Olana – National Historic Landmark located in Hudson, New York!
Nestled into the trees high atop a mountain in Hudson, NY, about 2 hours due north of Manhattan stands the impeccably and impressively designed former home of Frederic Edwin Church (1826-1900) and his family. The renowned master of the Hudson River School of realistic landscape painters built this testament to his world travels after having visited the Middle East in the 1860’s. The French style Chalet that he had originally planned for the site was scrapped and replaced by the lavish and exotic design that now stands after being heavily influenced by the spirit of Middle Eastern, European, and South American art, culture and design.
Frederic was such a talented painter that after studying for two years in his late teens under fellow Hudson River School artist Thomas Cole, Cole would remark that Frederic had the best eye of any living artist. That is very high praise from a master such as Cole himself was and is still regarded today. Church’s widely acclaimed success would prove Cole’s evaluation true. Frederic’s works traveled far and wide internationally on exhibit; people would pay 25 cents admission just to view one of his pieces. After touring, they often fetched the highest sums ever paid for works of a living artist of the day. At the time, just one of his paintings would sell for $10,000, which today would amount to somewhere between $250,000-$300,000. Not too bad, huh! Prolific is an understatement when describing the vast amount of work that Frederic produced and left behind, so funding the building of his lovely estate was not a problem at all.
Church married his love Isabel Mortimer Carnes, and they had 6 children together, although sadly, their two eldest died young of diphtheria in 1865. They lived primarily in the home at Olana, but frequented New York City, and Church had a studio in the 10th Street Studio Building. He meticulously manicured the landscape at Olana to create a perfect setting for painting. There is no better view of the Hudson River Valley and Catskill Mountains than you can get from peering through one of the vaulted arched windows or standing on the grand porches or in the hilly yard.
The Churches were very well traveled, and collected numerous artifacts, paintings, artworks, and curiosities from places such as South America, Mexico, Europe, the Caribbean, Persia, and the Middle East. The home included a stage upon which these costumes and artifacts would be put on display in skits and plays performed by numerous noteworthy guests. Mark Twain among others read poems and prose upon the large open stairwell landing that doubled as their theater. Just upstairs was an armoire filled with treasures from all over the world for guests to change into and then present themselves in. Guests would wait their appearance in the large but very cozy great room below. The sitting, dining, entry and bedrooms are lavishly decorated with art, exquisite woodwork and furniture by his design, and patterns and motifs sketched by Frederic while on holiday in one or another far corner of the globe. Leaving no room for want, the home had indoor plumbing with hot and cold water and forced air heating as well.
All this was very advanced for the time, and although Frederic was quite a worldly and influential gentleman, the tour guides of his grand home paint him as a truly refined master artist with humble and grateful sensibility. It is overtly evident the great wonder and beauty with which the couple viewed the world. To live year-round with the spectacular influence of the lives of others in such faraway lands as they did, centering their lives around creating a masterpiece of architecture that incorporates international influence in the most beautiful of ways-that is true appreciation. The Churches devoted their lives to family, art, nature, education, hard work, creativity, and celebrating the beauty contained within the universe they knew and loved. Frederic Church’s vision and action in life was wonderfully inspired and something to be truly admired.
We are lucky to be able to visit this landmark today- in the 1960’s the home was in danger of being demolished and the land being sold. Through the generosity and hard work of the Olana Partnership, the site was saved and is now administered by the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, Taconic Region. It is a designated National Historic Landmark and one of the most visited sites in New York. The Olana Partnership, a private not-for-profit education corporation, works cooperatively with New York State to support the restoration, development and improvement of Olana State Historic Site.
You can visit the website here: http://www.olana.org/
And, the best part-the tour is just $12 and the grounds are open to the public and are FREE! Check it out. It is truly spectacular!
Article and photo credits by Lauren Haimelin 2014, A.I. Friedman sales associate