Olana, home of 19th century landscape painter Frederic Edwin Church in Hudson, is hosting Artist on Art Tour, a series of guided tours through Olana under the tutelage of contemporary artists working in various disciplines. Artistic storytelling is a compelling part of Olana’s ongoing narrative. Participating artists offer a unique lens with which to “read” Olana, and experiment and invent with “poetic license” as they explore through their own artistic practice Church’s home and studio as well as this season’s exhibition.
This Friday, October 6 at 4:30 pm musician Carrie Bradley tours Olana, calling attention to the transitionary and the “in betweens,” with an element of live music inside Olana. Bradley combines text; music of which there is record that the Church family enjoyed by composers they hosted at Olana; and her own original songs to invoke specifically the evenings of music the Churches hosted at Olana and to refer in general to the sensual spirit of music and sound at the house. Bradley speculates that, “The house during those events became a place where the felt power of music resonated within a container for so much powerful visual art and artifact, and also was during those times, for a stolen moment, a public place when it was usually his private sanctuary. In a similar way, the songs seek to capture the interplay between the public and the private that I feel in the views from the upper reaches of the house—an intimate and personal seat from which to view the awe-inspiring reach of the river and the sky.”
Carrie Bradley is a fiction and creative nonfiction writer as well as a guitarist, violinist, and vocalist. She was a founding member of the alternative folk band Ed’s Redeeming Qualities, has played with the Breeders since 1989, has since had her own bands 100 Watt Smile and the Great Auk, and has performed and/or recorded with Tanya Donelly, Jonathan Richman, John Wesley Harding, Love & Rockets, the Red House Painters, the Buckets, and many others. She lives, gardens, cavorts, and mulls deep in the Catskill Mountains.
This program expands on the ideas found on site in Teresita Fernandez’s installation “OVERLOOK: Teresita Fernández Confronts Frederic Church at Olana” throughout Olana State Historic Site (May 13 – November 1). The Olana Partnership’s Director of Education, Amy Hufnagel, describes the public program this way: “Artists and cultural workers can teach us about Olana in ways we might not have even imagined; they are, in so many ways, logical “guides” to understanding and unpacking Olana to the contemporary era. The Olana Partnership wants to expand the narrative of Olana, and to express a multiplicity of stories here. Teresita Fernandez’s installation and the exhibition – paired with local artist tours – allows for a whole new set of conversations to emerge.” This innovative tour program privileges the voices of contemporary women artists and cultural workers whose own creative pursuits often find voice in the sphere of the “overlooked.” In specific, Olana’s team works to elevating the voices of these contemporary women artists with the end goal to expand and enlarge the interpretation at Olana.
Olana is the greatest masterpiece of Frederic Edwin Church (1826-1900), the preeminent American artist of the mid-19th century. Church had a sustained interest in the Americas, resulting from his trips to Ecuador, Colombia, Mexico, and the Caribbean. In his own artwork depicting these landscapes and in the objects he collected throughout his life, Church’s passion for Latin America remains evident today. Church designed Olana as a holistic environment integrating his advanced ideas about art, architecture, landscape design, and environmental conservation. Olana’s 250-acre artist-designed landscape with a Persian-inspired house at its summit embraces unrivaled 360-degree views of the Hudson River Valley and beyond. Today Olana State Historic Site welcomes more than 170,000 visitors annually.
Molly Rausch is a stamp artist. Her work has been exhibited throughout the Hudson Valley, New York City, Washington DC, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Barcelona, Oaxaca (Mexico), and Prilep (Macedonia), and is in numerous private and public collections. Molly’s work often deals with themes of communication and thresholds. She has participated in several public art projects, including a Lost and Found Drawing Booth in 2009. Her first museum exhibition was at the Museo de Filatelia in Oaxaca, Mexico in 2014. In 2015 she participated in the 58th Annual Contemporary Art Colony in Prilep, Macedonia: Molly’s work will be featured on an official Macedonian postage stamp in 2016. Molly holds an MFA in Painting from SUNY New Paltz, and a BA from St. Mary’s College in Maryland. She grew up in Maryland.
Simona David: How did you become an artist?
Molly Rausch: It’s a tough question, because I don’t really know how does one become anything. But I’ve always loved drawing. I have three sisters, and we’re all about two years apart, so we’re a little bit of a competitive family. I remember when my oldest sister was given some oil pastels – they were given to her because she was considered the artist of the family. I remember I was very upset, I thought that was unfair. The only reason she was drawing better than me at the time was that she was four years older. And I really wanted to have those pastels. I think that you find what you love to do, and that’s what you end up doing.
SD: I believe Picasso said that all children are artists, the question is how to remain an artist once you grow up. Are your parents artists?
MR: My mom draws, and my dad is a wood worker, but they aren’t visual artists. My father is a doctor, and my mother is a teacher. But to answer your question, how does one remain an artist once one grows up, for me it was about establishing a studio practice when I studied art in school. How do you continue to make art? What are your requirements? How do you like to work?
SD: You have formal training as an artist. What does it mean to be formally trained as an artist? And do you have any mentors or influencers?
MR: As an undergraduate I majored in studio art. The art classes were the hardest, and that’s where I felt I was learning the most. As a graduate student at SUNY New Paltz I had some amazing art teachers. It was important to have concentrated time to work in the studio. Literally it’s just a practice: you go in, and practice, and figure out what your practice is going to be like. I remember seeing a Jacob Lawrence exhibition in college, and that’s what made me work in gouache. Otherwise, it’s just a slow evolution. I usually work in series, and one series leads to the next. It’s one step at a time.
SD: Do you always work from memory, or from photography, or with the subject matter in front of you?
MR: I don’t like working from photography, I draw from observation. I like to see what happens when you try to depict things from observation and memory, and remember all the changes that happen. I have two main threads in my work right now: the postage stamp paintings, and a larger series of oils on plywood. For the postage stamp paintings I am using stamps as reference, but for the oil series I am working from observation.
SD: You are working both on very small works like the stamp paintings, and large ones like the oil paintings. It seems to me that it takes two different sets of skills to work on small and large scale. What do you think?
MR: I like having both threads going, and bounce back and forth between the two.
SD: From the viewer’s perspective is different too: these are two very different kinds of experience. I have the feeling that I see more details in small works.
MR: When it comes to the postage stamp paintings, I really like having that intimacy, I like having something small that’s going to make someone walk up to the wall and get very close to see what’s going on. It changes the way one relates to the artwork. When it comes to a small piece of art, you can relate to it as if it were a book: you can pick it up and hold it in your hands. You’re going to relate in a completely different way to a large oil painting. You step further away. And it’s different when it comes to painting it as well. My large work is very simplified. When you think that something is bigger, you’d think there is more information on it.
SD: Let’s talk about the artistic process: how do you start a new project?
MR: I work in series. I’m usually inspired by some new material that I’m introduced to. I have the material, and I have a problem to solve: how am I going to use this material? I play around with it until I hit on something. I get excited, and I create a series. Maybe I have twenty – thirty pieces, and then it feels like it’s done, and I don’t feel like I’m learning anything new from it anymore. Then I look for new inspiration and some new material to work with.
SD: Now let’s talk about your postage stamp art. What triggered your interest in mail art?
MR: The postage stamp paintings started with a bookbinding project. In 1997 – 1998 I took a bookbinding class. I was working on this very tiny book about 3 inch square. I didn’t know what to put in it. And it sat empty for a year or so, and then I finally started to draw on it, and I messed up my drawing on my first page. I needed something to cover it up. And I had this envelope full of old letters and stamps that my dad had given me – my dad used to collect stamps. They were all early 1900s, very beautiful. And because they happened to be the right size, I glued a stamp down on this little book to cover my bad drawing, and it just looked really nice in there. Then I glued another one on the next page, but this one looked like it needed a little bit more space on one side of it. The composition of the stamp was too symmetrical for me, so I glued it down and extended the horizon a little bit. The next page I thought that it needed some sky, so I added a little bit of sky. You can look through this book, and see the ideas grow from there. By the fifth page I thought I might be into something. That led me to drawing up maps on pieces of plywood. I did a whole series of paintings on that. Those were large, like 3 by 4 feet.
SD: Were you familiar at the time with other stamp artists? I believe this movement was started by the Dadaists in the 1920s. You did explain how you make your stamp art: you start with a stamp, then you build around it, and you imagine a world outside that stamp, as if the stamp was larger, and included a larger scene.
MR: Yes. I glue down the stamp and I basically just paint around it. I don’t paint on it, and I don’t research it. I just stare at it for a while, and figure out the edges: I figure out what needs to go in the final composition. As far as the content goes, I feel like it’s already there for me, like I’m following the cues that are in the original work from the original artist. I work in watercolor and gouache. And, all my postage stamp paintings are actually about 3 by 3 inches, they’re very small. If you make them too big, then the illusion disappears. Right now as small as they are, there is a moment when people are looking at them, and actually they look at a few in a row, and then suddenly I hear them say “oh, there is a stamp in there.” It takes them a little bit to see it, and then they go back, and they go around the room, and say “oh, there is a stamp in everyone of them.” I really like that moment of discovery.
SD: What amazes me about your work is the color palette that you use: you manage to stay on the same color palette that’s on the original stamp, and the brushstroke is also similar to the stamp as if it was done by the same artist.
MR: I feel like the mockingbird of watercolors. I get to play with different styles. I am trying to match the style and the color of the stamp; people often ask me how I match the color.
SD: Just to clarify: each of these postage stamp paintings is unique: you don’t reproduce and you don’t make any prints. Is that right?
MR: Yes, that’s true.
SD: Do you name these postage stamp paintings?
MR: Some of them have titles. There was a series I did on currencies, and those had titles. Sometimes the title is important. But for the most part the titles that I make up are just descriptions of the subject, for example French castles.
SD: You currently have a show on view at the Woodstock Artists Association and Museum (WAAM). What is included in this exhibition?
MR: There are twenty-nine paintings, about half of them painted this year. This is a series of postage stamp paintings that I started eighteen years ago. There is a stamp by Frederic Edwin Church for instance that I used in three different paintings, so it’s like a mini-series of paintings each of them less and less finished. I think of them as frames in some unknown film. This was the first time I had the same stamp on more than one painting. And I liked the idea of working in groups. There is also in there a series about currencies. This show will remain on view through January 3.
SD: You do other kind of work. You also work with typewriters. Let’s talk about that.
MR: I started this series of altered typewriter sculptures five or six years ago. It started with a joke: I was at work, and trying to write an email for some client that I was struggling with, and I made a joke to my co-workers like “I can’t find the sarcasm key on this computer.” At that point I had two typewriters – I still use the typewriter. So I started making these sculptures: take the keys off the typewriter, take all the letters off the keys, put other things in place, then put the typewriter back together. The first thing I made was a typewriter with all the letters blank except for the ones in the very middle where the letters “g” and “h” would be, and just says “yes” and “no.” Sometimes you just want to simplify things, and make them that binary, you just need an answer “yes” or “no.” There is a typewriter I made where all the keys say “me,” “me,” “me.” We’re all guilty of this sometimes. I made another typewriter where I took the “Shift” key off it, and made it “Sarcasm” key. The typewriters are fully functional – I didn’t actually alter the striking key: it doesn’t actually type “yes,” or “no,” or “me.” They still do what they’re supposed to do, they still type the regular alphabet, which is important to me conceptually, because I’m interested in this illusion we have about communication, and how you think you can only talk about one thing, you think you can only say “yes” or “no,” but in reality you could actually say whatever you want to. To me typewriters are beautiful, not just as mechanical objects, but I love the alphabet and the fact that twenty-six letters can be re-arranged to say anything and everything.
SD: What you said made me think of Marshall McLuhan’s famous assertion that “the medium is the message.” You like to write using either a pen, or a typewriter, or a computer. Does each of this medium trigger a different choice of words or perhaps a different thought process?
MR: It’s completely different. There is no editing when it comes to typewriters. I feel like the typewriter is the purist because on a computer I can edit everything, whereas with the typewriter I need more stream of consciousness. With the typewriter whatever comes out in whatever order is what it is, that’s it. Just like talking live on the radio.
SD: You’ve shown your work in many exhibitions throughout North America and Europe. What do these shows mean to you? Earlier this year you participated in an arts residency in Macedonia. What was your experience like? What did you learn?
MR: It’s always a thrill, it’s always an honor. It’s nice to get things out of my studio, and have other people see them. The opportunity to travel to go to Macedonia this year was amazing.
SD: Talk a little bit about what it means to get ready for a new show.
MR: I remember the first series of paintings that I made, it was very personal. I could never imagine ever parting with these paintings. I also remember thinking that I’d like to be able to show my work, and I can’t hang onto everything forever, and start making things that aren’t so personal. It’s about learning to let go of your artwork and send it out in the world, but there are a few pieces in each series that I think like “no, this one isn’t going anywhere, this one is mine.”
SD: What are you working on now?
MR: I’m working on a project trying to combine chalk board painting with concrete and piano roll paper. I’m working on a series of larger paintings on plywood that incorporate these three materials. I also have an exhibition coming up next year in New Haven, Connecticut, and I’m working on postage stamp paintings for them. I might include typewriters in this show as well, because the show will be hosted at the Library Institute, a beautiful, old library in New Haven. I’m imaging the postage stamp paintings on the walls and the typewriters set in the middle of the room.
A fabulous weekend in the Catskills: Headwaters History Days celebrating the history of the Central Catskills are taking place in Roxbury, Andes, Pine Hill, Phoenicia and other places. Award-winning author Jenny Milchman is teaching a memoir workshop at the Phoenicia Library. Friends of Historic Kingston gallery is hosting a James McEntee exhibit – McEntee was a landscape painter of the 19th century affiliated with the Hudson River School, and a good friend of Frederic Church. A ballet performance with music by Aaron Copland and Leonard Bernstein is taking place at the Bardavon Theater. And the Woodstock Playhouse is presenting the musical Oliver! based on Charles Dickens’ novel of the same name.
Fenimore Art Museum in Cooperstown, Otsego County, is hosting an Iroquois Cultural Festival Saturday, May 23 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The museum’s new Lucy B. Hamilton Amphitheater, located near the shores of the Otsego Lake, will celebrate its grand opening this Saturday. Otsego: A Meeting Place Iroquois Sites are located nearby. Native American music, dance and storytelling performances will be held at the amphitheater between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. Traditional Iroquois activities such as playing lacrosse and building canoes will take place throughout the day. Native American arts and crafts as well as traditional Iroquois cuisine will be available. For more information, visit http://www.fenimoreartmuseum.org/icf.
Hudson River Maritime Museum
Hudson River Maritime Museum in Kingston, Ulster County, is hosting an exhibition Lighthouses of the Hudson, celebrating the museum’s 35th anniversary. This year also marks the centennial of the Rondout Light, which was built in 1915. Thirteen lighthouses are part of this exhibition, seven of whom are still standing. A fascinating history surrounds this place as for many years Hudson River was the main route connecting New York City and Albany. A photo collage included in this exhibition speaks about the restoration process at the Saugerties, Hudson-Athens, Rondout, and the Esopus-Meadows Lighthouses. The museum is open daily from May to October, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information, visit http://www.hrmm.org/news/lighthouses-of-the-hudson-2015-exhibit-opens.
The Woodstock – New Paltz Arts & Crafts Fair
On May 23 – 25, over two hundred artists and artisans will showcase a variety of works in all media and styles at the Ulster County Fairgrounds in New Paltz. Fiber, glass, metal, leather, jewelry, mixed media, fine art and photography, as well as other handcrafted products will be on view over the span of three days. Since 1982 the Woodstock – New Paltz Arts & Crafts Fair has become an attraction for visitors from all over the world. The fair takes place over the Memorial Day weekend in May, as well as Labor Day in late summer. For more information, visit http://quailhollow.com.
Woodstock Byrdcliffe Guild
The Woodstock Byrdcliffe Guild is hosting a trail hike Spring Wild Flowers Saturday, May 23 from 10 a.m. to 12 noon. Hikers will meet at the Byrdcliffe Theater, and will then be accompanied by a hiking guide. The hike, connecting Byrdcliffe with Mt. Guardian Trail, offers a panoramic view of the Woodstock’s backwoods, an unforgettable experience this time of year. For more information, visit http://www.woodstockguild.org.
Still in Woodstock, Bearsville Theater is hosting a Bob Dylan Birthday celebratory concert Sunday, May 24 at 8 p.m. The legendary folk musician was born on May 24, 1941 in Minnesota, and lived in Woodstock in the late 1960s – early 1970s. This year a group of Hudson Valley musicians will celebrate Dylan’s birthday at the Bearsville Theater, and will perform some of his best known songs. The event is sponsored by WDST Radio Woodstock. For more information, visit http://bearsvilletheater.com.
Thomas Cole National Historic Site & Olana State Historic Site
The Thomas Cole National Historic Site in Catskill, Greene County, in partnership with Olana State Historic Site in Hudson, Columbia County, are co-hosting River Crossings: Contemporary Art Comes Home, a show that will remain on view through November this year. The exhibition, featuring twenty-eight contemporary artists inspired by the works of Thomas Cole and Frederic Edwin Church, is the first major collaboration between the two institutions, and the first event since the 19th century when contemporary artists are invited to present their works in these settings. Artists such as Chuck Close, Martin Puryear, Lynn Davis, Cindy Sherman, Kiki Smith, Maya Lin, Stephen Hannock, and Jerry Gretzinger are among those featured in this show. For more information, visit http://www.rivercrossings.org/.
Hudson Opera House
Hudson Opera House in Hudson, Columbia County, is hosting a classical music concert Saturday, May 23 at 7 p.m. featuring Grammy nominated artists Shmuel Ashkenasi (violin) and Peter Wiley (cello), who will be joined by Helena Baille (violin). The trio will perform Schubert’s B Flat Trio, Mozart’s Adagio and Fugues K. 404, as well as Mozart’s Divertimento K. 563. For more information, visit http://hudsonoperahouse.org/2013/11/02/string-trios-saturday-may-23-at-7-pm/.
Roxbury Arts Center
Roxbury Arts Center in Roxbury, Delaware County, is hosting a salsa concert performed by Orquesta SCC, Saturday, May 23 at 7:30 p.m. Based in New York City, Orquesta SCC (which stands for Salsa Con Conciencia – Salsa Music with Conscience) is an 11-piece band founded in 2013 by composer Jose Vazquez-Cofresi. A free dance class will be held before the performance at 6:30 p.m. For more information, visit http://roxburyartsgroup.org/2014/08/07/may-23-orquesta-scc/.
Longyear Gallery in Margaretville, Delaware County, is hosting an opening reception Saturday, May 23 at 3 p.m. featuring artist Margaret Leveson. Founding member of the Blue Mountain Gallery in Manhattan and the Longyear Gallery in Margaretville, Leveson is primarily a plein air painter, captivated by the Catskill Mountains scenery. Her paintings look a bit impressionistic: the artist likes to apply color in oil sticks over the canvass or linen that is available. A new project is completed within hours, although sometimes it takes months to complete more complex artworks. Leveson studied at the NYU Institute of Fine Arts, and later earned an MFA from Brooklyn College. She’s lived in the Catskills since 1977. For more information, visit http://www.longyeargallery.org.
Bethel Woods Center for the Arts in Bethel, Sullivan County, is hosting Mysteryland Festival Friday through Monday, May 22 – 25. Mysteryland is the longest running electronic music, culture and arts festival in the world, launched in 1993. Camping options are available on site. For more information, visit http://www.bethelwoodscenter.org/events/detail/mysteryland-usa.
May Day, Park Day, Independent Bookstore Day, Kentucky Derby, and superb weather this weekend – many reasons to celebrate.
Thomas Cole National Historic Site & Olana State Historic Site
Thomas Cole National Historic Site in partnership with Olana State Historic Site are co-hosting River Crossings: Contemporary Art Comes Home, an exhibition that opens this Sunday, May 3 at both sites. The exhibition, featuring twenty-eight contemporary artists inspired by the works of Thomas Cole and Frederic Edwin Church, is the first major collaboration between the two institutions, and the first event since the 19th century when contemporary artists are invited to present their works in these settings. Artists such as Chuck Close, Martin Puryear, Lynn Davis, Cindy Sherman, Kiki Smith, Maya Lin, Stephen Hannock, and Jerry Gretzinger are among those featured in this show. For more information, visit http://www.rivercrossings.org/.
Hudson Opera House in Hudson, Columbia County, is hosting a classical music concert this Sunday, May 3 at 3 p.m. Mozart and Friends: Musical Wonderland featuring world class musicians from the Preparatory Division of The Bard College Conservatory of Music: soprano Amy Palomo, clarinetist Nicholas Lewis, and pianist Renana Gutman. Talented young musicians will also perform under the tutelage of these accomplished artists, and will be exposed to performing in a professional setting. This is a free concert for the entire family. For more information, visit http://hudsonoperahouse.org/2013/11/30/bard-preparatory-division-family-concert-sunday-may-3-at-3pm/.
Writers in the Mountains
Writers in the Mountains (WIM) presents Writing Fiction Today – Literary vs. Genre Fiction: Real Distinction or No Difference at All? Sunday, May 3 at 1 p.m. at the Golden Notebook Bookstore in Woodstock, Ulster County. The event is co-sponsored by Glaring Omissions Writing Group, one of the longest-running critique groups in the Hudson Valley. Moderator Jenny Milchman will lead a conversation with panelists Elizabeth Brundage, Alison Gaylin, and Peter Golden as they question the foundation that lies beneath bookstore shelving, library categorization, and the ways we define words on a page. For more information, visit http://writersinthemountains.org/.
Bardavon Theatre in Poughkeepsie, Dutchess County, is hosting a classical music concert this Saturday, May 2 at 8 p.m. featuring the Hudson Valley Philharmonic conducted by Randall Craig Fleischer. The orchestra will perform Brahms’ Requiem and Haydn’s Symphony No. 44. Over one hundred and fifty instrumentalists and singers will perform, including the Vassar Choir and Cappella Festiva directed by Christine Howlett. Fleischer will deliver a pre-concert talk at 7 p.m. For more information, visit https://bardavon.org/event_info.php?id=736&venue=bardavon.
Bannerman Castle, located on Pollepel Island, in the proximity of Fishkill, Dutchess County, is an architectural gem built in 1901 by businessman Francis Bannerman. Bannerman designed the building himself. While the castle is currently under renovation, the island is open to the public by guided tours only. To embark on a tour, visitors meet at the Beacon Institute Dock. The first tour of the season will take place this Saturday, May 2 at 11 a.m. The tour is two and a half hour long. For more information, visit http://www.bannermancastle.org.
Also, Vassar College is open for campus tours this Saturday, May 2 at 1 p.m. Lyle Lovett will perform at the Ulster Performing Arts Center in Kingston Sunday, May 3 at 7 p.m. Bard College Conservatory Orchestra is having the last concert of the season Saturday, May 2 at 8 p.m.
I interviewed Betsy Jacks, Director of the Thomas Cole National Historic Site in Catskill, Greene County. The Thomas Cole National Historic Site in partnership with Olana State Historic Site are co-hosting River Crossings: Contemporary Art Comes Home, an exhibition that will open this Sunday, May 3, and run through November this year. The exhibition, featuring twenty-eight contemporary artists inspired by the works of Thomas Cole and Frederic Edwin Church, is the first major collaboration between the two institutions, and the first event since the 19th century when contemporary artists are invited to present works in these settings.
Simona David: Before we talk specifically about River Crossings, let’s briefly talk about the Thomas Cole National Historic Site and the Olana State Historic Site, the homes of 19th century landscape painters Thomas Cole, and Frederic Edwin Church respectively.
Betsy Jacks: The two homes are just two miles apart, so they make a great one day or a weekend trip to both of them. They’ve been connecting for centuries with history and with each other. Because the Thomas Cole National Historic Site is of course the place where Thomas Cole lived and worked, but perhaps people don’t realize, it’s also the place where Frederic Church first came to this area to live and work as a student of Cole’s. Frederic Church was just a teenager when he came to live and learn from Cole. Later in life Church built Olana across the river within viewing distance from the Thomas Cole’s site. So they had a history together from the beginning.
SD: You are currently in the process of re-building Thomas Cole’s New Studio, originally erected in 1846, and demolished in 1973. What is the status of this project?
BJ: It’s under construction. We raised the funds for it except for the last bit; we’re still looking for some contributions to finish the capital campaign. We’re almost there. We have 90 percent of the funds. And the building I would say is 90 percent complete as well. It can be visited from the outside at the moment. You can see the construction – the windows just went in last week; and that was an exciting moment. We anticipate announcing the ribbon cutting soon.
SD: Thomas Cole had two studios: the Old Studio, built in 1839, and the New Studio, built in 1846, currently under construction. But the Old Studio is still in its authentic condition, and can be visited from May to October, right?
BJ: Yes, it’s a beautiful barn like structure built in 1839 that Thomas Cole painted in for seven years of his life. And he did many of his statement works in that modest building. He did The Voyage of Life series of paintings there, which he called “my great series” – he considered it one of his greatest accomplishments. And finally he built the New Studio, which is a much more elegant building – Thomas Cole designed it himself. It was designed in the Italianate style, with beautiful moldings; it’s a really beautiful place to work in. Cole got to work in that building until the last year of his life.
SD: Cole’s paintings are in museums all over the country. How many of his paintings do you still have at the Thomas Cole National Historic Site?
BJ: We have about 16 or 17 of his paintings on view at any given time. His paintings can be seen now in museums all over the world.
SD: Let’s talk about River Crossings. Whose idea was to organize this event, and how did you go about putting it together?
BJ: It was all conceived by an artist by the name of Stephen Hannock. Hannock is a landscape painter who lives and works in Berkshires, Massachusetts. The former head of Olana, who just retired, Sarah Griffin, and I went out to visit his studio on Halloween in 2013, and he said “I would really like to do something to help your sites.” Stephen Hanncok has long been inspired by Thomas Cole and Frederic Church, and has been supporting our sites in a variety of ways. We are a big fan of his as well. He wanted to come up with a way to help us – in a bigger way, and he proposed this exhibition. He’s brought in a co-curator – Jason Rosenfeld, who is a professor of art history and curator. And then Stephen went about calling all the artists that he knew and loved – a really incredible collection of artists that are highly sought after and celebrated today. They all said “yes” to Stephen. Then Jason reached out to some additional artists, so it became a collaborative effort from then on.
SD: The show is co-curated by art historian Jason Rosenfeld and painter Stephen Hannock. Rosenfeld curated major shows at Tate Britain in London, and the National Gallery in Washington DC just recently. Hannock is a painter whose works are actually included in this exhibition.
BJ: Yes. Stephen has two paintings that are currently hanging in Thomas Cole’s parlor.
SD: He must be very excited about that.
BJ: It’s a visually stunning exhibition. We knew it was going to be very special because these artworks are very special anywhere. But putting them in this historic context has just had so many repercussions we didn’t anticipate. The artworks and the surroundings magnify each other beautifully.
SD: I’m interested in the curation process, and the kind of experience that the curators had in mind for visitors. It’s important to say it’s a multi-media exhibition – it includes a wide range of works in a variety of styles and media by very diverse artists.
BJ: Correct. It’s a very mixed-media exhibition. It feels like you don’t know what to expect when you go around the corner. It’s full of surprises. It’s really fun that way, to walk around and just discover what’s been installed.
SD: There are a total of thirty artists included in this exhibition, among them painter Chuck Close, sculptor Martin Puryear, photographer Lynn Davis, Cindy Sherman – who is a photographer and stylist, and Kiki Smith, a multi-media artist. Some of these artworks are on display at the Thomas Cole National Historic Site, and others at Olana estate across the river. Would you like to talk about these artists and their artworks?
BJ: There are thirty artists if you include Thomas Cole and Frederic Church – so there are twenty-eight contemporary artists. It’s such a wide variety of things that you see here. At Olana for example there is this incredible piece by Maya Lin, which is called Silver River – Hudson. She has taken a topographical study of the Hudson River and cast the shape of the river in solid silver – recycled silver. At the Thomas Cole site there is an artist Jerry Gretzinger who has been for the last forty years of his life creating a map that is now up to over 3,000 pieces, and each piece is the size of eight by ten inch. He installed this map so that it wraps along the whole stair hall – so, when you come up the stairs, you suddenly catch sight of this map that surrounds you on all sides in the most vivid colors imaginable, like a kaleidoscope. When you walk up, you’re in the middle of it, and enter this colorful world. On your way up you’ll pass a sculpture by Kiki Smith called Wolf with Birds, which is made out of bronze with gold leaf, and is such a beautiful piece which brings the wilderness inside this domestic space. Which is what Thomas Cole was doing as well – painting the wilderness – paintings that he would then bring inside. There are so many connections between the past and the present in each artwork. The process of walking around this exhibit is a process of discovery.
SD: And it’s interesting, because when people think of Thomas Cole and Frederic Church, they think of representational art, landscape painting, and I’m looking at Maya Lin’s silver piece, the style is so modern – I wouldn’t make a connection between Thomas Cole and Maya Lin’s work. It’s interesting to see what kind of conversations will emerge when people see these contemporary artists’ works side by side with Thomas Cole and Frederic Church. Now let’s talk a bit more about Stephen Hannock, who is a luminist painter – he is a co-curator of this exhibition as well.
BJ: Stephen has two paintings in the Thomas Cole’s main parlor. One of them is called The Oxbow, which refers to a bend in the Connecticut River in Massachusetts that Thomas Cole painted quite famously in 1836. And that painting is now at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, one of the most beloved paintings by Thomas Cole. If people know any paintings by Cole, they may know that one, it’s a very famous work. So Stephen has painted the same bend in the river: it’s very recognizable. He painted it many, many times now. Its simplicity is deceptive: when you look at it first it just looks like this incredibly luminous landscape painting, but the closer you get, the more you realize that a lot is going on in this painting. What looks like rose of crops in a field, are actually scribbles of writing, lines of written script. In another place, what you may think it’s a grove of trees, when you get closer you see the photograph of Stephen Hanncok and some people who were important to him. Stephen inscribed his life into this landscape, literally and figuratively. It’s a stunning work. It explains a lot about the rest of the exhibition, if you see this artwork first.
Across the way there is another Hannock painting called River Keeper, which has been featured on the postcard. It’s a view of the Hudson River.
SD: It’s good to know, there is a website http://www.rivercrossings.org/ where people can go and see all the participating artists. There is also a companion book published by The Artist Book Foundation which includes commentary by historian Ken Burns, and also by Maurice Berger, Marvin Heiferman and Adam Gopnik. Where will this book be available?
BJ: We would have loved to have it for the opening, but we had to make a difficult decision. We wanted to have installation shots. Just to put the artwork in the book without any context, it really wouldn’t be in the spirit of the show. Part of what makes this show so special is the context – that you put this artwork in a different room where it would be normally seen in. Today we’re used to seeing artwork on a white wall in a gallery or a museum; but the traditional way to display art in the 19th century was in a home. So we wanted to hold the book until we can get installation photography. We anticipate that we will have the book by the end of June. It will be available on the website as well.
SD: Let’s talk about the opening reception on May 3, and the hours of visitation throughout the summer.
BJ: The official opening day is May 3. Both Olana and the Thomas Cole site will be open regular hours that day, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. For the first time this year, visitors will have the opportunity to visit the interiors of both homes without a tour guide Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 2 to 5 p.m. Olana will provide this “explore at your own pace” opportunity on Saturdays. The other option for seeing the show is to take one of our guided tours, which is a great option, because then you’ll have a person with you who can answer questions. Guided tours are offered during our regular hours Tuesday through Sunday, at all times, except when “explore at your own pace” is going on.
Thomas Cole (1801 – 1848) is the founder of the Hudson River School of Painting, the first authentic American art movement. Frederic Edwin Church (1826 – 1900) was Cole’s most famous student. Church is best known for paintings such as Heart of the Andes (1859), Twilight in the Wilderness (1860), and Aurora Borealis (1865). Cole’s paintings include: The Titan’s Goblet (1833), The Course of Empire series (1834 – 1836), The Oxbow (1836), and The Voyage of Life (1842). For more information about Cole, visit http://www.explorethomascole.org.
For more information about Thomas Cole National Historic Site, visit thomascole.org.