Location: Catskills, New York
Webpage: National Park
General Description: Thomas Cole National Historic Site, also known as Cedar Grove, is the remaining 3.5 acres of the farm owned by the American painter Thomas Cole in the early 1830s. When Thomas Cole arrived in Catskills, Cedar Grove was “a viable gentleman’s farm”, at which he rented space for a small studio while maintaining his studio in New York City. Originally journeying to the Catskills to seek inspiration for his paintings, he fell in love with the mix of wild and developed landscapes to be found in the area. Marrying the daughter of the owner of Cedar Grove, Maria Bartow, he moved into the house using the barn for a studio and eventually building a much nicer studio on the property. Best known for his landscape paintings, many of which are of his beloved Catskills, he is also known for his allegorical paintings. Renowned as the father of the Hudson River School of Art, his landscape painting styles have been used by many well known artists. He is also renowned for his contributions to changing the American view of the wilderness, from something to be conquered and tamed, to an appreciation of its essential part of life.
1) The Visitor Center is actually one end of the barn Thomas Cole used as his art studio. They have a nice short film about the life and works of Thomas Cole, as well as, many unique gifts that can be purchased. The home and tour are actually maintained and conducted by the Thomas Cole Historic House which is a non-profit organization. Consequently the fee for the tour is only partially offset by any National Park pass.
2) They have maintained the grounds surrounding the house in great condition with a small formal garden and landscaping. Right down to the honey-locust tree that can be seen in some of his paintings and is now over 250 years old and is much too large for its location in front of the house.
3) The house has been restored to the condition when Thomas Cole lived there in the 1840s with many original furnishings and a few reproductions. As you would expect there are examples of his works hung on the walls in the house, however, they conduct an annual show of other art works as well. When we were there the theme was contemporary art, so there were a number of pieces in some of the rooms that made little sense to me. The best example was a glass window in a stand through which a video of Niagara Falls was being shown using a projector. The most interesting feature was that the video was tied to the internet which monitored the stock market, so the speed of the water would match the changes in the market. The water would even flow backwards when the stock market dropped!! Neat, but not what I wanted to see when I am visiting a 19th century artist.
4) The tour ended with an opportunity to see his art studio in the old barn where they have a reproduction of one of his larger works on display. You can see a couple of his original easels, as well as, paint pallets and brushes from his work.
5) Outside on the grounds they are building a new studio to replace the one that was demolished in the 1970s. They intend to display many more of the works of Thomas Cole and his students, so it will be a great addition next year when it opens.
6) Be sure to pick up the brochure about the Hudson River School Art Trail, which gives driving and hiking directions to some of the locations featured in Thomas Cole and his student’s works from the area.