Thomas Cole National Historic Site: New Beginnings

Thomas Cole National Historic Site: New Beginnings

Ally Chapel | May 5th, 2017 | Posted in Events and Exhibitions, News

With increasing sunlight and warmth, spring is the season of hope and renewal. Nestled in Catskill, New York, the Thomas Cole National Historic Site marks the birthplace of American landscape painting, where the Hudson River School began.

The westward view from the Main House porch offers a striking view of the Catskills, a subject Thomas Cole painted more than any other. As the Catskill Mountains awakens from a long New York winter, the historic site has launched its 2017 season, full of new beginnings. On April 30, the Thomas Cole National Historic Site offered free admission and unveiled their new immersive installation, The Parlorsin the Main House, and in the New Studio an exhibition titled Sanford R. Gifford in the Catskills, curated by Dr. Kevin J. Avery, Senior Research Scholar at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Catskill Mountains, view, Catskill, New York

Westward view of the Catskill Mountains from the Main House porch of The Thomas Cole National Historic Site

Work on The Parlors began as a restoration effort, but the decade-long endeavor resulted in far more than a life-size diorama. The site offers a new way to encounter a historic museum. You will find no velvet ropes restricting you from entering the rooms; rather, almost every opportunity for visitors to interact with the space is encouraged.

Thomas Cole moved into the Main House in 1836, and began redecorating the two parlors and the entrance foyer that connects them. As a fine artist, Cole was able to use pigments and paints to elaborately hand-paint the walls with decorative borders. The painted borders of the East and West Parlors were first discovered in the fall of 2014, and are now on view for the first time in over a century.

hand-painted, wall, decoration

View of the hand-painted border in the East Parlor, Thomas Cole National Historic Site

The vibrantly painted and furnished rooms initially appear static, but as visitors navigate the spaces, audio and moving imagery ignite deceivingly blank surfaces. Directed at contemporary audiences, technology allows visitors to navigate the spaces while hearing the thoughts of Thomas Cole recorded by British actor Jamie Bell (Billy Elliot). In the West Parlor, displays are oriented around a central table where visitors are invited to take a seat. Several smaller tables situated along the perimeter present an assortment of letters by Thomas Cole, which are accompanied by hidden audio and digital projections that are sent in motion as visitors approach.

The East Parlor features a six-minute installation, which introduces Thomas Cole through projections of his artwork onto seven framed panels. The projections create a 180-degree immersion into Cole’s paintings, giving viewers the opportunity to view them in greater detail.

Thomas Cole National Historic Site, East Parlor, digital media, instalation

East Parlor, Thomas Cole National Historic Site 2017 © Peter Aaron/OTTO

Sanford R. Gifford In The Catskills, New Studio Gallery, art exhibition, Thomas Cole National Historic Site

Sanford R. Gifford In The Catskills, New Studio Gallery, Thomas Cole National Historic Site 2017 © Peter Aaron/OTTO

A short walk from the Main House across the flower garden brings you to the historic site’s current exhibition, Sanford R. Gifford in the Catskills in the New Studio. The exhibition reunites the two major influences of Gifford’s creative process: the Catskill Mountains and Thomas Cole. A second-generation Hudson River School painter, Gifford was a master at depicting light and atmosphere and credited Cole’s paintings with stimulating his interest in landscape painting. As one of the only painters among his contemporaries to be born and raised in the heart of the Hudson River Valley, Gifford had a special affinity for the mountains, valleys, and rivers of the region. As a student, Gifford developed solid skills at figure drawing; however, a sketching trip in 1846 to the Catskills and the Berkshires led to his focused interest in landscape painting. After this seminal trip, Gifford returned to the region annually to experience the “absolute freedom” of the Catskills. The exhibition is on view at the Thomas Cole National Historic site now through October 29, 2017.

Sanford R. Gifford in the Catskills
Thomas Cole National Historic Site
Catskill, New York
Through October 29, 2017

 

Ally Chapel has had a lifelong passion for the arts. Ally received her BA in art history and technology, arts and media from the University of Colorado Boulder. Prior to joining Questroyal and moving to New York City, Ally has worked at the Denver Art Museum and Mary Williams Fine Arts where she fell in love with American painting.