Opens May 2017

The Parlors

Experience a historic house museum in a whole new way

The Thomas Cole National Historic Site has created a new way to encounter a historic house museum — a project that's been in the making for nearly a decade. Experience the artist's home with a new immersive installation that combines technology and meticulous historic restoration, featuring the earliest-known interior decorative painting by an American artist.

Through hidden audio and moving-graphics presentations, visitors can hear the thoughts of Thomas Cole (1801-1848) and the historic conversations that took place in the parlors of his 1815 home, where America’s first major art movement, the Hudson River School of painting, was founded. In November 2016, Senator Schumer visited the site to reveal Thomas Cole’s original handpainted decorations that have been uncovered on the walls of the historic Main House as a part of this project.

Margaret Saliske working on the Thomas Cole home.
Restoration expert Margaret Saliske works on handpainted borders at the home of artist Thomas Cole, in Catskill, New York. Michael Hill/AP

Historic Restoration

After Thomas Cole moved into the Main House in 1836, he completely redecorated the two parlors and the entrance foyer that connects them, transforming the interior spaces according to his vision of a stylish environment for displaying his paintings.

David Singleton working on the West Parlor.
Historic painter David Singleton of Claverack, NY begins the transformation of the West Parlor using Thomas Cole’s original Lavender color.

As part of this dramatic redecoration, Cole himself painted elaborate decorative borders around the circumference of both the East Parlor and West Parlor, using pigments and paints that only he — as a fine artist on the cutting edge of paint-making — would have had access to. The decorative borders were first discovered in the fall of 2014, having been buried beneath over a century of paint. The borders have been restored and will be on view with the opening of The Parlors in May 2017.

“The Parlors positions the Cole Site at the forefront of 21st-century presentations of historic properties,” said Elizabeth B. Jacks, Executive Director of the Thomas Cole National Historic Site. “It combines meticulous scholarship with immersive storytelling to bring history to life for contemporary audiences.”

Storytelling with technology

The East Parlor has been restored to the way Thomas Cole designed it — with bright grass-green walls and an elaborate painted border up near the ceiling. At first glance, the room appears as a static furnished interior; however, the framed paintings on the walls reveal a multi-media presentation that uses Cole’s own words — taken from his written journals and letters — to provide a window into what drives him as a person and as an artist.

A detail of the decorative borders in Thomas Cole's East Parlor.
The decorative painted borders on the walls of Thomas Cole’s East Parlor. To him, everything was a canvas. The borders were hidden under layers of paint for decades.

In the West Parlor, also fully restored to Thomas Cole’s own design, visitors have the opportunity to encounter three conversations between Thomas Cole and his patrons, revealing provocative content about landscape, beauty and art.

Part of an immersive presentation of Thomas Cole's second wife, Maria.
A still from the immersive presentation designed by Second Story of Thomas Cole’s wife, Maria.
Comparing a painted border to a painting done by Cole in 1840
Take a look at Thomas Cole's decorative painted borders and wall color in the West Parlor of his home compared to his painting, "The Architect's Dream," his painting from 1840.
Margaret Saliske working on the Thomas Cole home.
Restoration expert Margaret Saliske works on handpainted borders at the home of artist Thomas Cole, in Catskill, New York. Michael Hill/AP
David Singleton working on the West Parlor.
Historic painter David Singleton of Claverack, NY begins the transformation of the West Parlor using Thomas Cole’s original Lavender color.
A detail of the decorative borders in Thomas Cole's East Parlor.
The decorative painted borders on the walls of Thomas Cole’s East Parlor. To him, everything was a canvas. The borders were hidden under layers of paint for decades.
Part of an immersive presentation of Thomas Cole's second wife, Maria.
A still from the immersive presentation designed by Second Story of Thomas Cole’s wife, Maria.
Comparing a painted border to a painting done by Cole in 1840
Take a look at Thomas Cole's decorative painted borders and wall color in the West Parlor of his home compared to his painting, "The Architect's Dream," his painting from 1840.
Institute of Museum and Library Services The National Indowment for the Humanities I love NY Art Works: National Endowment for the Arts

The Parlors installation has been made possible by the National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the human endeavor, and also by the Institute of Museum and Library Services MA-10-15-0116-15. Support provided by Empire State Development’s I LOVE NEW YORK program under the Market NY initiative. Additional support provided by Herzog’s of Kingston, Geoff Howell Studio, Hudson River Valley Greenway, Eli Wilner & Company and Temple Israel of Catskill. Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this exhibition do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.