecting and preserving its natural and national treasures.

Post Script: While we are working hard with schools to build a culture that values conservation and preservation, our education work does not end with the dismissal of schools for summer break. On February 1, 2016 we released the program schedule for our popular Panorama: Week long Summer Programs for kids ages 6-13 (to take place in July). We sent emails to the parents and children who attended last year’s program, and we had remarkable registration returns with parent’s writing things like, “The girls are very excited to come play with you all again this summer!” and “Count our children in, the program looks amazing again.” We are hopeful grandparents, aunties and uncles and cousins, a well as parents will add Panorama to summer plans. Panorama is an uber extended field trip where learning is embedded in every activity, although we are pretty sure the kids have no idea that is what is happening!

Photos: The winter table display at Olana, both photos by Carri Manchester

January 14, 2016

Blooms in the Rooms
Valerie Balint
Associate Curator

Visitors who venture in from the grey and cold for a house tour during these winter months are greeted by the warmth and cheer of a large variety of replica floral arrangements on display throughout the furnished interiors— a touchstone back to the lush, vibrant and fragrant landscape which lies just beyond the doors for most of the year. The whole of Olana can be thought of as one giant garden created in the naturalistic-style which looks so effortless, but which Church spent 40 years perfecting. But within that totality were a series of floral cutting gardens and the large kitchen garden replete with fruits and vegetables, which were a part of daily life for both the Church family and their guests.

One of the wonderful things about being a curator here is the ability to tell so many rich stories using the vast and intact collection of objects, letters, photographs and other archival materials which comprise our historic collections. Of course there are the more obvious narratives about Frederic Church as a major American landscape artist, his masterful design of Olana, and his fantastic adventures around the globe— but projects like the reproduction floral and fruit displays allow for the discussion of Olana as a family home bustling with people living their everyday lives. These displays can also give historical context about decorating practices of the era, what types of flowers were available during this period, and opportunities to talk about what was being grown on the Churches’ farm.

Some of the arrangements on display throughout the house right now might surprise. Mums, which have become synonymous with autumn today, were considered a fashionable winter and wedding flower for the wealthy. Not yet hybridized to withstand frost, in Church’s time they were a hot-house flower and therefore had infinitely more cachet than today. In fact, when Theodore Church brought his bride to Olana for their honeymoon in 1899, the family and staff decorated the house with “a white chrysanthemum and a candle on every windowsill of the house.”

Similarly carnations displayed on their own, and not as what has become the common FDT bouquet filler, were also a prized festive flower, as were red roses. Orchids and similar exotics were common to float as single blossoms in water, or to keep refreshed by placing them on a bed of wet moss. Forcing flowers such as hyacinth and paperwhite narcissus were displayed throughout the winter, as were forced carrots and sweet potatoes, which were appreciated for their ornamental foliage. Cyclamen, which remains popular today, was also a typical flowering plant to put out. Branches and berries which could be found on one’s own property were frequently used as decorative elements.

The emerging commercial floral industry meant the Churches could purchase flowers from the local florists with greenhouses such as Brocksbank & Allen, nurserymen located on Prospect Hill in Hudson. Flowers and foliage could also be purchased in New York City and shipped by Railroad Express to be picked up in Hudson or Greenport. Some flowers, such as lily-of-the–valley and violets, were grown in greenhouses around the region, as in the massive violet greenhouses located in nearby Rhinebeck at this time.
In the early 1890s Louis built his mother a small greenhouse where these types of flowers could be cultivated. We also know that Church’s close friend and patron William Henry Osborn had extensive greenhouses on his property in Garrison and on numerous occasions sent Frederic and Isabel “great” boxes of flowers during the colder months.

As winter gave way to spring and the seasons unfolded, a series of plants would come into bloom in the Olana gardens and, in turn, were cut and used to decorate the house. While Mrs. Church had staff and a gardener to oversee cultivation and harvest, she like most women of her time arranged all the flowers of her household with her own hands.

In fact, a quote from a visitor in 1884 “Exquisite flowers arranged only by Mrs. Church are always on the table,” was the inspiration for the 2003 floral rotation project which was the genesis for this display. Working with Historic Horticulturist Ellen McClelland Lesser, I assisted her in researching and creating a report, plan and arrangements to rotate six times throughout the year. For curatorial reasons, artificial or “silk” flowers have been used, but through Ellen’s dedication and expertise she insured these matched, as closely as possible, the size, shape, and color of late 19th century varieties.

Our displays culminate in the dining room where the elaborate and abundant arrangement of both fruit and flowers was commonplace during this period. Currently, the impressive silver epergne with its crystal globes spilling over with flowers and fruit is an obvious choice for a festive dinner. The inclusion of pomegranates and a pineapple might raise an eyebrow— but the advent of the refrigerated boxcar allowed for the transport of all types of exotic foodstuffs, and made them increasingly available to families throughout America.

Perhaps the most rewarding aspect of working on these displays is the knowledge that they are as historically accurate as the other things that visitors experience at Olana. I also believe they help capture Isabel’s lifelong passion for flowers, as best expressed in her son Louis Church’s letter to her in 1896: “I could not remember for the life of me all the kinds of flowers you like so I ordered the entire list from beginning to end, more or less. . .”

I hope visitors will enjoy these homages to Isabel as I change them throughout the year.

December 10, 2015

Frederic Church: Collector and Shopper
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.

Come visit us at The Olana Museum Shop, located in the historic stables.

Unique – Hand Made – One of a Kind – Vintage
Come Visit The Olana Museum Shop Saturday, December 12th, 2015
10:00 AM – 7:00 PM
Member’s Double Discount
Do Your Holiday Shopping and Receive 30% off of your Purchase

December 1, 2015

The Transformation of Olana’s Landscape in 2015
Mark Prezorski, Landscape Curator

It’s rare that construction for an Olana landscape restoration project fits so perfectly within one calendar year, but Olana’s Main House Environs project demonstrates what a difference 12 short months can make. The Olana Partnership had been awarded a $343,000 New York State Environmental Protection fund grant for this project, and the design phase was completed last year. The project focused on some key landscape and architectural elements around Olana’s main house. The Olana Partnership, in cooperation with the New York State Office of Parks Recreation & Historic Presentation, worked closely with our consultants at Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects to fine-tune the project scope and prepare for the construction phase in 2015. Our landscape architects based their design choices on research through Olana’s archival material, and they factored in issues related to historic preservation, environmental factors, sustainability, and Olana’s use as a public park. Construction documents were developed, and the entire project schedule was based on seasonal factors throughout the year.

The Olana Partnership administered and managed this project, and we raised the required $114,000 in matching funds so that the project could proceed. This landscape transformation has proceeded on schedule, and the change between last year and this year is dramatic and fully evident: the Hudson River is once again visible from Olana’s main house, the steep slope beneath the main house has been re-established based on a sustainable and native planting plan, and the large spiraling retaining wall which elevates visitors to the front door of Olana’s main house is once again in great condition. This project was very much a collaborative effort, and we are grateful to the many people who lent their expertise over this past year, and we thank our supporters who make transformations like this possible at Olana.


In January, for the first time in many years, Olana’s iconic view from the main house was restored.


Invasive and second-growth plant material was selectively removed. Based on careful review, specific trees were preserved.


Hudson Hills Contracting completed this phase of construction, timed with the winter season due to wildlife nesting and habitat concerns.


In early spring, our contractor Mark Howard at Howard Landscape and Watergarden began the next phase of construction and preparation along this steep slope.


As spring turned to early summer, the hillside was hydroseeded with a native warm and cool season grass mixture, approved by the Environmental Management Bureau within NYS Parks.


The grasses established during the summer months, and the project area was monitored for returning invasives, particularly Ailanthus.


The project focus next shifted to the Olana’s spiraling retaining wall, a massive landscape architectural feature above the flower garden.


Robert Silman Associates had completed a structural analysis on the retaining wall, and this was done in cooperation with the NYS Historic Preservation Office and the NYS archaeologist.


While we were relieved to learn that the historic wall was structurally sound, significant restoration work was needed, including repointing, stone replacement and mortar repair.


The wall restoration work continued throughout the summer. Periodic site visits included Chris Flagg of the NYS Historic Preservation Office and John Monaghan of Swift Construction, which handled the masonry restoration work under the guidance of Robert Silman Associates and Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects.


The wall restoration was successfully completed by late summer, and improvement of Olana’s historic flower garden close to the retaining wall is part of the larger project. Our gardener Mary Hughes Pizza of Home Grown Perennials handled this phase in cooperation with our landscape architects.


By the end of summer, the invasives were brought under control, and the native warm and cool season grasses had established beneath the main house.


The view from the lower carriage road during Groundswell was radically different this year, and the John Cage Trust with Seth Christman took advantage of this new perspective during our exhibition event on September 19.


When fall arrived, we were ready to focus on our native planting plan, developed by Nelson Byrd Woltz and the horticulturalist Patrick Cullina.


More than 2,000 plants were installed, and the native tree selection included Redbud, Witch-hazel, Birch and Sassafras.


Our contractor Mark Howard managed this construction phase, especially challenging on such a steep slope, and the native shrub selection included Dogwood, Spicebush and Elderberry.


More than 1,000 small Christmas Ferns were planted and massed across the hillside, though their full presence won’t be felt until they further establish.


Special thanks go to Cherie Miller-Schwartz of Preservation Planning & Project Management for help with grant administration, as well as to our New York State colleagues at Olana, Kimberly Flook and Tim Dodge, who helped and facilitated throughout. This project involved many people, and it was truly a public/private effort. The full extent of this restoration project won’t be fully felt until things leaf out and bloom next year, in 2016, and it’s fitting that this will all emerge during Olana’s big anniversary year — the 50th anniversary of when Olana was saved from near-destruction and entered its next phase as one of America’s great public works of art.

Photos by Mark Prezorski

Image 1:  Jim Hamilton

Image 2: Martin Puryear

Image 3: Jason Rosenfeld, Ph.D.

Image 4: Lucy Rockefeller Waletzky, M.D.

Image 5: Governor Andrew Cuomo’s NY Parks 2020

November 11, 2015

Celebrating Olana’s Genii at a Gala Evening in the City
Sean E. Sawyer, Ph.D.
Washburn and Susan Oberwager President, The Olana Partnership

Next Tuesday evening, November 17, The Olana Partnership will host the Frederic E. Church Award Gala at the Metropolitan Club in New York City. This event has been a year in the planning and requires an extraordinary amount of my time and that of a number of other staff members. Why do we do it?

Well, the very pragmatic answer is that the Gala is our principal annual fundraising event, responsible for over 60% of our operating income. It supports all aspects of the Partnership’s work – from the curators in the house and landscape, who organize exhibitions and oversee the restoration and conservation of the collections, to our educational and public programs. Its success is absolutely critical to our work.

Yet the Frederic E. Church Award Gala is much more than an occasion to wine and dine for a very good cause. It is also a key opportunity to recognize extraordinary individuals, whose genius advances the fields of endeavor so central to Church’s work – American art, culture, landscape design, and environmental conservation. These are the genii – the guardian spirits of Olana.

This year’s Gala launches Olana’s 50th Anniversary Season, and we have a veritable crop of genii – five Frederic Church Award recipients who represent the breadth of Olana’s story – past, present, and future. Jim Hamilton’s legal work was crucial to the success of the public-private effort that saved Olana from development and preserved it as a historic site in 1966. Martin Puryear has been called America’s greatest living sculptor, and his magnificent work, Question, was the centerpiece of this year’s River Crossings exhibition at Olana. Prof. Jason Rosenfeld is the erudite and articulate Co-Curator of River Crossings. Together, Martin and Jason embody the thought, energy, and spirit of aesthetic innovation that defines Olana today.

Our future resides in the power of the public-private partnership that preserved Olana, has restored its glory inside and out, and, over the next decade, will bring the whole to life. Dr. Lucy Rockefeller Waletzky embodies this fundamental bond between private philanthropy and public good. In her role as Chair of the New York State Council of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation, she provides crucial support for Olana’s ongoing restoration, conservation and interpretation as a public property. We will also recognize the public side of our partnership in Governor Andrew Cuomo’s New York Parks 2020 Plan, which has reversed the trend of deteriorating parks, providing a multi-year commitment to leverage $900 million in public and private funding for State Parks from 2012 to 2020, the largest capital infusion in the history of State Parks. New York Parks 2020 holds the potential to realize a comprehensive vision for Olana’s future that will include restoring the remaining elements of Church’s architecture and landscape, particularly the historic farm complex, and dramatically enhance the visitor experience across the property.

I hope that you’ll find this as inspiring as I do, and it’s not to late to join us for an extraordinary evening in celebration and support of Olana.

Drawing, Landscape with Sunset, 1860–70, and Untitled Sketch, 1866. Both works from the Cooper Hewitt Museum Collection; digital archive. Artist: Frederic Edwin Church. Gift of Louis P. Church, 1917.

Binoculars Case and Birding Books from Olana’s Historic Collections, Photo: © 2003 Nicholas Whitman,

Portrait of Karl Loatman provided by Loatman; a Loatman photo of landscape from Olana as he tried to retrace the geography of Olana to link with Church’s sketches and the NASA software.

October 21, 2015

Proof that Church’s “Moon in Crepuscular Rays” actually was done from Olana Hill, and is a record setting sighting of an Old Moon
Amy Hufnagel, Director of Education

What does that title mean? If you are unsure, like me, then here is an insider view of how I learned more about Frederic Church’s 1866 moon sketches, paintings, old moons, and Crepuscular Rays with the help of my colleagues and the general public!

Few celestial sights are as arresting and beautiful as a slender crescent moon. Honestly, I can say that was about the end of my appreciation and knowledge until Karl Loatman visited Olana. Now I see the crescent moon, the history of moon phases, and Church’s moon sketches and paintings, in new terms.

Karl Loatman is the Director of the Mid-Hudson Astronomical Association and resides in Poughkeepsie, NY. Loatman visits Olana a few times a year and is one of many amateur astronomers who work to keep the Astronomical Association, sky appreciation, and land preservation (to reduce light pollution) thriving regionally. Loatman is a great resource to our audiences here at Olana during our very popular and on-going Skyscape Exploration series.

During one of his presentations at the Wagon House Education Center, Mr. Loatman used Frederic Church’s “Landscape with Sunset” (as Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian named it) or “Moon in a Crepuscular Ray” (as Atmospheric Optics, UK named it) to illustrate Church’s interest in astronomy. But that evening an attendee told Mr. Loatman that art historians had doubts about where this had been painted and what it was; historians thought the painting was a study for his painting Aurora Borealis or a sunset seen by Church during his travels in Ecuador and Jamaica. This opinion jolted Loatman to continue researching and join many who have speculated about Church and his interest in the sky (in scientific terms). What is compelling to me as the Director of Education is how an attendee from a public program connected his inquiry from the Education Department with the Curatorial team. Associate Curator Valerie Balint and Archivist Ida Brier reviewed Olana’s archives to answer Mr. Loatman’s interesting questions: Did Frederic Church have binoculars? Was he at Olana in November and December of 1866? What is known about Church’s interest and access to books about optics or merchants selling optical instruments? The link between the public program, the collection, and Loatman’s ideas started to come into focus.

When it comes to sighting the thinnest waning old crescent in the dusk sky — we are no longer talking about a bewitching sight that you might notice casually as with the new moon I spoke of earlier. Spotting such a Moon is no accident — you have to plan for it very carefully and pay close attention to the astronomical conditions under which a record sighting is even possible. The record for sighting the oldest moon was 16 hours and 12 minutes before new moon by André Danjon on August 13, 1931 with a small telescope. But perhaps there is an interesting exception to this, because Loatman is very sure Frederic Church set an earlier record of only 8 hours and 5 minutes (whether he knew how rare it was or not).

Loatman says “the new waxing crescent moon never appears to the right of the sunset point in the Northern hemisphere (this would happen only in a place like Ecuador, Mexico or other southern hemisphere locations). The rays cannot be anti-crepuscular because crescent moons do not appear opposite the sun.” Loatman goes on to say, “Church’s portrayals of nature were usually so accurate that it is difficult to believe that he got it wrong (crescent moon and Crepuscular Rays at same time).” And the more time Loatman spent looking deeply at Church’s art, the more he was sure it was painted from Olana and Church was recording a rare astronomical occurrence. (Notation: Crepuscular rays are defined as “rays of sun light in low light skies. The name comes from their frequent occurrences during the twilight hours around dawn and dusk, when the contrasts between light and dark are the most obvious. Crepuscular comes from the Latin word “crepusculum”, meaning “twilight.”)

To aid his inquiry, Loatman learned about a NASA software system that was recently added to Stellarium, a free, downloadable program that creates a realistic view, in 3D, of the sky. Using this new moon related software he could view every moon cycle, according to days and dates and times, backwards through the 19th century. He looked at titles and dates of paintings, checked out more books from the library to figure out where things were painted, on what date, and linked Frederic Church’s painting, through software, to the actual rare astronomical occurrences of new moons and Crepuscular Rays.

Upon checking moon positions from NASA calculations it became apparent that the new Moon of December 7th, 1866 was a prime suspect. “River through Mountain Valley with Sky and Crescent Moon, November 1866” depicted the start of the same lunar month, also painted by Church; which meant, to Loatman, that Church was very intentionally painting moon phases, not a singular moon event. “It’s just too perfectly lined up to be ignored.” To Loatman, it looks like Church’s paintings and sketches are a record for sighting a waning crescent moon, just 8 hours and 5 minutes before the new Moon of December 7th, 1866. The only way Church could have done this is the luck that the moon was in the dark crepuscular ray shadow and he must have had a decent pair of binoculars or telescope.

“Church’s sketch depicts the South Western sky at 4:20 PM December 6th 1866 from Olana Hill (two years before he built the house). This was just as the Sun set and the Moon was to follow a bit less than 6 degrees after it. Typical binoculars can see a patch of sky about 6 or 7 degrees wide. (Notation: This is based on an analysis with Stellarium software and NASA Phases of the Moon of that art work and “The Hudson Valley and the Catskills from Olana” with sunset positions, as well as “Landscape of mountain valley, river, moon; notations, dated November 1866″ says Loatman. This correlated well with the sketches of the “Setting Positions at Olana by Frederic Church 6/19/1890 to 1/1/1891″and the photo of Church’s binocular case. (OL.1977.172 OL.1977.148 OL.1977.187)

I feel glee when a public program inspires the public to think deeply about ideas that inspired Church. I am also excited to add a personal understanding of moon observations to the list of clouds, comets, aura borealis, and sun activities that Church documented with the scientific reverence that I have spent my life admiring. It is ideal when there is synergy between the public, partner organizations, public programs, curatorial expertise, and new ideas about Church and his world. Visit one of our public programs soon and imagine what might happen next!

Frederic Edwin Church, Twilight, A Sketch, 1858, oil on canvas, 8 ¼ x 12 ¼ in., OL.1981.8, Collection Olana State Historic Site, NYSOPRHP

Olana, Hudson, NY. November 2012. Photo by Kimberly Flook

Frederic Edwin Church, Niagara, 1857, oil on canvas, overall: 101.6 × 229.9 cm (40 × 90 1/2 in.) framed: 164.5 × 286.4 × 17.8 cm (64 3/4 × 112 3/4 × 7 in.), Corcoran Collection (Museum Purchase, Gallery Fund), 2014.79.10

Horseshoe Falls, Niagara, Canada. November 2014. Photo by Kimberly Flook

Frederic Edwin Church, Obersee, Germany, July 1868, oil on paper mounted to canvas, 13 1/8 x 20 ¼ in., OL.1981.31, Collection Olana State Historic Site, NYSOPRHP

Obersee, Berchtesgaden, Germany. August 2015. Photo by Joseph Flook.

October 7, 2015

Following in Frederic’s Footsteps
Kimberly Flook, Historic Site Manager, Olana State Historic Site

When I joined as the new director, I had no questions about the artistry of Olana, but my major interests were focused on the less obvious aspects and objects of the site. Trained as a Mesoamerican archaeologist, it was the Aztec and Toltec figures in the studio, Frederic Church’s paintbrushes and palettes, and the ruins of the 18th century farmhouse that called to me rather than the Persian inspired home and its fantastic studies and paintings of American beauty.

I hardly believed that these images had basis in the real world, with their fantastic colors and perfect viewpoints. In fact, I did not really believe that Church’s images reflected any reality except that which was purely in the artist’s imagination.

But soon my mind was enlightened. I had lived on the edges of the original property at Olana for almost a year, before Frederic’s talent and truthfulness in art was brought home to me by a perfect Hudson Valley sunset.

Once I had seen the light (literally), I revisited all of Church’s works with a new eye and became desperate to see his reality for myself. Much like Frederic and his family, I have always had the traveling bug, so recently, whenever possible, as I travel, I visit the locations that Church painted in the hopes of seeing in person what he so expertly captured in his sketches and on his canvases.

Last year, on my way to see Olana’s traveling exhibit, Maine Sublime: Frederic Church’s Landscape of Mount Desert and Mount Katahdin at the Cleveland Museum of Art, my husband and I stopped off at Niagara Falls.
Of course, the falls have changed greatly since Frederic visited them in the 19th century, but I still fancy that even though I visited when the falls were somewhat frozen, I was still able to capture at least a glimmer of what he showed the world in his Niagara, currently at the National Gallery in Washington D.C. using only my trusty cell phone.

More recently, I was lucky enough to travel to Bavaria and visit Berchtesgaden, an area that the Church’s visited in July and August of 1868, during their epic trip through the East and across Europe in the late 1860s. Much like I once distrusted Frederic Church’s gorgeous sunsets, I was all set to believe that he had not quite captured the reality of the waters of Lake Königssee and Obersee in Bavaria.

It seemed impossible that nature could supply such pigments and perfect stillness, but once again, Church was proven a truthful master.

So far my travels have also brought one last aspect of Frederic Church’s art into clarity for me: no matter how good my camera, only a talented artist can capture the true nature of nature. As much as these photos remind me of what I saw during my travels, they are often only a pale reflection of the true colors of these natural beauties. A great artist’s paintbrush comes much closer to capturing the myriad colors of the world, as seen by the naked eye, but never quite captured by a camera, at least when it is in my hands.

Jervis McEntee, Apple Blossoms, 1872, oil on canvas laid down on board, 7 7/8 x 11 7/8 in., Private collection, courtesy of Debra Force Fine Art

Jervis McEntee, View from the Studio Window, oil painting, 6 3/8 x 11 ¼ in., unknown date, Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Herbert L. Shultz, Jr.

Napoleon Sarony, Jervis McEntee ((1828-1891), c. 1867, albumen silver print, The Century Association, New York

Jervis McEntee, Campsite (Church’s Camp at Millinocket), October 1879, oil on canvas, Collection Olana State Historic Site

September 24, 2015

Jervis McEntee and Church – Reflections on a Forty-Year Friendship
Valerie Balint, Associate Curator

This year Hudson River School devotees have the pleasure of attending two retrospective exhibitions about Rondout/Kingston native Jervis McEntee (1828-1891)—Jervis McEntee: Kingston’s Hudson River School Artist (Friends of Historic Kingston) and Jervis McEntee: Painter-Poet of the Hudson River School (Dorsky Museum at SUNY New Paltz). I was asked to lecture for the Friends of Historic Kingston about the association between Jervis McEntee and Frederic Church. It allowed me the chance to examine an affiliation which is often summarily defined by the fact that McEntee began his own professional career as a pupil of Church.

For scholars the journals Jervis McEntee kept almost daily between 1872 and 1890 have long provided a wealth of information about the American Art scene during this period. But as the curators of both McEntee exhibitions have aptly pointed out, most researchers in the past have read “at” the diaries looking for specific references rather than reading entirely through them for an overall picture of the artist and his life. I confess that in my fifteen years at Olana, I have often used this resource in this same, admittedly restrictive way —cherry picking those snippets about Church and Olana that informed a particular project. In preparing for my lecture I read through the Church-related diary entries chronologically and supplemented this with letters between Church and McEntee in the Olana research collection. The result was a better understanding of a rich and complex friendship between these two men which sustained over their entire adult lives—a forty year bond with interesting ebbs and flows. While the commentary about Church is one-sided, (Church is not a diarist), one gains insight none-the-less into these distinctly unique men and their relationship.

They met as young men and matured into elder statesmen of the American art scene, connected not only through their artistic pursuits, but socially as well. While they were perhaps not each other’s most intimate friend, the longevity of their relationship is interesting given their markedly different temperaments. Jervis was fun loving, but could be shy and unassuming, while Church was known by all for his confidence and ease in almost any situation.

Jervis McEntee’s first formal artistic instruction was as Church’s student in the winter of 1850-51. Church’s own star was already on the rise, and he was exhibiting and selling works with success. After his tutelage McEntee went to work in his hometown of Roundout (Kingston) in the flour and feed business and assisting on his parent’s farm. In 1854 he married Gertude Sawyer, and built a home on his parent’s property. In direct contrast to this domestic bliss, at this same time Church was embarking on expeditions to South America, from which the resulting paintings made him the most highly paid and critically acclaimed artist in the country.

The two artists artistically converged again in the late 1850s in the purpose built 10th Street Studio Building in New York which became the center of American artistic life. By this time McEntee had dedicated himself to becoming a professional artist. In 1860, Church married Isabel Carnes and bought a working farm just outside of Hudson, NY. The two artists had their family homes just under 30 miles from each other, and their City studios within the same building. While Church traveled with his family to Europe and the Middle East in 1867-69, McEntee, with his wife, was on his own sojourn with close friend, painter Sanford Gifford. They all spent the winter together in Rome; Jervis and Frederic secured studios in the same building. McEntee’s resulting paintings exhibit poetic sky effects perhaps influenced by proximity to the great celestial painter. A highlight of the trip is a collaborative painting The Arch of Titus which they completed together with figurative painter George Healy.

Prior to the trip, Church had secured the hilltop on his property, and knew he planned to build a significant house upon his return. McEntee’s brother-in-law Calvert Vaux was ultimately employed as architect for the Persian-inspired fantasy at Olana. It is interesting to speculate about whether while in Rome, conversations occurred between McEntee and Church about Vaux as the ideal person for the job. However it happened Vaux was hired and McEntee was frequently with him on visits to check on the progress of the building; his diary contains detailed and valuable descriptions about the process. Jervis commented specifically on the “finest views of the river and mountains in the country” from its location, and that it looked like an artist’s work; clearly understanding what Church was trying to achieve.

Beyond entries about frequent visits to Olana, there are many references to their intersecting lives in New York City. The Churches and the McEntees often attended theatrical performances together, apparently a mutual interest of both couples. Jervis also wrote descriptive passages about dining with Church and his patrons, visiting Church’s relatives and socializing with other artists. Attending art exhibitions and discussion of each other’s work were constant pursuits.

Some of the most interesting entries relate to McEntee’s frustration with Church relative to his involvement at the National Academy of Design, where both men had been elected members. McEntee was often disappointed that Church did not use his influence and fame to assist the Academy, but was instead focused on exhibiting singular works at other venues to advance his own career.

Over ensuing years Church often invited McEntee to accompany him on sketching excursions. There are accounts of several of these trips including the 1879 trip to Maine where McEntee made the painting of the Churches’ rustic campsite which is currently on loan to the exhibition at the Dorsky. This work was likely executed in exchange for Church covering McEntee’s expenses on the trip—an arrangement often offered up by Church, which at times made Jervis extremely uncomfortable.

As they grew older, each expressed touching concern after each other’s health. McEntee recognized the burden of Church’s ever increasing arthritis saying, “He has everything but his health – greatest of all possessions.” Due in large part to Church’s insistence that he needed McEntee’s help with daily dressing, Jervis agreed to accompany him on one of the annual winter trips to Mexico.

Jervis continued to visit Olana, including the period during which Church was building the studio wing in the late 1880s. By this time the extensive landscape Church designed was fairly complete and McEntee recognized that Church had spent decades working on the entire entity, and that all had been achieved with considerable skill.

One entry touches upon the core of their complex relationship, and the differences in both men’s situation and fundamental temperament:
“I could not help contrasting the ease with which he carries out his own plans with my own fears in incurring even the slightest expense . . . . Church is a remarkable man. He thoroughly believes in himself and has no end of energy and ambition . . . There is no reason he should be kind and attentive to me but he always has.”

Despite different personalities, the men shared many mutual interests, including a profound love of nature, agrarian living and the Hudson Valley, where each called home throughout their adult lives.

Both witnessed each other’s personal and professional growth over the span of many decades. Each has become inextricably linked with their home on the Hudson. One can imagine them together sketching— a complex friendship forged in the crucible of those early student days of McEntee with Church, and carefully revealed through his own notebooks.

Japanther, 2013 Groundswell participants in the archives in the main house at Olana photo by Mark Prezorski

Groundswell Picnic Area 2013 photo by Beth Schneck Photography

Geographica, Helene Lesterlin and Jack Magai at Groundswell 2014 photo by Antoine Lutens, 2014

September 10, 2015

Mark Prezorski, Landscape Curator

There are many reasons why Groundswell happens at Olana, but these reasons may not be obvious to those who don’t know the full story of America’s great landscape artist, Frederic Church. For example, some people mistakenly think that Olana is “just a house museum”, but the reality is that Olana is much more than that. Olana is Church’s 250-acre creation, fully designed as an experience around 360-degree views. The main house is one element in Frederic Church’s larger landscape composition, which integrates native woodlands and meadows, architecture, water, landforms and – at certain times – singular atmospheric effects. The way to experience this creation is to move through Olana along Church’s carriage roads, which is how Groundswell audience members experience our one-day exhibition event. In 1884 Church wrote: “I have made about 1-3/4 miles of road this season, opening entirely new and beautiful views. I can make more and better landscapes in this way than by tampering with canvas and paint in the studio.”

The Olana Partnership first connected with Wave Farm’s WGXC 90.7-FM as part of our ongoing efforts to work with regional arts organizations, particularly those doing notable work in the surrounding community. This may seem like an improbable pairing – an organization which focuses on the restoration and interpretation of a historic site paired with an organization which specializes in transmission arts, among other things – but this partnership has been ideal in many ways. Olana’s large-scale design lends itself beautifully to sound-based installations and performative works, and the road system becomes a circuit through which art and artists are encountered in a social way. The interaction of the audience with each other along Church’s “pleasure drives” is also a key part of Groundswell, particularly in the main picnic area.

2015 marks the third annual iteration of our award-winning exhibition event. Each artist works with Wave Farm and The Olana Partnership throughout the process, and this is all done in close cooperation with New York State Parks. Eight separate project “zones” are established along Olana’s Ridge Road, and the artists work to select the ideal project zone to showcase their particular vision. All artists are introduced to Olana and its themes, both historical concepts as well as contemporary preservation efforts, and the artists are invited to do research in Olana’s extensive archives, as needed. The Olana Partnership’s curatorial staff assists with this research, and Wave Farm takes a lead role in producing this exhibition event, including project content and installation needs. Without the combined strengths of our two organizations, Groundswell would not exist in this form.

Groundswell is always a revelation because of the innovative artists who participate. Their references to Frederic Church might include literal elements (direct quotes and archival material) to more obscure forms of interpretation, and the resulting works can range from the profound to challenging to humorous. Once installed and enacted, the works are often a surprise, even to those familiar with the process. This year’s artists are John Cage Trust with Seth Chrisman, John Cleater, Brian Dewan, Gambletron, Tyson Hauf, Bernd Klug, LoVid, Douglas Irving Repetto, and Quintron. We are also highlighting the work of a photographer, Alon Koppel, and a new regional restaurant, Daughters Fare and Ale. Groundswell is always a spectacle, an experience, and a chance to eat great food and encounter original art against unrivaled Hudson Valley views.

Photos by Beth Schneck Photography, 2015

August 13, 2015

Celebrating Aesthetic Innovation in Contact with the Natural World
Sean E. Sawyer, Washburn & Susan Oberwager President

I want to thank the over 300 guests at Olana’s Summer Party: “Icebergs in August” this past Saturday, who joined us for a mid-summer’s evening of sociability in the Hudson Valley focused on celebrating Frederic Church’s quest for aesthetic innovation in contact with the natural world. This year we reveled in his 1861 masterwork “The Icebergs,” and in my remarks I shared its remarkable story.

In June of 1859, Frederic Church, America’s most celebrated artist, and his good friend Louis Legrand Noble set off for Newfoundland and Labrador in search of icebergs. Church was seeking to capture the sublime, terrible beauty of these natural wonders, particularly their endlessly varied, sculptural forms, and the changing effects of light and weather on their enormous icy masses. As this passage from Noble’s published journal of their trip so vividly describes, these aesthetic adventurers discovered allegorical power in the observation of color most especially:

“Church finds great difficulty in painting, from the motion of the boat; … The moments for which we have been waiting are now passing, and the berg is immersed in almost supernatural splendors. The white alpine peak rises out of a field of delicate purple, fading out on one edge into pale sky-blue. Every instant changes the qualities of the colors. They flit from tint to tint, and dissolve into other hues perpetually, and with a rapidity impossible to describe or paint. … The blue and the purple pass up into peach and pink. Now it blushes in the last look of the sun .. tints of the roseate birds of the south – the complexion of the roses of Damascus. In this delicious dye it stands embalmed – only for a minute, though; for not the softest dove-colors steal into the changing glory, and turn it all into light and shade of the whitest satin. The bright green waves are toiling to wash it whiter, as they roll up from the violet sea, and explode in foam along the broad alabaster. Power and Beauty, hand in hand, bathing the bosom of Purity.”

Louis Legrand Noble, After Icebergs with a Painter, (1861), pp. 176-177.
Following this frigid pilgrimage, Church returned to his studio in Manhattan – Olana was still a dream at this time – and painted the “The Icebergs” over the next 18 months. On April 12, 1861, two weeks before he was to exhibit it publicly, Confederate forces attacked Fort Sumter; Church retitled the painting “The North” and dedicated the exhibition proceeds to the Patriotic Fund. However, he displayed it with his characteristic showmanship, in a room fitted with an emerald green carpet, purple maroon walls and sofas, and with the painting at far end of room in rich, dark frame – creating the effect, as commented on by reviewers, of looking out a window onto the North Atlantic.

Church subsequently exhibited the painting in Boston and London, where it was purchased by Sir Edward Watkin, a railway magnate with interests in Canada, and faded from public view. Indeed, “The Icebergs”—a massive 6’ by 9’ canvas — disappeared for 116 years. When Church’s reputation revived in the 1960s, the hunt for the painting picked up. In fact, it had been hiding in plain sight, in the upper stair hall of Watkin’s former country house, now a boys’ reform school on the outskirts of Manchester.

The painting’s re-discovery in 1979, followed by its sale at Sotheby’s for $2.5million, stunned the art world. It not only smashed the record for an American painting ($980,000 for Caleb Bingham’s “The Jolly Flatboatman”) but also surpassed the record for the highest price paid at an American auction for any work of art ($2.3 million for Rembrandt’s “Aristotle Contemplating the Bust of Homer”). The buyers were Lamar and Norma Hunt, who donated the painting to the Dallas Museum of Art, where it has occupied pride of place for the past three decades. The great success of “The Icebergs” revived international attention for the Hudson River School and Frederic Church

The essence of “Icebergs in August” was the celebration of the artist’s vision in contact with the splendors of nature, to my mind this is the fundamental essence of the Hudson Valley, the birthplace of American art – of art centered on the American condition from wilderness to industrial decline and renaissance through aesthetic and entrepreneurial endeavor. I am new to this spectacular environment and feel privileged to be living and working here. I look forward to getting to know you all in the coming months and years. 2016 will mark 50 years of public ownership of Olana, and The Olana Partnership and New York State Parks will have very exciting news to share about the future of the property and its engagement with our communities’ social, economic, and cultural needs.

I thank all our individual and business supporters, with special thanks to our Presenting Sponsor, Stair Auctioneers & Appraisers, for making “Icebergs in August” possible. I greatly appreciate our dedicated staff at the Partnership and New York State Parks for their tireless work and endless creativity. Last but far from least, I want to express our immense gratitude to our Event Co-Chairs Christine Jones and Bobby Beard; our Auction Co-Chairs Erika Clark and Michael Bennett Levinson; Event Designer Beau Simons; Event Lighting Designer Nick Haddad; and Ice Artist Sean Taylor of Capital City Carvers.

If you were unable to join us this year, please look for The 50th Anniversary Olana Summer Party next year.

July 1, 2015

The Rich Legacy of Plein Air Painting at Olana

Valerie A. Balint, Associate Curator

“The Great Book of Nature is always open and there are no blank leaves for the artist.” – Frederic Church, 1898

To be at Olana on any given day is to sense Church’s own celebratory voice for all he created here, and to feel it echoed in the contemporary artists who come here for their own inspiration.

One of the great joys of working here is witnessing artists painting within the same majestic landscape Frederic Church spent forty years perfecting. . Artists today are welcome to paint and draw throughout the property of one of the most iconic American painters, 365 days a year, without permit or fee. Throughout the year, these modern-day adventurers can be seen with their signature paint boxes, artist umbrellas and stools set out, ready to brave the elements in pursuit of capturing that perfect view.

The artists I encounter at Olana frequently express their kinship with Church and those in his Hudson River School circle. They appreciate the legacy he has left in its varied beauty, and enthusiastically welcome the opportunity to portray the landscape infused with their unique artistic expression.  Their completed works parallel the breadth of Church’s sketches still in the Olana collection, from detailed botanical studies to gestural, vivid sunsets containing colors which seem almost impossible— but make us catch our breath when we witness them in the sky.

The sheer variety of artists may surprise. There are the very young and the seasoned veterans; local artists who come almost weekly in the summer and those who make annual pilgrimages from far away.  Well-known professionals paint beside admitted hobbyists. Whether classic figurative painter or abstract practitioner, all are together enjoying the time‑honored tradition of painting outside.  They follow in the footsteps of Church’s friends and students who were often invited to paint in the Olana landscape, and who, on occasion sat alongside the artist seeking to capture the vista of the nearby Catskill Mountains and Hudson River.

Plein Air painting at Olana culminates once a year in a multi-day event hosted in collaboration with the Columbia County Council on the Arts.  Thirty artists competitively selected will commune at Olana July, 9, 10 and 11 to paint spectacular scenes of their choosing. They will paint and converse with each other, enjoying a unique collegial atmosphere reminiscent of sketching expeditions undertaken by their predecessors more than 150 years ago. The reception and live auction of wet canvases which occurs on Saturday, July 11 from 4-6 pm at the Wagon House Education Center allows for networking among colleagues and patrons, and provides attendees with a chance to go home with an original artwork.

It has been exciting to watch the event grow over the past four years, continually attracting talented artists—both longtime friends of Olana, and those newly discovering its wonders.  Their presence enlivens and energizes.  Visitors stop and talk, many engaging in conversation with a living artist for the first time.  The painters know they are involved in something bigger than themselves, part of a continuum begun when Church first sketched on the long southwest slope as a 19-year-old student of Thomas Cole.

2015 at Olana honors contemporary art and its continued connection to Frederic Church’s greatest artistic masterpiece through a variety of innovative exhibitions. Plein Air at Olana: Creating Landscapes Within the Landscape complements the presentations of River Crossings and Groundswell, all showing the sheer diversity of contemporary artistic expression, while providing links to the past and bridges to today’s art.

As Olana approaches the 50th year anniversary of its initial saving next year, it is important to remember that artists play a pivotal role in ensuring its relevance and growth for the next 50 years, and beyond.   Make plans to attend Plein Air at Olana and support those who are so vital to our efforts.

Plein Air Painters at Olana. Photos: © Daniel Region

June 17, 2015
Amy Hufnagel, Director of Education

“It feels like the artists, both the teachers and the students, are at Olana again.”
— Laurie Anderson Moserman, attendee, Deep Air Lecture Series in March

As a new addition to The Olana Partnership team last spring, I was charged to extend Olana’s relationships into downtown Hudson and with local schools. This goal was linked to the desire to strengthen Olana’s education programs through strategic constituency building and in turn increase audiences.

After nearly a year, we have made significant progress toward these goals. We have increased overall visits to the site by 3.8 percent, while tripling our student visitors. In the prior year 463 students visited, and in my first full year 1,420 students will visit. Olana now has an Education tab on its website, and we have re-designed the field trip model to keep students on-site for the whole school day rather than only coming for a 40 minute house tour. So, while we have increased the number of students, we have also increased the depth of the content delivered, improved relationships with local schools, and created a new income stream to support our broader educational work. All the statistics are marvelously positive; but when I am in the field doing the work, I am most excited by the fact that being at Olana makes young people happy, inspired and expands their sense of seeing “place.” This is the first step in youth gaining a lifelong understanding of the value of culture and preservation; getting young people to fall in love with Olana is the best way to create the site’s future stewards and patrons.

Using the same method where good content leads to increased audiences, TOP’s Education staff is forging a number of new partnerships with businesses and non-profit organizations in Hudson and the Valley (while also maintaining dozens of current partnerships).

One example is our work with Columbia Memorial Hospital and a project to use Olana’s landscape to encourage health and wellness, and specifically preventative medicine awareness. Starting this fall, we will host a series of hikes called Pathways to Prevention. These hikes will be after work, one Wednesday a month, and will be led by doctors. Hikers will receive advice, and can ask questions about how to exercise for maximum impact and minimal harm, or how to properly recover from injuries or incidents. We are certainly excited that Olana can be a part of healthy solutions within Hudson.

The Olana Partnership is also supporting the work of the Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation and the Ellsworth Kelly Foundation by hosting a 3 day conference for teachers in the Wagon House Education Center. Twenty participating teachers will explore arts education models (national in scope), and they will also use Olana as a model for practicing curriculum integration. This is a partnership that is helpful for funders, teachers, students, and Olana while also supporting the Common Core Curriculum goals of NY State Department of Education.

Finally, in addition to dozens of public programs like music and film on the lawn, art making workshops and week-long summer programs for kids, we are launching two new programs as part of River Crossings: Contemporary Art Comes Home (our May-November exhibition); each program builds new constituencies and partnerships while also providing educational AND entertaining public experiences. The first program is Artists on Art Tours, every Saturday at 11am (June-Oct); these are tours led by Hudson River Region working contemporary artists who will give very different tours than the traditional docent tour.

The second program, the Mystery Box: Student Artists at Work, turns the Coachman’s House Gallery into an experimental workspace for recent BA recipients from Bard College. The students will be working every weekend this summer- using an archival box full of materials relating to Olana- and specifically the topics of trees, art, and tourism- as the departure point for their creative work. Every aspect of this project is educational from Bard, to TOP, to visitors! There are so many reasons to visit Olana this season, so help us by being one of many “word of mouth media outlets” and visit soon!

P.S. There are about 7 slots left in each of our week-long summer programs, called Panorama, for youth ages 7-13. Sign up Soon!

May 21, 2015
Julia Thomas, Office Manager/Executive Assistant

In the words of Pablo Picasso, “Everything you can imagine is real.” Although some may disagree, the certainty of this truth comes to life at Olana. Standing tall for all to see, Olana has instantly become a recognized and admired landmark to a vast amount of people.

Although it took me over twenty-five years, this year my childhood dream of one day visiting Olana came to fruition. Surprisingly, reality has surpassed my imagination! Each day I find new beauties, natural wonders, and settings for reflection in the landscape that has opportunely become my place of work. Frederic Church was a man of vision—come with me as I offer a portion of this vision, while striving to entice you to take the steps toward experiencing Olana and all it has to offer.

As you enter Olana’s landscape, enchantment sets in. Whether strolling with your four-legged friend at your side through the winding carriage roads, or enjoying an old-fashioned picnic near the startlingly beautiful garden, you immediately feel a sense of peace. The farm, lake, woodlands, and paths are all a part of what makes Olana so very uniquely special; designs and creations over which Church was predominately involved. The Main House, the entity that initially grasps one’s attention from afar, is simply the culmination of the package! Here, Olana’s visitors now view the Hudson River from above, gazing dreamily through one of Frederic Church’s arched windows bordered with amber glass, which frames a most splendid picture. Far more than a dream, Olana is a world—a seemingly fantasy land—available year round to soothe wounds, enchant the romantic, and harbor hearts indiscriminately.

What I have enjoyed most this year at Olana is experiencing the striking and vast setting variations incurred by seasonal changes. Church recognized this and intended the carved roadways to enable its passengers to partake in the plethora of aesthetic diversity. While wandering along the carriage roads, you will find yourself meandering through cool, dense woodlands where a variety of birds join with somewhat amusing frogs creating a chorus you’ll surely want to join! Soon you’ll be rounding Church’s artist-designed ten-acre lake, surrounded by the vibrant and tall sentinels whose shadows it mirrors. They, whose task seems to be most enjoyable, proudly wave their branches as you pass by. Imagine, relishing in this reality, free of charge—all year round.

Ironically, Church had his own imaginations and dreams. He began creating on canvas, painting trees, water, and mountains. His works of art were stimulating. Yet, had they remained on canvas alone, no one would have recognized that his imagination was real. As he began to create live art, planting thousands of native trees, designing gardens, carriage roads, a hand-hewn lake, and unmatched architecture—his passion for nature, the natural, and people became clearly apparent to all. His ideas were innovating, even making use of the “muck” from the marshy wet land setting of the lake to fertilize his crops. His keen insights and compassionate desire to share his visions and imaginations with others is a legacy that will live on forever.

Church’s masterpiece of a house, which sits on the pinnacle of the 250-acre estate, can be seen while crossing the Rip Van Winkle Bridge, typically one’s first glimpse of Olana. The Main House includes intricate stenciling, inside and out, which he designed with a Middle Eastern theme. Together, with architect Calvert Vaux, Church constructed this enormous piece of art. The beautiful and decorative rooms are presently filled with Church’s artwork, large and small.

So don’t allow your dreams to be squashed, come to Olana and see for yourself that Frederic Church truly exemplified Picasso’s words, long before they were spoken, and breathed life into imagination!

In addition, you are currently invited, until November 1, to also view the 2015 exhibition River Crossings: Contemporary Art Comes Home, co-curated by Stephen Hannock and Jason Rosenfeld. This exhibition is presented in partnership with the Thomas Cole National Historic Site, featuring contemporary art installed directly into the historic spaces and landscapes of the two historic sites

May 7, 2015
Evelyn Trebilcock, Curator

Installing River Crossings has been one of the highlights of my time at Olana.

One of the photographs that Lynn Davis lent to the exhibition was in her home. We literally took Horseshoe Falls, Ontario, Canada off her living room wall. Her photograph traveled from one artist’s home to another, from one artist arranged interior to another. Like Church, Lynn travels widely for her inspiration. Installed in the East Parlor, Davis’ Horseshoe Falls, Ontario, Canada hangs diagonally across from Church’s Under Niagara and is surrounded by his sketches of Ecuador, Italy, Jamaica and Olana.

The Chuck Close tapestry normally requires a large metal hanging device screwed into the wall. The studio was great; they immediately understood that was not possible in an historic house. They agreed to let us hang it from the nail that historically supported Church’s great Japanese scroll showing the death of Buddha. Installed Self-Portrait (Yellow Rain Coat) brings the stair hall alive and also pays homage to the scroll.

Maya Lin’s Silver Hudson is normally pressure fit directly into a sheetrock wall – again not an option for Olana. We needed some kind of fake wall. Guest curator Stephen Hannock combined stretched canvas and a dense foam core support to create a light weight fake wall that could easily hang from an historic picture nail. At one of the Cole House lectures I handed him a can of the paint that we use for the Sitting Room walls so that when the fake wall arrived it was a perfect match. When we unpacked Silver Hudson, it glowed like a piece of jewelry in the box. Once it was carefully attached to the fake wall and up, NYS conservator Heidi Miksch said “I think we should keep it.”

Martin Puryear visited Olana last summer to see the room Stephen Hannock selected for his work – the Court Hall. On the day of installation, Martin came with an idea of how the sculpture would be oriented. Once the work was in the room, and mostly unpacked, he carefully walked around the room, studied the interaction of his work and the room, asked questions about the circulation of visitors and realized he wanted a different orientation. He positioned Question to welcome visitors entering the front door and also to frame the quintessential views through the Ombra and of the Stair Hall.

Don Gummer made two trips to Olana to consider sites for his sculptures around the lake before they arrived on a flatbed trailer with a boom-truck to set them in place. Charles Le Dray spent 3 days installing his work on the half round porch, careful checking the visitors’ view from inside the Studio before each piece was secured.

There is a story for each piece and each artist. In the end, installing River Crossings confirmed something we probably already all know; great art always looks amazing in a great setting.

April 22, 2015
Our Visitors, Our Advocates:
How you can help Olana through Social Media
Melanie Hasbrook, Development and Marketing Communications Manager

How does a historic house in the Hudson Valley share all that it has to offer while keeping its friends interested in what is going on and attracting new visitors? Social media of course. Social media has become such a popular way for individuals and companies to share what’s happening each and every moment and Olana is no different. While we may have the “inside” perspective, we also rely on our friends and visitors to promote us as well. Each day, our social media following gets larger and expands to new audiences. This year is perhaps the most important yet as we move into our full season. Here’s how you can help.

As you may have heard, we are opening our largest exhibition yet “River Crossings: Contemporary Art Comes Home” in conjunction with the Thomas Cole National Historic Site. We invite you to come and see contemporary art in these historic spaces and landscapes. Although you cannot take photos inside the houses, we encourage you to photograph outdoors and post to your social media with the hashtag #RiverCrossingsArt. This exhibit will be open May 3 through November 1.

April is Olana’s first ever membership drive. By joining or renewing your membership during the month, your contribution will be matched dollar-for-dollar by a generous donor who prefers to remain anonymous. When you give, you’ll be invited to the preview opening of River Crossings which takes place in just over a week. Encourage friends and family to give as well by using the hashtag #4Olana. Your valued support means so much to the future of Olana.

Speaking of the future, in 2016 we will be celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the Saving of Olana. It’s through the efforts of individuals like you that we are able to have this Hudson Valley gem and we are all stewards to keep it going for future generations. As we move into the anniversary, #Olana66 and share your memories and stories.
Perhaps some of these memories include attendance at one of our summer parties. On Saturday, August 8, we will once again be holding a summer party, “Icebergs in August,” celebrating Church’s travels to the Canadian Artic which inspired one of his largest and most popular paintings, The Icebergs. Purchase your tickets and hashtag #OlanaIcebergs to share why you’re looking forward to this event.

Of course there are other opportunities besides these. Are you joining us for an education program #OlanaEducation, how about a walk in the landscape #OlanaLandscape, did you purchase a beautiful Olana inspired item in the Museum Shop #OlanaMuseumShop or maybe you just want to say something in general #Olana. Don’t forget to tag us so we can comment, share and post to our following. We’re on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest and can be found @OlanaSHS.

Together, let’s see how much social media buzz we can create and let Olana be heard.

April 8, 2015
In Frederic Church, We Trust …
Kimberly Flook, Historic Site Manager, Olana State Historic Site

2016 is the 50th anniversary of the saving of Olana State Historic Site. While I have only been lucky enough to have worked at Olana for the last three years, by looking at what has been accomplished over the last 49 years, I have learned that you cannot go wrong when you follow in the footsteps of Frederic Church:

• Just as Church showed his paintings in multiple cities and countries, the curators know that no matter how much we may miss them, our pieces sometimes need to be loaned away from Olana in order to reach the widest audience. In the last few years, decorative objects and paintings from Olana have been shown in NYC, London, Cleveland, Munich, Portland, Edinburgh and many more cities.

• The Museum Store is filled with both locally made objects and treasures from around the world, following Church’s purchasing habits from his travels, as well as his focus on locally sourced materials and workers for the design of his property. This approach has created a beautiful space filled with objects certain to appeal to the shopper’s eye.

• Our landscape curator is working to restore the landscape, returning Church’s design to its original intent, while protecting the views that inspired many a Church sketch. Over the last 10+ years, dozens of acres have been reclaimed from over a century of neglect, while thousands of acres in the vicinity of Olana have been protected from development.
Deciding to trust in Frederic Church’s lead once again has inspired us to co-host River Crossings: Contemporary Art Comes Home, an exhibition of 28 contemporary artists’ work distributed between Thomas Cole National Historic Site and Olana.

After all, Frederic Church and the artists of the Hudson River School were the “contemporary” artists of their time: they moved beyond prevailing art styles, shifting from historic and allegorical landscapes to detailed and scientific ones; they reacted against academy style exhibitions in favor of one artist, one piece shows; and they focused on the political issues of their time, such as Manifest Destiny and the Civil War.

The show has not even opened (Save the Date: May 3rd), but by following Church’s lead, I believe we are already on our way to success, regardless of how the exhibition itself goes. River Crossings has turned out to be an impetus to do things we have wanted to do for years, but could never quite get off the ground:

• We have long thought of supplying a shuttle from Hudson to Olana for visitors arriving via Amtrak. Because of River Crossings, for the first time, visitors will be able to take a shuttle not just to Olana, but to Thomas Cole NHS and Main Street Catskill.

• It has always been a struggle to accommodate all of our visitors with only guided tours. Due to the nature of viewing contemporary art, we felt that this was the year to test open house touring, an approach that will not only allow for more visitors, but also more contemplation time.

• Finally, just as Frederic Church did not work in a vacuum, Olana cannot stand alone. Church surrounded himself with artists from many disciplines (Lockwood de Forrest), writers (Mark Twain), adventurers (Egyptologist Amelia Edwards), patrons and businessmen. It is only sensible that Olana do the same. River Crossings is opening doors to new and old partners, including living artists, art students from Bard College, colleagues from Thomas Cole NHS, and specialists in marketing and PR.

In the 19th century, Church designed Olana not only as a comfortable refuge for his family, but also as a living artwork to be experienced by family, guests, and to a certain extent, the public. And luckily that experience (and more) is still possible today, whether by walking miles of carriage drives through a living landscape, enjoying the breathtaking views from the property, or by visiting the exotic home sitting in the middle of it all. Trusting in Frederic Church has never failed us, so I encourage everyone to give it a try.

For more information, please visit

MARCH 26, 2015
Alex Simon, Director of Membership and Community Relations

Frederic Edwin Church? You’ve heard of him, right? American landscape painter, central figure in the Hudson River School. He was the creator of this masterpiece, Olana.

And so are you.

You restore the main building, preserve the collection, protect the viewshed, you foster educational programs and cultural opportunities. On behalf of the development team here at Olana, I’d like to thank you for your generosity.

How about another name? David Huntington? After Church’s daughter- in-law died in 1964, he was key to forming Olana Preservation Inc., and kicking off a campaign to save Olana from being auctioned. The group has evolved to now be called The Olana Partnership (TOP). Today, citizens from the Hudson Valley and around the world support Olana. TOP, a private not-for-profit works cooperatively with New York State to support the restoration, development and improvement of Olana State Historic Site.

In 2014, nearly 170,000 people visited Olana’s designed landscape, and more than 30,000 individuals took a house tour. 2015, with the exhibition of “River Crossings: Contemporary Art Comes Home,” in conjunction with the Thomas Cole National Historic Site (,) promises to be a banner year at Olana.

The critical resources you provide help to ensure that Olana is one of the most preserved, restored, vital, engaging and significant artistic homes and studios in the world. Your support in conjunction with the New York State Department of Parks Recreation and Historic Preservation, has given life to projects like, restoration of the main barn, the house environs project to restore the landscaped areas around the main house, opening views from the North Meadow, and offering myriad educational programs. You’ve restored the view from Crown Hill, which had been obscured by second growth and now provides spectacular vistas of Church’s Farm complex, the main house, Cosy Cottage and Mount Merino. Contributions from the community secure Olana as a vibrant cultural resource.

In April, I’d like to invite you to participate in our first ever Membership Drive, #4Olana. By joining or renewing your membership during the month, your contribution will be matched dollar-for-dollar by a generous donor who prefers to remain anonymous.

All members will receive free access to “River Crossings,” including an exclusive invitation to the exhibition opening on May 2nd, as well as free admission to the main house and landscape, and a 15% discount on all purchases in the Olana Museum Shop. In addition, your membership will provide resources that will help preserve, restore and interpret Olana.
Join the celebration this year! Visit or call (518) 828-1872, ext. 102.

I invite you to visit Olana as much as possible to see all of the restoration projects, explore “River Crossings,” participate in our educational programs, and experience a unique selection in the Olana Museum Shop. I can only imagine what our collective dedication will bring this spring. Please reach out to me anytime

Sunset over the Catskills 13 February 2015, Paul J. Banks

Pair of Snowshoes, circa late 19th century, wood, leather, rawhide and string, 21 5/8 (diameter) x 31 3/8 (length) in., OL.1982.1881.1&.2, Collection Olana State Historic Site.

Unidentified photographer, Friends of the Church Children Skating on the Lake at Olana, Thanksgiving weekend 1892, photograph, OL.1985.922, Collection Olana State Historic Site.

MARCH 11, 2015

Olana as Winter Wonderland
Paul J. Banks, Interpretive Program Assistant

People love Olana as much for the landscape as for the house and the treasures inside it. Be it a stroll around The Lake, or the stunning vistas from Ridge Road, or just the sound of the wind in the pines, the out of doors at Olana is spectacular! We get tens of thousands of visitors each year for these features alone, but in the winter, it’s practically a ghost town around here. Some winters one can walk the carriage roads and The Lake hardly freezes. However, the cold temperatures and a heavy blanket of snow this winter means one may need some help in getting out. People often ask about winter activities at Olana such as sledding, ice skating, snowshoeing, skiing, ice fishing, and even pond hockey. Staying fit and healthy is just as important in the winter as the other seasons, but it can be more difficult. So here is the scoop on getting out and enjoying winter at Olana.

We have had a number of snowshoeing programs this winter, and the snow has been great for this. Snowshoeing is one of the best possible aerobic exercises since it is low impact on the joints yet burns calories similar to jogging. It’s also easy to do. Even a walk around Ridge Road, though it’s only a mile, is a great workout on snowshoes. The snowshoes in our collection look a bit dated compared to modern snowshoe technology, but they capture the idea that, even back then, snowshoeing was fun.

Sledding was a modern tradition here for many years. Sadly, a serious accident ended sledding at Olana. Someday, we hope to bring back sledding. Until then, try Burger Hill in Rhinebeck for sledding.

Skating on “The Lake,” as they called it, was another pastime the Church family enjoyed. Yet we ask that you, “please stay off the ice!” The Lake does at times freeze thick enough to allow one to go onto the ice. However, since The Lake is spring fed, the spring water is warm enough to prevent the ice from consistently freezing thick for very long. Skates, snowshoes, and even skis become death traps should one be wearing them if the ice collapses. A heavy blanket of snow on the ice makes it even worse. Snow has insulating qualities that allow the spring water to quickly melt the ice from underneath creating thin spots in the ice from the bottom up. These thin spots are often impossible to spot until it’s tragically too late.

There are skis in our collection too. Olana is great for cross country skiers, and we encourage you to come make your own tracks here. Of course, we don’t have a lift (or a big mountain for that matter), so there is no alpine skiing. However, you can venture out into the meadows on cross country skis so as long as you keep in mind that what you go down, you later have to get back up. This year, Olana has had truly excellent snow quality for cross country.

To make getting out even easier, there is now a free app with a map. The Olana map was create by the New York State Department of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation (OPRHP). It has all the carriage roads and even shows mileage. The Olana map by clicking here. The app is PDF-Maps and is available at the same site.

For everyone else, we have free maps of the landscape by clicking here. and a printed version is free in our Museum Shop (open 10:30-4 Friday-Sunday until May). Read more about the landscape clicking here.

Please remember, Olana is your park! The landscape is open 365 days a year from 8 a.m. to sunset (and the restrooms are open then too), so come see the views, get or stay fit, and experience the great outdoors in the picturesque landscape at Olana.

Winter Sunset photo by Julia Thomas, 2014

FEBRUARY 26, 2015

Rena Zurofsky, Interim President

I have just completed my first two month working, happily, for The Olana Partnership. It has been a time of intense learning, including some surprises.

Before working here, I thought Olana (which loosely translates/is interpreted as a “treasure palace”) referred just to the House, sitting atop a lovely property. But in fact, Olana refers to the entire property, which is also a work of art. Specifically, it is a work of art by Frederic Church.

As Church aged, he experienced what many plein air and other painters have—arthritis. And so he cast about for another way to indulge his creative urge. He was already designing the house, but how to indulge his desire to paint? He chose the landscape. He considered each vista and chose for it trees, plants, lake or meadows, as if he was creating one of his magnificent painted vistas—based on true natural phenomena, but composed as perfectly as a dream. He carefully sculpted the roadways for light and shadow, close study or wide views past the Catskills and Berkshire Taconics into into the incandescent sky he’d previously painted to universal acclaim.

As Mark discussed in the last Insider’s Perspective, he turned this hillside—from which he’d sketched views as a young man, studying beside Thomas Cole—into a series of landscape paintings. Whether viewing from the bottom of the hill where our offices stand, or from the carriage roads, or from the heights surrounding the house, or the house itself, each angle is a landscape painted by Church. They are unmistakable: the sky changing colors over swathes of hills, mountains and trees; the dotted signs of “civilization” dwarfed by all that surrounds them. Olana is a supreme example of the “American Sublime” at the heart of the Hudson River School.

As I began working here, the Matisse Cut-Outs exhibition was taking New York City by storm. Matisse turned to cut-outs as a result of arthritis and ill-health, the way Church turned towards the land. With his scissors he could the play with color and form endlessly to create works that are a marvel of exuberance and joy. The visions of both of these aging artists were undimmed. I am struck by their similar energy and optimism despite the infirmities of aging, and the indignities of being outside of the current fads. And each of them now are prized as visionaries in their own way.

Artists make art at any age, in any age, with whatever is to hand, be it dust (Vic Muniz), straws and Dixie cups (Tara Donovan), paper napkins (Picasso, everybody), colored paper or the land itself. Frederic Church’s Olana is a “treasure house,” that teaches me that, despite indignities, aging has its attractions if we embrace it as a creative spark.

Image 1: Restoration View from Ridge Road photo by Mark Prezorski, 2015

Image 2: Frederic Edwin Church, The Hudson Valley in Winter from Olana, c.1871-72, oil on paper mounted on canvas, 20 ¼ x 13 in., Collection Olana State Historic Site, NYS OPRHP

Image 3: House Environs Planting Project Plan, Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects, 2014

FEBRUARY 11, 2015

Why Restore Olana?
Mark Prezorski, Landscape Curator

After Olana was saved from destruction in 1966, David Huntington — the art historian who led the preservation effort — commented about how ignorant the public had been of Olana. “Olana was not a girl, not an Hawaiian drink, and not a drug,” he joked. At that time, few could have imagined the amount of restoration work which would occur at Olana over the following decades, fueled by private and public dollars. Viewed as a whole, Olana’s evolution since 1966 as a large-scale public work of art has been staggering. For those directly involved, this work has happened incrementally, one project at a time.

We are in the midst of another significant transformation at Olana: the first phase of our “Main House Environs” landscape restoration project is nearing completion. This project, made possible by a New York State Environmental Protection Fund grant with matching funds from The Olana Partnership, addresses some key design elements closest to Olana’s main house. For the first time in many years, the iconic view of the Hudson River from Frederic Church’s windows – and from his studio wing in particular — has been restored. For those who haven’t visited recently, this change will be a revelation.

The Olana Partnership has worked closely with our New York State partners and Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects to restore this view. With additional help from a surveyor, a horticulturalist and a landscape historian, careful planning has informed the overall rehabilitation strategy. The first phase of this project includes the identification and preservation of important trees, combined with a reduction of second-growth and invasive vegetation. The next treatment phase will begin this spring and includes the establishment of native grasses up and down the steep slope beneath the main house, followed by a late-season planting of native trees and shrubs to recreate Church’s naturalistic design intent, all with an eye toward sustainability.

Frederic Church’s landscape paintings were masterful combinations of foreground, middle-ground and background elements, and Olana’s physical landscape was composed by Church in similar ways. The steep hillside beneath Olana’s main house serves as a foreground setting when viewed from above, and the vast background – the “viewshed” – includes Inbocht Bay in the Hudson River, with the Catskill Mountains rising to the west beneath an ever-changing sky. This view inspired Church, and it captivates Olana’s visitors today. Our recent landscape restoration project serves to accentuate this effect. This is the view which Frederic Church painted numerous times, even in winter, and it was this winter scene in particular – a painting from Olana by Church – which served as evidence during legal hearings in the 1970s and helped to stop a nuclear power plant from being built.

The Olana Partnership is working to raise the remaining $50,000 to complete our current landscape project. This also includes the restoration of Olana’s large stone retaining wall, a massive design feature which rises above the flower garden and elevates tour groups as they arrive at the main house today. These are all incremental steps in the realization of Frederic Church’s larger design vision, set in motion by those prescient preservationists who saved Olana nearly 50 years ago — because they understood that Olana was not a drink and not a drug, but much more. “Olana is the monument of Emerson’s, Thoreau’s, and Whitman’s America”, wrote David Huntington. That’s why we’re restoring it.

Custom carved teak balustrade in the Corridor of the house at Olana, provided by Lockwood de Forest and made by the Ahmedabad Wood Carving Company, India, c. 1887 photo by Melanie Hasbrook 2014

JANUARY 28, 2015

Why Lockwood de Forest Now?
Evelyn Trebilcock, Curator and Valerie Balint, Associate Curator

There has recently been a revival of serious interest in the decorator/artist Lockwood de Forest (1850-1932). We would like to think this past summer’s exhibition All the Raj— Frederic Church and Lockwood de Forest: Painting, Decorating, and Collecting at Olana, organized with guest curator Professor Roberta A. Mayer, was a contributing factor.

But maybe the most important catalyst was the September 2013 sale of a pair of de Forest chairs at Bonham’s for the record price of $242,500 to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.

By the time of the sale, our exhibition at Olana was already in the works as a complement to the recently opened Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum show, Passion for the Exotic: Lockwood de Forest, Frederic Church. The exhibition celebrates the newly restored Carnegie family library, designed by Lockwood de Forest, and features some of the 2,026 Church sketches in the museum’s collection, as well as objects on loan from private collectors, de Forest descendants, and Olana.

Olana is important to any discussion of Lockwood de Forest; he was he was one of the few artists that Frederic Edwin Church chose to encourage and mentor, and their relationship grew into one of collaboration. Unlike many of his other projects in which de Forest would create an entire “Indian Room,” as in the Carnegie Library, for Church’s interiors de Forest provided material that Church integrated throughout his entire home; or in some cases Church himself provided the design that de Forest then had executed in India. In his later years de Forest reflected, “This close association with Mr. Church, I think now the most important factor in my own development.”

De Forest believed strongly in the artistic importance of Indian design and in his later years he tried to sell his collection to museums, with varying success. The Indianapolis Museum of Art has reassessed the de Forest pieces in their collection, including an amazing 300-piece wall acquired in 1915, comprised of carved teak, sandstone and metal components. They have found all the parts even though over the years it had been dispersed throughout the museum, and repurposed by numerous departments. Other museums have begun to recognize the importance of de Forest in terms of his place in a comprehensive survey of American decorative arts by acquiring pieces as the Munson-Williams-Proctor Art Institute, Utica did in 2013 when Director Anna D’Ambrosio added a c. 1895 de Forest carved chair to the already strong collection of decorative arts in the museum.

Dealers like Frank Goss, Associated Artists and Gavin Spainerman (now at Gerald Peters Gallery) have been showing de Forest plein air sketches on paper. They are lovely examples of the artist’s life-long passion for painting and definitely show a debt to Church’s training as well as de Forest coming into his own as an artist. Debra Force Gallery in New York City has just opened an exhibition that shows sketches, paintings and decorative art, which will be on view through March 13th.

Intellectual exploration of de Forest is available for the public and scholars. On Thursday February 5th at 5:30 pm, the Cooper-Hewitt, in collaboration with The Olana Partnership, is hosting a special viewing of the de Forest room and a panel discussion with Curators Sarah Coffin, Gail Davidson and de Forest expert Roberta Mayer, who recently re-examined de Forest’s papers at the Archives of American Art, resulting in an article in the Archive’s journal in early 2014. The following day, Amy Poster, independent curator and consultant, and member of Olana’s Curatorial Advisory Committee, is organizing a scholarly roundtable on de Forest focusing on the significance of Indian art to his designs for American domestic interiors and museums, as well as his efforts to preserve traditional Indian handicraft. Olana Curator Evelyn Trebilcock will make a presentation on Lockwood de Forest at Olana.

While de Forest has enjoyed a coterie of devotees for decades both inside and outside of the museum world, both his broader public and scholarly focus are now on the rise. In the past de Forest may have been considered as someone hard to define: designer, yet also importer and collector of works created by others. His efforts could be considered to fall both inside and outside of either strictly American or Asian/Indian disciplines of artistic consideration. His relationship with Louis Comfort Tiffany has resulted in de Forest being eclipsed by a more well-known name, whose work has perhaps been considered more visionary. As the art history field becomes more interdisciplinary in its intellectual inquiry, and the world increasingly becomes more global, it seems a perfect time to acknowledge that Tiffany is only one of many talented Aesthetic Movement designers. De Forest’s initial training and life-long association with Church, the most important American landscape painter of the third quarter of the nineteenth century, set him on the course to be a great designer. While taste and fashion changed as the century closed, and many of de Forest’s interiors were destroyed, the singular pieces and interiors that remain begin to again be recognized for their intrinsic quality. De Forests’ unique relationship with India and its traditional design, has an allure to a Western audience who is attracted to the exotic qualities of its craft tradition, and seeks to learn more about a country which plays an increasingly larger role on the global technology and democratic stage.

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