The Old Studio is a barn-like building where Thomas Cole created many of his most iconic and celebrated paintings. The building was restored in 2004 and is now furnished with his original easels and other art-making equipment and tools, appearing as though the artist has just stepped out.
Immediately after his marriage in 1836, Thomas Cole apparently worked in the Main House itself. But in 1839, Cole was able to move to the Old Studio, a larger and more private space, thanks to John Thomson. The new location was a separate building on Cedar Grove’s grounds, as Cole explained in a letter to Asher B. Durand in December of 1839:
“Do you know that I have got into a new painting Room? Mr. Thomson has lately erected a sort of Store-house & has let me have part of it for a temporary painting room [;] it answers pretty well [;] is somewhat larger than my old one & being removed from the noise & bustle of the house is really charming…”
Although Cole considered this a temporary arrangement, he painted many of his most important works in this storehouse studio, including the Voyage of Life for his patron Samuel Ward, as the ceiling was high enough to accommodate large canvasses. A fireplace permitted Cole to work in any season, and Cole himself paid for the addition of a large skylight-like window to admit northern light, the preferred light for painting. Cole welcomed visits from his family to the studio, and the Cole children came and went while their father was working. The Old Studio also afforded the space for grinding pigments into paint, constructing stretchers, stretching canvasses, and fitting pictures into frames. Painting at this time involved a lot of hard physical labor—active, smelly, and frequently messy.
Cole painted in the Old Studio for seven years until December 1846. In his Christmas journal entry for that year, Cole recorded, “I am now sitting in my New Studio which is about completed though the walls are not yet dry.” Learn more about the New Studio here.