The Thomas Cole National Historic Site went full-steam into 2013 by kicking off their “Sunday Salons” this weekend; Dr. Kevin J. Avery’s Cole and the American Revolution in Landscape was an exciting first in this 4-month series that runs from January through April. I encourage you the make the trip (if possible) on the second Sunday of each month to attend these lectures—which begin at 2 pm—where guest speakers headline fascinating discussions on various Hudson River School topics. Dr. Avery’s lecture highlighted the effects of the Industrial Revolution on American culture, emphasizing that as burgeoning cities and technology replaced a more simple and rural way of life, the once-close relationship between man and landscape grew farther and farther apart. As the forerunners of the Hudson River School, Thomas Cole and Asher B. Durand saw how their depictions of the American landscape had the potential to bridge an increasing gap between humanity and nature, yet were very aware that a certain approach had to be taken in order for their work to successfully break into the mainstream art circuits. How did they do it? By playing up just the right amount of fearful anticipation of the sublime wilderness while perfectly balancing it with a reassuring promise offered by their canvases: audiences could safely experience the thrill of the strange and mysterious landscape–and avoid any actual threat from nature–by seeking out Hudson River School paintings found in the galleries and salons in their own cities.
As the Hudson River School movement swept through 19th-century America, it became increasingly clear that these American painters were masters not only of landscape painting, but also of ensuring that they became the crucial element that connected and maintained the relationship between the native countryside and an urban nation. Cole and the American Revolution in Landscape was a great reminder that although our global culture has developed a dependency on modernization and technology, if we make the effort to turn off our phones and step away from our computers, the big, bad world just outside our doorsteps isn’t actually so scary–it’s just waiting for members of the 21st century to venture out and explore the great American landscape!