Immerse yourself in the history of Frederic Church and the environment he created over several decades.
Learn about the history and ongoing restoration of Olana’s artist designed landscape.
The Spotify playlist, Music of the Olana Collection, contains a sample of the more than 150 works of sheet music in the Olana Collection. Listen now to get a sense of the musical life at Olana and the tunes that the Church family played together on the two pianos in the Main House.
Partners in Design: Frederic Church, Calvert Vaux, and the making of Olana's Main House
Frederic Church, America’s first international art star, returned from his travels through the Near East in 1869 filled with inspiration for the great house that he planned to build on his property near Hudson, New York. He turned to Calvert Vaux, an architect well known for his successful collaborations with landscape designers, particularly Church’s friend Frederick Law Olmsted. Dr. Sean Sawyer, the Washburn and Susan Oberwager President of The Olana Partnership, will explore the intensely collaborative design partnership that produced Olana’s Main House.
Mary Roberts is the John Schaeffer Professor of Art History at the University of Sydney. She is a specialist in nineteenth-century European Orientalist and late Ottoman art, with particular expertise in the history of artistic exchanges and the culture of travel. In 2016 she was awarded the Art Association of Australia and New Zealand’s Book Prize for Istanbul Exchanges. Ottomans, Orientalists and Nineteenth-Century Visual Culture (University of California Press, 2015). Her first book, Intimate Outsiders: The Harem in Ottoman and Orientalist Art and Travel Literature, was published by Duke University Press in 2007. She has co-edited four other books and has been a Getty Scholar, CASVA Senior Fellow, YCBA Fellow and Clark-Oakley Fellow. Her next book is on artists as collectors of Islamic art.
“About an hour this side of Albany is the Center of the world – I own it.”
Frederic Church to Erastus Dow Palmer, July 7, 1869
What kind of world is it that Frederic Church was creating in his Persian-inspired home on the Hudson? This lecture proposes some answers to this question by analysing three of the interior sightlines within his home and considering the way each distinctively engages with visual cultures of the Near East. First, the sitting room: I tease out the significance of Church’s painting, El Khasné, Petra, in this space by studying his drawings made while travelling and the written account of that journey. Second, the court hall: paying particular attention to the optical effects Church was creating with his staircase, my study of the preparatory drawings for this part of the room reveals the diverse Islamic secular and religious visual sources he was translating into this focal point of his orientalist interior. Third, the fireplace sightline in one of the upstairs bedrooms: this brings into consideration an artist who was Church’s contemporary – the ceramicist Ali Mohammed Isfahani – whose work also circulated within global networks of patronage. Through this focus on some of Olana’s object worlds, its sightlines and architectural translations of eastern ornament, I explore the cultural politics of Church’s practice of worlding.
Farshid Emami is an assistant professor in the department of art history at Rice University. He is a historian of Islamic art and architecture with a focus on the early modern period and particularly Safavid Iran. He completed his Ph.D. in History of Art and Architecture at Harvard University in 2017. He is currently completing a book manuscript that offers a new narrative of architecture and urbanism in seventeenth-century Isfahan, the Safavid capital, through the analytical lens of urban experience. Drawing on unstudied primary sources, the book takes the reader on journeys through Isfahan’s markets, gardens, and coffeehouses, analyzing how the city fostered new human experiences and became a setting for fashioning selves.
Besides his publications on Safavid art and architecture, Farshid Emami has written on a range of topics in art and architectural history, including lithographic printing in the nineteenth century and modernist architecture and urbanism in the Middle East. His articles have appeared in the Muqarnas, Metropolitan Museum Journal, Journal for Early Modern Cultural Studies, South Asian Studies, and International Journal of Islamic Architecture.
Among the works kept at Olana are a group of ceramic tiles and objects attributed to Ali Muhammad Isfahani, a master of ceramic production active in Iran in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century during the late Qajar period (1789-1925). This presentation examines the imagery, iconography, and provenance of this corpus, particularly focusing on the figural tiles installed at two fireplaces at Olana. An examination of the context in which these tiles were created and transferred reveals that they do not merely reflect a traditional craft but were also products of the emerging tastes of the late nineteenth century in Western Europe and North America as well as in Qajar Iran.
Sarah Coffin is an independent decorative arts and design consultant, curator, and lecturer, who is a member of Olana’s National Advisory Committee, Most recently for over 14 years, she was Senior Curator and Head of the Product Design and Decorative Arts Department at Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum from which she retired in 2018. While there she curated blockbuster exhibitions on the Jazz Age, Van Cleef & Arpels jewelry, Rococo design from 1730-2008 and Feeding Desire on Dining Design from 1500-2005. In addition she oversaw the creation of the Permanent Collections floor with five exhibitions opening simultaneously for the renovated museum re-opening in 2014. One of the exhibitions she co-curated then was Passion for the Exotic: Lockwood de Forest and Frederic Church, featuring the museum’s de Forest-designed Teak Room and works, primarily from the collection with loans from Olana.
Lockwood de Forest (1850-1932), a painter and interior designer started his artistic career painting with Frederic Church at Olana. Related by marriage to Church, de Forest stayed at Olana during the 1870s, where he studied books in Church’s library on middle eastern design by Pascal Coste and Jules Bourgoin. In 1869 de Forest and Church travelled, painted and shopped in Greece and the Middle East with their families. The purchases appear in both Olana and Lockwood de Forest’s first interior design commission − his parents’ New York house of 1876. De Forest’s main contribution to Olana came after he set up an studio of mastercraftmen in the Indian city of Ahmedabad, in Gujarat in 1880-81 for the production of woodwork, metalwork, and other decorative designs. This talk will go inside Olana on a virtual tour of elements and furniture provided by de Forest, mostly from his Indian studio, supplemented by images of
other work by de Forest and related Indian sources, with special reference to how he and Church collaborated at Olana.
Hanan Munayyer is President of the Palestinian Heritage Foundation and a scholar and curator specializing in Palestinian and other Arab traditional dress. Among her many exhibition credits include an important contribution as advisor and essayist for Olana’s 2018 exhibition Costume and Custom: Middle Eastern Threads at Olana. She has lectured widely for universities and museums and she co-produced and wrote the script of the 1990 documentary Palestinian Costumes and Embroidery: A Precious Legacy. Since 2009, Ms. Munayyer has been a member of the New Jersey Arab-American Heritage Commission, a state entity to which she was appointed by the governor. In 2011, she published the award-winning book Traditional Palestinian Costume: Origins and Evolution with Interlink Books, the result of 24 years of research about the origins of Middle Eastern textile arts and the evolution of Palestinian costumes and crafts.
As Frederic and Isabel Church travelled in Syria, Lebanon and Palestine in 1868, they commented on the “picturesque costumed individuals” (Isabel’s diary, 1868) they saw, inspiring them to bring back to Olana some costumes that are now some of the oldest extant Palestinian and Syrian costume items in any collection. They were featured in Church’s paintings of the Middle East, and were used in “a la Turque” parties at Olana. This collection will be reviewed in this presentation.
Frederic Church’s fascination with architectural decorations of the mansions in Damascus and Jerusalem that inspired the design of Olana also resulted in the acquisition of some “stones from a house in Damascus” (Church letter to W. Osborn, 1868) ) and numerous wall and door designs from Jerusalem that are on display at numerous locations at Olana. These will be highlighted.
Robert and Johanna Titus are retired professors of geology and biology. As popular science writers, they have authored four books and a thousand articles about the geology of the Hudson Valley. For years they have been studying how Ice Age glaciers sculpted the landscapes painted by members of the Hudson River School of Art. They have developed a theory that ice age activities had a lot to do with the development of what has been called the “sublime” by art historians and believe that an understanding of ice age history is necessary to fully appreciate our regions’ landscape art.
The 250 acres of land that comprise Frederic Church’s OLANA became the canvas for his pioneering endeavors in landscape architecture. Participants will learn about the geological history of Olana and the forces that shaped the 19th-century Hudson River School artist’s designed landscape. Specifically, Church contoured the grounds in order to create what are called “planned views.” Bob and Johanna Titus will visit three of Frederic Church’s best views and take us back in time to describe how the ice age glaciers sculpted them into the scenic sites that Church could tease from obscurity into landscape beauty. See the Hudson Valley and Olana’s landscape with new eyes—the eyes of scientists who see where science meets storytelling and time travel is possible.
Caitlin Condell is the associate curator and head of the Department of Drawings, Prints, and Graphic Design at Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum where she oversees a collection of nearly 147,000 works on paper dating from the fourteenth century to the present. She has organized and contributed to numerous exhibitions and publications, including After Icebergs (2019–20), Nature—Cooper Hewitt Design Triennial(2019–20), Fragile Beasts (2016–17), Making Design (2014–15), and How Posters Work (2015), at Cooper Hewitt, and Making Room: The Space between Two and Three Dimensions (2012–13), at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MoCA). Her publication E. McKnight Kauffer: The Artist in Advertising will be published by Rizzoli Electa in October, and the related exhibition Underground Modernist: E. McKnight Kauffer will open at Cooper Hewitt in December 2020.
In the summer of 1859, Frederic Edwin Church (1826-1900)—the most celebrated American landscape painter of his time—journeyed to Newfoundland and Labrador to study and sketch icebergs. Arctic exploration had captured the imagination of the public in the preceding decades, and Church was lured to the North Atlantic by accounts of a surreal polar landscape. These studies, drawn from Cooper Hewitt’s collection of over 2,000 drawings by Church, offer us a moment to reflect with reverence on the fragility of our natural world. One hundred and sixty years later, Church’s studies are at once seductive and frighteningly poignant. Join curator Caitlin Condell as she gives a virtual tour of the exhibition After Icebergs at Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum and tells the story of how Church’s sketches came to Cooper Hewitt.
Sarah Cash is Associate Curator of American and British Paintings at the National Gallery of Art, Washington. Previously she served as curator of American art at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, director of the Maier Museum of Art at Randolph-Macon Woman’s College, and Assistant Curator at the Amon Carter Museum. She has also held positions at Yale University Art Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery, in addition to previous positions at the National Gallery of Art.
This lecture presents aspects of Cash’s ongoing research into Frederic Church’s paintings and drawings of Niagara Falls, focusing on one of the most important landscape paintings in the history of American art—and an emblem of the Corcoran Gallery of Art’s historic legacy at the National Gallery of Art—Niagara (1857). Featuring the rich holdings of art and archival materials held by Olana, the lecture will reveal the artist’s working methods in creating Niagara and his two other large-scale exhibition paintings of the falls; these date to 1862 (unlocated) and 1867 (National Galleries of Scotland). Prints reproducing Niagara, as well as the promotional pamphlet accompanying the work on its extensive international tour, demonstrate how the painting established the artist’s reputation as the greatest landscape painter in North America.
Dr. Elizabeth Mankin Kornhauser is the Alice Pratt Brown Curator of American Paintings and Sculpture at The Metropolitan Museum of Art (appointed in 2010) where she served as co-curator for the Met’s major exhibition: Thomas Cole’s Journey: Atlantic Crossings, in 2018, and which traveled to the National Gallery, London.
This talk focuses on the extraordinary role played by Frederic Church (1826-1900) as a founding trustee of The Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Museum is celebrating the artist’s legacy this year as part of the larger program for its 150th anniversary, both in the American Wing galleries as well as in the museum’s special exhibition, “Making the Met,” which you will be able to see when they re-open. Church helped to establish the broad vision and ambition for the museum during his thirty-year tenure as a Met trustee by adding works of art to the fledgling collections, and inspiring a legacy for American art that led to a series of important gifts of major paintings, culminating in a transformative 150th anniversary promised gift.
Olana’s Director of Collections and Exhibitions William L. Coleman, Ph.D. lead an illustrated talk entitled, “Olana as Epitome”.
This talk places Olana in a transatlantic history of artist’s houses, and of painter-architects, with the goal of showing the place we love is not an intriguing anomaly but rather the crystallization of widely held dreams. Case studies will include the houses of Peter Paul Rubens in what is now Belgium, John Constable’s family home in the East of England, and William Birch’s “Springland” near Philadelphia, a largely forgotten early American artist’s house that shows the roots of the Olana ideal even in this country. Of particular interest will be the lost houses of Frederic Church’s fellow travelers Albert Bierstadt and Jasper Francis Cropsey.
Dr. Eleanor Jones Harvey is Senior Curator for 19th-Century Art at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, where she has worked since 2003.
In this special member’s event, Dr. Eleanor Jones Harvey shares her once in a lifetime exhibition Alexander Von Humboldt and the United States: Art, Nature, and Culture, which is currently installed at the Smithsonian American Art Museum with plans to open to the public later this year and to remain on view through early January. She will start by sharing some behind the scenes perspective on the years of diplomacy and sleuthing required to assemble this exciting project, to which Frederic Church and Olana are central, including a number of loans from our collection. There will be a screening of a new video tour of this exhibition and discussion and questions will follow. Eleanor is a brilliant, original, iconoclastic, and charismatic voice in the art world and this event is not to be missed.
Christine Oaklander is an independent art historian and private art consultant with over thirty years of expertise in the field of American art. A native New Yorker, she was inspired to plunge into the mystery, history, and beauty of American art by posts at the New-York Historical Society and Spanierman Gallery in the 1980s.
Dr. Oaklander spoke on the lifelong friendship between Frederic Church and William Henry Osborn, Church’s principal patron. Osborn (1820-1894) was a self-made man with a fortune he had earned through natural business acumen. Introduced by Jonathan Sturges, Osborn became fast friends with Church. Osborn not only owned some of Church’s best paintings, he helped finance the artist’s extended trip to the Holy Land and Europe in 1867-69, and the Osborn home in New York City served as the Church family’s New York City home. The friendship, which extended through both families, lasted three generations. The names Frederic(k) and Church are carried down in the Osborn family to the current day.
Dorothy Heyl, General Counsel/Chief Compliance Officer at Prima Capital Advisors focuses on the story of how Olana came to be saved is largely an untold tale of passion, generosity, and guts.
After Church’s daughter-in-law died in 1964, having preserved Olana for decades with her husband Louis Palmer Church, her heirs put Olana on the market. An option granted by the Sally Church estate set the race for funds against a ticking clock. This much of the tale is known and was breathlessly covered by the New York Times and numerous magazines at the time. David Huntington, a junior professor at Smith College, led the effort, beginning with the restoration of Church’s reputation. Huntington’s group prevented the sale from going forward, raised funds for its purchase, and eventually persuaded Governor Nelson Rockefeller to sign legislation permitting the state to acquire it.
Professor of Art History, Graduate Center, City University of New York, Katherine Manthorne, focuses on ‘CAYAMBE’ BY FREDERIC CHURCH.
Professor Manthorne spoke about Frederic Church’s close study of nature and how he forged a tradition of traveler-art that spans from the 19th century to today.
Olana’s Director of Collections and Exhibitions William L. Coleman, Ph.D. focuses on “TROPICAL ORCHID” BY MARTIN JOHNSON HEADE.
This painting testifies to the complex friendship between artists Martin Heade and Frederic Church and served as inspiration for the upcoming exhibition, “Cross Pollination,” opening in 2021.