In the last few weeks we were astounded to discover the full extent of the elaborate and beautiful hand-painted decorative border in Thomas Cole's East Parlor, shown in the photo above. The Greek key design at the very top is stenciled in oil paint, and Cole rendered the drapery and fringe, with its delicate details and amazing 3-dimensional effects, by hand, using a far more translucent water-based paint. According to our interiors specialist, Jean Dunbar, who has been working with us on the restoration of the interior of the Main House for the last five years, "Knotted fringe was popular at the time—for trimming drapery, but also tablecloths, towels, and clothing, especially shawls. The East Parlor’s decoration has much in common with wallpaper borders that Cole knew from his time in that trade, such as the c.1820-1830." We believe that Cole painted it around the time he moved into the house, c.1836 or so. He continued to decorate and redecorate the house into the 1840s.
The Thomas Cole Historic Site Blog
We are pleased to announce an expansion of the Thomas Cole staff, hiring David Barnes in the newly created position of Associate Director. For the last ten years, David has served as a Trustee of the Thomas Cole site while working at J. P. Morgan Asset Management. Starting on July 6, 2015, he made the transition to working at the Thomas Cole site full time. David’s passionate dedication to the mission of this organization is abundantly clear to all who know him, as are his truly outstanding abilities as a communicator and ambassador to the communities that we serve. The overarching goal for the position of Associate Director is to bring in new revenue to the organization from individual, corporate, government and foundation sources. The Associate Director will report to the Executive Director and will work closely with the Board of Trustees and the capital campaign committee to raise new support. The trustees are honored and delighted to welcome him in this new capacity.
As reported today in The New York Times, the Albany Times Union as well as several TV stations, Senator Chuck Schumer visited the Thomas Cole site yesterday to announce our amazing find: decorative painting believed to be by Thomas Cole was found on the plaster walls of Cole's home, hidden for over a century behind many layers of wall paint. We have just posted a video to our YouTube channel that shows the meticulous process by the paint analyst Matthew Mosca. So far he has revealed only small sections of the overall design and much work remains to be done. At right is his rendering of how the painted decoration may have continued around the perimeter of the East Parlour.
The opening event for "River Crossings: Contemporary Art Comes Home" brought over 600 people to both the Thomas Cole Historic Site and Olana, including twenty of the artists in the exhibition. It was a spectacular spring day (finally! after such a long winter), with daffodills in full bloom in the garden. It seemed as though most of the people flowing through the doors of the 1815 Main House had never been here before, with remarks like "Where has this place been all my life?" The 34 artworks by 20 artists at the Thomas Cole site were spread throughout the house - on all three floors - and on the grounds as well. Over the river at Olana, ten artists had intalled works inside and out as well. The crowd was buzzing with delight at the justaposition of the old and new, and how each brought out new meaning in the other. The show is now open to the public. Beat the crowds and come and see it before the articles in The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal come out in the coming weeks.
Our staff have been working extra hours and we hired lots of additional help to install nearly 40 works of art for the upcoming exhibition "River Crossings: Contemporary Art Comes Home." At right are Jason Rosenfeld, the exhibition co-curator, along with Mike Prudhomme, hanging a painting by Thomas Nozkowski over the mantel in Thomas Cole's family sitting room. In the other photo you can see Kiki Smith's bronze and gold-leaf wall sculpture "Wolf with Birds III" that is hung halfway up the stairs. Today we will hang Stephen Hannock's Oxbow painting in the West Parlour. The exhibition opens on Sunday May 3 at both the Thomas Cole site and Olana. The members' opening is on May 2. Hope to see you there.
There has been a lot of talk and attention given to our 2015 show, and the first press release hasn't even been sent out yet. First, the basics: It's an exhibition of contemporary art, opening May 1st, installed into the historic rooms and onto the landscapes of both the Thomas Cole Historic site and the Olana State Historic Site, which is just two miles from here. It is the first time that these two historic sites have collaborated on an exhibition. It is the first time that Olana has had contemporary art inside its Main House, although we at the Thomas Cole site have done some of this before: Stanley Maltzman in 2014, the late Thomas Locker in 2002, the esteemed scholar Barbara Novak in 2009, and over 200 artists in our "Postcards from the Trail" shows in 2012-14. This year, however, something is different. In fact, lots of things are different. First of all, we've invited outside curators to choose all of the art and artists, and one of the curators is an artist himself: Stephen Hannock. He recruited Jason Rosenfeld, PhD, to be his partner on this project, thereby bringing on a professor, curator and art historian. Stephen's paintings have referenced Thomas Cole and Frederic Church for decades, and for a long time it has been a dream of his to organize this exhibition. Through excited phone calls and emails, together they've recruited some of the best-known names in contemporary art to participate, including Romare Bearden, Chuck Close, Maya Lin, Martin Puryear, Cindy Sherman, and Kiki Smith. Wow. Not many people haven't heard a few of those names before. And what has excited us the most is that each artist jumped at the chance. They were thrilled to be part of this cross-centuries conversation with Cole and Church.
To kick things off, we invited a speaker to come and tell us about other examples of historic houses that have invited contemporary artists to create exhibitions and performances inside the period rooms, and to tell us about how it was perceived, what happened to attendance at the sites, and what kinds of things have been tried. What struck me, after seeing his entire presentation, was how widespread this practice has become. What struck our staff was how much attendance increased at the other historic sites as a result of these projects. (We need to get ready!) We realized also that there is something about our particular exhibition that is unique. It is summed up by the subtitle of our exhibition, "Contemporary Art Comes Home". This is where the whole trajectory of American art began, and now it is coming home. When Thomas Cole was alive, his house was not filled with already antique paintings by European "Old Masters". It was filled with his own art, fresh from the studio, i.e. contemporary art.
The plans are set, we have our building permit, the contractor has been hired, and the groundbreaking is next week. It is really happening: Thomas Cole's New Studio will at last be rebuilt. I invite you to follow our construction progress on the New Studio page: www.thomascole.org/new-studio. This beautiful little building was designed by Thomas Cole and built across the lawn from his home here in Catskill in 1846. Sadly it was torn down in 1973, but now after years of careful planning and research, it rises again.
Currently splashed across the home page of "Virginia Quarterly" and soon to appear in the print edition is a new article by Jean Dunbar, a brilliant researcher with whom we've been working over the last several years to investigate the original look and arrangement of the interior rooms of Cole's home and studios. Along the way, she discovered something about Thomas Cole that had never been fully explained -- how did he suddenly emerge on the art scene in 1825 as an accomplished painter with seemingly little or no prior training? It turns out that the answer was hiding in plain sight.
The late scholar Ellwood C. Parry spent a lifetime compiling a research library of Thomas Cole material, and now the entire archive has been donated to the Thomas Cole Historic Site by Michael Altman of Michael Altman Fine Art & Advisory Services. Parry traveled to all known public and private collections of Thomas Cole letters and papers and created his own copy set that is arranged in chronological order, narrating the artist's life. The archive also contains thousands of images of all of the Cole paintings and drawings that Parry could locate and authenticate, as well as copies of every article written about Thomas Cole that Parry could find until his premature death from cancer in September 2005. Parry taught art history at Columbia University (1969-1975) and the University of Iowa (1976-1981) before joining the University of Arizona where he taught for 24 years. Michael Altman Fine Art & Advisory Services is a private gallery located on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, specializing in rare masterpieces of American paintings from the 19th and 20th centuries. Altman has a history of supporting the Thomas Cole Historic Site and has sponsored exhibitions and research projects at the site. Shown at right is a snapshot of how Parry's archive appeared in his own home.
Thomas Cole's "New Studio", demolished forty years ago, is now coming back to life. We have just been notified that our captial campaign to reconstruct this beautiful building has been awarded a grant of $500,000 from New York State as part of Governor Cuomo's Regional Economic Development plans.
Built in 1846 according to Thomas Cole’s own design, the building stood a few hundred yards from Cole’s home at Cedar Grove for 125 years. Tragically, it was torn down in 1973 after falling into disrepair.
We will continue to update you on this blog and elsewhere as the schedule and other details are determined. Stay tuned.