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Frederic Church's Olana

View of Olana

Twenty-year-old Frederic Church wrote "The recollection of the blue mountains is as fresh and vivid to me as the day I last saw them," to Thomas Cole, his former art teacher, about the Catskill Mountains. Fourteen years later this memory brought the artist back to build a home for his family. By then internationally lionized, Church had traveled the Americas from Labrador to Ecuador seeking panormaic landscapes to paint. On large-scale canvases he depicted the variety and splendor of the Americas: the frigid iridescence of icebergs, the ceaseless turbulence of Niagara, and the boiling fury of South American volcanoes. Church created the images that fixed the features of the American continents for a generation of pioneers and entrepreneurs. This modest seventh-generation New Englander became a sought-after but reluctant celebrity.

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In 1859, at an exhibition of his painting Heart of the Andes, Church met Isabel Carnes (1836-1899). They married in June, 1860. In order to secure privacy to paint and to rear a family, Church returned to the Catskills and bought a 126-acre farm south of Hudson. His artistic eye pronounced "the views [from Olana] most beautiful and wonderful." Architect Richard Morris Hunt designed a rural cottage for the couple. Halfway up the hillside Church built a studio where he worked on all his major paintings.

Anticipating the purchase of land at the crest of the hill north of his farm on which he would build a home, and believing the landscape artist to be the premiere landscape designer, Church began to improve his farm by laying out roads, planting thousands of trees, and dredging a marsh to create a reflecting pond. On a journey to the Middle East and Europe, the Churches were captivated by the Moorish architecture, which they felt provided a sense of permanence, rich associations with the past, and splendid decorative possibilities. So pleased was Church that in 1868 he enthusiastically worte a friend, "I have new and capital ideas about house building." Upon their return, the Churches turned to architect Calvert Vaux for a design for a Moorish villa. Church elaborated upon Vaux's design, making hundreds of drawings.

Church created Olana in the same way that he painted a work of art: pencil sketches followed by more finished color sketches. Then, instead of painting the final work of art, he built it. He also chose and mixed on his pallette the colors for every room, and designed the exterior and interior stencils. His influence extended to the placement of the furniture, decorative objects, and paintings. A home, however, is the creation of the couple who live there and Church often commented that Isabel's "taste in the house is shown from top to bottom---and her advice was asked about in all."

View of Catskills from South Lawn

Construction began in 1870 and the family moved into the second floor in late 1872. The first-floor rooms required several more years to design and decorate. Although Church was increasingly affected by arthritis in the 1870's, just as the popularity of his style of painting was being supplanted, he continued to sketch regularly and to paint when he was able. Between 1888 and 1891, he added the studio wing to the house.

Throughout the 1880s he continued to elaborate upon the naturalistic landscape at Olana. Myriad scenes were composed contrasting open pastoral views, dark mysterious woodlands, and passive water reflecting the landscape with the majestic Hudson River and sublime distant mountains. The careful placement of roads revealed these scenes to the viewer in an orderly sequence of experiences, allowing the landscape to be seen through Church's sensibilities. Church wrote: "I have made about 1 3/4 miles of road this season, opening entirely new and beautiful views. I can make more and better landscapes in this way than by tampering with canvas and paint in the studio."

In order to spend the winters in warmer climates that provided relief from his arthritis and because of Isabel's growing frailty, Chruch hired his youngest son, Louis Palmer Church, as estate manager in 1891. Although over the next several years Church continued to sketch and to augment the furnishings and art in the interior of Olana, he slowly withdrew his attention from the property's management to focus on his and Isabel's failing health.

By 1891, Olana as a singular work of art by one of America's greatest artists, was complete. Olana remained in the family until 1964 when plans were made to sell the carefully preserved house at auction. Soon after, Olana Preservation, Inc., was formed by art historian David Huntington (1922-1990). Under his leadership, Olana Preservation purchased the property in 1966. Olana was transferred to the State of New York later that year.

Visiting Olana

The house is open by guided tour on Wednesdays through Sundays, mid April until the end of October. From opening day until Labor Day the house is open Weekdays and Saturday from 10AM until 4PM and Sundays from Noon until 4PM. After Labor Day until the end of October the house is open from Noon until 4PM Wednesdays through Sundays.

The last tour always begins at 4PM. There is no admittance to the house after the last tour has begun. The house is open on Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day and Columbus Day. The Visitors Center is open during regular site hours; an exhibit and audiovisual program about the house and Church is featured.

Living Valley Panoramas
The Great Lawn - take in the view of the mighty Hudson River as Church envisioned it.

Tours of the house last approximately fifty minutes, and are limited to twelve persons each. Tickets can sell out for the entire day early in the afternoon. Please do not wait until 4PM to arrive, as you may not be able to enter the house. Grounds are open daily from 8AM until sunset.

There is a minimal admission fee. Special rates are available for educational groups and organizations who reserve in advance.

While reservations are not required, the daily number of tickets is limited. If you are arriving from a great distance, a reservation may be a good idea. Reservations are taken for a limited number of tours each day and may be made by calling (518)828-0135 up to two weeks in advance of your visit. Reservations are held until fifteen minutes prior to the tour. If they have not been picked up by then, they are forfeit, and sold as general admission.

Olana is accessible to people with mobility limitations. the house tour is on one floor. An elevator provides access to the tour floor. Please park in the designated parking area. The Visitor Center and restrooms are also accessible. The orientation film, "Frederick Chruch's Olana" is closed-captioned. New York State Access Passes are accepted.

Directions

The entrance to Olana is off of Rouote 9G, one mile south of the Rip Van Winkle Bridge at Hudson, NY.

Friends of Olana

Join the Friends in their work to preserve Olana. Founded in 1971, Friends advocate and support the preservation of Olana. As a member of Friends, you will receive membership benefits including a newsletter and invitations to special events. For information on membership, please write to:

Friends of Olana
PO Box 199
Hudson, NY 12534

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Specifics on visiting the Empire State Plaza were correct at time of publication. We would suggest that you confirm dates and times prior to your visit.
 
 
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