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Today, the three of us siblings which are present here in New York went adventuring (the fourth sibling unable to make it as he currently resides in the far-off land of Kansas. HI J!).

We drove thirty minutes south-west-ish and crossed the mighty, winding Hudson River, and ended up in Catskill. We were hungry after all of that pre-adventuring, so we thought we would look for a cute cafe or a tasty-looking treat.

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One of the last remaining places with a functional fax machine.

Alas.

There was no cute cafe and there were no tasty-looking treats. We settled on a Mexican joint, and we don’t need to talk about it much as we shall not be returning there. Nor shall we be returning to Catskill in the near future.

But then we wound our way to the Thomas Cole Museum!

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The view from the porch. Wowwee.

Thomas Cole was one of the leaders of the Hudson River School of art, which originated right around here in the Hudson River Valley. The museum was smaller than I expected, but had stellar views off the front porch and some nice flowers. There were a few rooms open to the public and since we were too late for a guided tour, it didn’t take long to see the contents of them.

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Nice flowers

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Re: the Hudson River School of art, I’ll quote Wikipedia, because that is the easiest thing for me to do and it’s late and I’m kind of lazy:

The Hudson River School was a mid-19th century American art movement embodied by a group of landscape painters whose aesthetic vision was influenced by romanticism. The paintings for which the movement is named depict the Hudson River Valley and the surrounding area, including the Catskill, Adirondack, and the White Mountains.

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I will forever have a soft spot for The Hudson River School, in part because I grew up with those landscapes saturating my mind, and in part because both my Mom and my teachers did a great job exposing me to local art and history as a kid. The art that came out of those landscape painters was idealistic and romanticized, but also beautiful and idyllic.

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Back to the Thomas Cole Museum: there was a lot less art than I had hoped for. The house is decked out with cardboard-y reproductions of the paintings that hung when Cole lived there. They are not very good reproductions. However, the “New Studio” has rotating, temporary exhibits and they were featuring some works of Sanford Gifford, who was one of the leaders of the Hudson River School.

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“Going Sketching in the Catskills” Sanford Gifford, 1866

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Details of oil paintings by Sanford Gifford

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There are other famous painters from the Hudson River School around here–I was so lucky to grow up in a place that is so steeped with history! Olana, the home and studio of Frederick Church, is only 25 minutes away, and we visited it a lot when I was growing up. It is a beautiful home full of interesting architecture, although the last time I visited, it was full of contemporary, experimental art which I found really jarring in the 19th-century surroundings. Also, as you will see below, Mr. Church and I have a bit of a history.

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Maybe this is just me, but if you’re at a museum dedicated to one of the country’s foremost landscape artists, should you at least paint feet onto the guy?

The following things happened at Olana:

  • I had many, many, many amazing picnics with my mom, pizza bagels, and siblings
  • I learned from Patty O that I could cross one eye and make the other one go in loops. This is largely a useless skill.
  • I loved those picnics and the pizza bagels
  • Frederick Church put in a heart-shaped pond for his wife, which I thought was the most romantic thing I ever heard of when I was about 10. Now I think it is kind of impractical and hard to see the shape clearly? But good for him!
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In Thomas Cole’s “old” studio

Once, on a school field-trip, our class went to see Thomas Cole’s “The Course of Empire”  which is a thought-provoking series of five paintings depicting the rise and fall of human civilization. The Internet tells me that their permanent home is in NYC, but I think it must have been a temporary exhibit around here, because I don’t remember going to The New York Historical Society, which is where they live. It was a memorable experience and I’ve thought of those paintings a lot over the years.

There were also a few Frederick Church paintings at that same exhibit and, guys, I don’t much like it when people tell me what to do. This was in the pre-moving-around-the-world era of my life and I think I hadn’t been to many art museums, so when they told us not to touch the paintings, the inside of me basically crawled inside-out and demanded that I touch a painting. I chose a landscape by Frederick Church which had lots of little, bumpy green leaves, and I looked to my right (covertly) and saw the museum guard glance away, and I DID IT. I reached out and touched it!

I JUST WANTED TO AND I DID.

I can’t believe it. Present-day Alex would NEVER DO THAT.*

I think the guard saw me and told me not to do it and I had a secret thrill and then I went into the next room and saw that civilization was destined to crumble anyway, according to Thomas Cole, who based his series on a poem by Lord Byron, who is not someone I want to base anything on.

I digress.

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Anyway, in summary, we had a nice time out and learned a few things** and we saw gorgeous views of the Catskills. I also saw a piece of dust adhered to an oil painting and I longed to reach out and brush it away and also touch the painting. Instead, I just weirdly blew on the painting a few times, watching this giant dust bunny flutter around, and then I realized that hearing me suddenly breathe loudly in the very silent New Studio probably sounded super weird to the elderly couple behind me.***

Kindly old man: “Excuse me, I noticed you were quietly appreciating the paintings, but now you are loudly huffing and puffing. Are you having an asthma attack?”

Me: “No, I just saw that there is this clump of dust on the painting and it’s really bugging me, so I thought I would just try to loosely, like, you know, blow it off of there…”

Kindly old man (fumbles for his wallet, rifles through it, withdraws business card, holds it out): “Here, this is the number of my psychiatrist. Maybe he could help you.”

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Why yes, there is a large piece of dust affixed to this painting. Perhaps someone should blow it off or something?

*but she still kind of wants to

**like avoid Catskill and the Mexican restaurant in Catskill

***because it was super weird

2 comments on “Thomas Cole and Bad Mexican

  1. terrigilbert says:

    I fell into the deep end of the pool of Wikipedia on The Course of Empire, and found I was able to swim, after all! What an interesting read on these five paintings. If they’re with the NY Historical Society, is it possible they were on loan to the Columbia County Historical Society? I perused all five paintings in depth. Quite a summary of the human race. However, I did find this interesting tidbit about what Cole was symbolically painting – it came down to politics, per usual. I doubt it’s true, but here is my quote: “This cycle is, unsurprisingly, depressing. It reflects Cole’s pessimism and is often seen as a commentary on Andrew Jackson and the Democratic Party.” Perhaps Cole should have sat on his porch more, and enjoyed the sunsets over the mountains! 🙂

    Like

  2. My take away was that you used the word “joint” in describing the Mexican restaurant. This is a direct hand-down from Uncle David who would be so proud. For him, everything was a joint.

    Like

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