Twilight, a Sketch by Frederic Edwin Church, 1858, oil, 8¼ x 12¼. Collection Olana State Historic Site, Hudson, New York.
I have a confession. I had not been aware of Frederic Edwin Church before and I am truly sorry. Why? This immensely talented artist succeeded in oils what I have been trying so hard to do in many of my photographic pursuits – capture the illusive play of nature’s light. And this amazing ability is only one of Church’s many talents.
Fortunately for me, my cousin once again did an intensive and thorough job on researching the area we were going to visit so Olana was on our list.
A descendant of the Puritans, Frederic Edwin Church was born 1826 into a wealthy family with interests in insurance, real estate and railroads. A prodigy in painting, Frederic was helped by his parents by securing study with a renowned landscape painter of the time, Thomas Cole. The twilight scene of Catskill Creek above was painted by Church while in apprenticeship with Cole in the Catskill region. After beginning his own career, Church also became a world traveler and combined the two passions in creating some magnificent landscapes, going to such lands including South America and the Middle East.
After marrying Church purchased 126 acres of farmland on a south-facing hillside a few miles south of the town of Hudson and then while boarding with the Cole family (unfortunately his friend Thomas had passed away) Frederic employed his skills in farming and began to improve the land by planting crops and thousands trees and converting a swamp area Working as an architect he designed and built a studio and eventually a large home on the highest point of land which afforded him views which filled his canvases.
On the day we visited it was quite foggy and overcast, so the views were muted but still beautiful:
Why did Church name his home Olana? Here is an explanation from the official website:
The name Olana first appeared written “Olâna” as the heading of a letter written by Isabel Church. A contemporary newspaper article credited her as the originator of the name, explained as “the old Latin name for a place in Persia, to which the artist’s home bears some resemblance in situation.” Scholars have linked the name to a translated volume of Strabo’s Geographica, a Christmas gift from Isabel to Frederic in 1879. Strabo’s publication describes the geography of the Roman Empire and references the city “Olane,” as one of the “treasure-storehouses” on the Araxes River, which offered a view of Mount Ararat, where Noah’s ark was said to rest. It is likely that the Churches appreciated the associations this name had to their own Persian-inspired stone “fortress” situated high above the Hudson River with majestic views west to America’s promised land.
The exterior of Olana, set upon the hilltop is enchanting:
However, once inside, Church’s house appears less a fortress but more a colorful and interestingly intimate home. Although it is rather ornate with many designs reminiscent of the Middle East, including a “Welcome” sign written in Arabic above the entrance:
Olana decidedly does not feel like a museum where everything is “do not touch.” It does feel like a place where adults and children roamed freely during the period where Frederic and Isabel Church and their children lived there.
In similar spirit to myself, Church often brought back mementos from his world travels, exotic and artistic furnishings, French and Chinese porcelains, Kasmiri chairs, a Mexican madonna, Inca idols, a Japanese Buddha, Persian metal ware and vases, Turkish rugs and throws and so on. “The whole house,” wrote a nineteenth-century journalist, “is a museum of fine arts, rich in bronzes, paintings, sculptures, and antique and artistic specimens from all over the world.”
Of course, the home of a painter has to be all about light. The windows are a marvel, often setting a perfectly framed image:
Interestingly there are very few Church paintings in the home, although there were some from his mentor, Cole. However, two of Church’s works did catch my eye as the subjects were two of my favorite things to photograph – “Sunrise” and “Moonrise.” They held a prominent place at the side of the fireplace in one of the parlors:
These two paintings were made to commemorate the births of his first two children, Herbert Edwin in 1862 and Emma Francis in 1864. Sadly, both succumbed to a diphtheria epidemic in 1865, and Church never created a painting for his other four children who were born after the tragedy. How very sad.
It was still raining when we left the home at Olana so we were not able to roam the grounds. Instead, we headed back to our bed and breakfast to shower, relax and then head out to another fine dining experience, this time at Swoon Kitchenbar.
My cousin was very happy to see this on the appetizer list – blondes, moonstones and Pemaquids:
I am not an oyster fan so I opted for this highly recommended Country Pate cornichon with mustard and crostini:
Brine encrusted pork chop:
Cauliflower risotto – yumyumyum:
Strawberry Rhubarb Crostada with almonds and vanilla ice cream
After wishing a just engaged couple sitting next to us, we wended our way back to Barry’s B&B, said goodnight to the beautiful moon and drifted into slumber.
Next up – a last treat at Grazin’ Diner, a bit of window/actual shopping and then a visit to a lovely “Cotswold Cottage” owned by friends nearby .