Announcing OPEN HOUSE: Contemporary Art in Conversation with Cole / Inaugural exhibition by artist Jason Middlebrook

The Thomas Cole National Historic Site is pleased to announce the start of a new series of contemporary installations entitled OPEN HOUSE: Contemporary Art in Conversation with Cole. The inaugural exhibition is with artist Jason Middlebrook and will be on view August 14 – October 30. A members’ opening event will be held on August 13, 5-7 pm.

Open House: Contemporary Art in Conversation with Cole is a new series of contemporary art projects at the Thomas Cole National Historic site that explore the continued power and influence of Thomas Cole’s art and ideas. Operating from the concept that all art is contemporary, the program activates conversations between artists across the centuries. For this installation, Middlebrook is creating a site-specific exhibition inside the home of artist, Thomas Cole, in collaboration with the Thomas Cole site’s curator Kate Menconeri. This solo project, installed in conversation with works by Cole already within the house, will feature a selection of Middlebrook’s signature hardwood plank paintings and debut new works on paper, made for the occasion, that draw on Cole’s sketches of trees. Middlebrook lives and works in the Hudson Valley and has had solo shows at MASS MoCA and the New Museum, among other national and international venues.

“Bringing contemporary art into the home of the 19th-century artist Thomas Cole is incredibly exciting, as it creates the possibility of new conversations between artists and artworks across the centuries – conversations in which we can participate,” says Elizabeth Jacks, Executive Director of the Thomas Cole National Historic Site. “As it was with the installation of contemporary art here in 2015, part of the pleasure of this exhibition is the element of surprise as well as visual delight.”

“I am compelled by how the work incorporates trees as the canvas itself. The intentional use of the material overturns conventional expectations of what we might consider a landscape, a painting, or a sculpture,” says Kate Menconeri, Curator of the Thomas Cole site. “Towering and awe-inspiring, Middlebrook’s forms speak to the desire to both control or harness nature, but also honor nature’s organic geometry, abstraction, and history, as found in the sinewy lines of a tree.”

Read the exhibition press release.

About The Artist

Middlebrook paints, sculpts, draws, and creates installations that explore the relationship between nature and culture, and often blur the lines between landscape and architecture, and art and object. For his hardwood plank paintings the artist salvages lumber from a local mill and brings them back to his studio where he draws intricate lines of paint and colored patterns onto the wood. He paints the planks – maple, walnut, elm – with and against their natural grain – and in doing so intentionally acknowledges the complex stakes of human intervention in the natural environment.

“My work is broken into two parts; the first is a skin that I lay over the top of nature, somewhat like a side walk or a parking lot. The skin is just visiting, it’s covering but respecting the borders it has been given. The borders in my case are the shapes of trees, the trunks and limbs are what I choose to make paintings on; the paintings become the skin. The second aspect of my work is my reaction and interpretation of nature. This current body of work is in it’s 10th year of evolution…. In all cases the grain and the shape of wood dictate the direction of the painting which always starts with multiple drawings…”

Middlebrook’s words and work echo questions that occupied Cole almost two decades earlier, and the artists share preoccupations with our quickly changing landscape, as well as our complicated and inextricable relationship with nature, raising questions such as how to balance the man-made with the organic and examiningwhat is at stake with unchecked development.

Time will not permit me to speak of the American forest trees individually; but I must notice the elm, that paragon of beauty and shade; the maple, with its rainbow hues; and the hemlock, the sublime of trees, which rises from the gloom of the forest like a dark and ivy-mantled tower…Yet I cannot but express my sorrow that the beauty of such landscapes are quickly passing away – the ravages of the axe are daily increasing. – Thomas Cole, Essay on American Scenery, 1836

Jason Middlebrook earned a BFA from the University of California at Santa Cruz before pursuing graduate work at the San Francisco Art Institute. From 1994 to 1995, he attended the Whitney Independent Study Program in New York. Middlebrook has exhibited his work extensively, including at institutions such as the New Museum in New York, the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, MASS MoCA in North Adams, and the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, among others. His work was included in the 2014 SITE Santa Fe biennial.

Meet Jason Middlebrook in our interview with the artist for the Open House Videos Series.

Program Description

Open House is collaborative by nature. Each year the Thomas Cole staff will invite one or two contemporary artists to create a site-specific project that engages with the art, writings, home and story of Thomas Cole. Projects may take the shape of an installation, a performance, a guided walk, or other format reflecting the artist’s practice and ideas. This program will seek artworks and ideas of the highest artistic merit, drawn from newly created or relevant pre-existing works, that shed light on the connections between 19th-century American art and contemporary times, and that specifically speak to the historic environments in which they are presented. That dialogue takes on a special significance because the artworks will be placed into the very spaces where Thomas Cole launched this country’s first major art movement, now known as the Hudson River School. This context offers artists working today a unique venue in which to realize a project. The goals of the project are to engage both current and new audiences with a presentation that departs from the expected “house museum” experience, to enable visitors to access the historic spaces from a new angle, to provoke new ideas about the meaning of the art and history of the mid-19th century, and to encourage audiences to confront the vast cultural shifts that distinguish Cole’s time from our own.

Project History

The Thomas Cole National Historic Site was established as a creative and flexible institution from its beginnings. With the writing of its General Management Plan in 2004, the traditional “house museum” model of a static display of decorative arts was specifically rejected in order to accommodate a variety of educational initiatives. The Thomas Cole site’s senior staff members have a background in both historic and contemporary art: the Executive Director, Elizabeth Jacks, formerly worked at the Whitney Museum of American Art, and the site’s Curator, Kate Menconeri, has worked with contemporary artists for over a decade and holds a degree from the Center for Curatorial Studies at Bard College. In 2015, the Thomas Cole site in partnership with the nearby Olana State Historic Site organized and presented an exhibition of contemporary art that spanned the two sites that face each other across the Hudson River. The exhibition, entitled “River Crossings: Contemporary Art Comes Home”, was curated by the artist Stephen Hannock and the professor Jason Rosenfeld, and featured work by 28 artists including Chuck Close, Maya Lin and Cindy Sherman, whose work was integrated into the historic interiors of the two historic sites. The exhibition drew attention to the story of this part of the Hudson Valley as the place where American art was born in the early 19th-century, a place that continues to spark creativity and innovation among artists working today. The initiative also shattered attendance records at both sites and brought unprecedented media coverage including a feature on CBS Sunday Morning.

About the Thomas Cole National Historic Site

Thomas Cole National Historic Site (TCNHS) preserves and interprets the home and studios of Thomas Cole, the founder of the Hudson River School of painting, the nation’s first major art movement.  Located on 6 acres in the Hudson Valley, the site includes the 1815 Main House, 1839 Old Studio, the newly reconstructed 1846 New Studio, and several other buildings. It is a National Historic Landmark and an affiliated area of the National Park System. Following a restoration of the Main House, the TCNHS opened to the public in 2001. TCNHS activities include guided tours, exhibitions, printed publications, extensive online programs, activities for school groups, free community events, lectures, and innovative public programs such as the Hudson River School Art Trail—a map and website that enables visitors to see the nearby views that Cole painted. Each year, the TCNHS organizes a loan exhibition of Hudson River School paintings, providing a first-hand experience with the art movement that Cole founded. The goal of all programs at the TCNHS is to enable visitors to find meaning and inspiration in Thomas Cole’s life and work. The themes that Cole explored in his art and writings—such as landscape preservation and our conception of nature as a restorative power—are both historic and timely, providing the opportunity to connect to audiences with insights that are highly relevant to their own lives.


Thomas Cole’s home, studios, special exhibitions, and grounds are open May – October, Tuesday – Sunday 9:30 to 5pm. For details see:


Kate MenconeriAnnouncing OPEN HOUSE: Contemporary Art in Conversation with Cole / Inaugural exhibition by artist Jason Middlebrook

Special Event to Honor Peter Hutton Sunday, October 9, 2 pm



Contact: Heather Paroubek – 518.943.7465 ext. 5 /

Thomas Cole National Historic Site

218 Spring St, P.O. Box 426

Catskill, NY 12414

Special Event for the Late Filmmaker Peter Hutton to take place on Sunday, October 9, 2 pm

Annual Fall Event to Feature Lecture by Scott MacDonald and Screenings of Hutton’s Films

Catskill, NY — Join the Thomas Cole National Historic Site as we celebrate the work of Hudson River landscape filmmaker Peter Hutton at the Arts Center Theater of Columbia-Greene Community College on Sunday, October 9 at 2 pm. During his 46 years as an independent filmmaker, Hutton, who passed away on June 25, produced a remarkable body of work that demonstrates that the legacy of Thomas Cole and Hudson River School painting is very much alive, not only in modern painting, but in cinema, as well.

Professor Scott MacDonald, Ph.D., Professor of Art History at Hamilton College and author of 14 books on independent cinema, will present this year’s Raymond Beecher Memorial Lecture: Taking Time to Look: The Landscape Films of Peter Hutton. Dr. MacDonald, whose passion for over 30 years has been introducing audiences to the worlds of alternative film and video, will show two of Hutton’s films – Landscape (for Manon) and Time and Tide – while providing an overview of Hutton’s life and work. A full-color print publication with an essay by MacDonald, who was named an Academy Film Scholar by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 2012, will accompany the lecture and screening event.

Although Hutton made films all over the world, a number of his most important films focus on the same Hudson Valley scenery that captivated Thomas Cole. Hutton paid homage to Cole and the Hudson River School painters both explicitly – as in calling his 1991 film In Titan’s Goblet, a direct reference to Cole’s 1833 painting, The Titan’s Goblet – and implicitly, by forcing contemporary audiences to slow down and really look at the landscape, echoing the intent of 19th-century American landscape painters. The affinities between their artworks extend even to their chosen mediums: Hutton often slows the action on the screen to a stillness that is almost painting-like, while Cole was the most cinematic 19th-century American painter. Although Thomas Edison’s moving pictures didn’t appear until 50 years after Cole’s death, Cole was intimately familiar with panoramas, widely popular in the 19th century, and from his first paid commission – for which he painted a paired series for the Steamboat Albany – to the five-part series The Cross and the World he was working on when he died, Cole wanted to tell pictorial stories in multiple frames. Cole’s biographer, Ellwood C. Parry, III, wrote that Cole possessed “a truly cinematic imagination,” speculating that “it is not difficult to imagine that if Cole were alive today he might be making motion pictures.”

Peter Hutton began teaching at Bard College in 1985 and chaired the Film and Electronic Arts Program there for 27 years. He studied painting, sculpture, and film at the San Francisco Art Institute, where he received his BFA and MFA degrees, and paid his way by serving with the merchant marine. In 1987, Hutton was awarded Best Cinematography for his work on Phil Hartman’s feature film No Picnic at the Sundance Film Festival. In 2011, the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress selected Study of a River as one of 25 films annually chosen. Hutton has many fans locally, nationally and worldwide: in 2010, when the magazine Film Comment, which is produced by the Film Society of Lincoln Center, asked critics around the world to choose the best avant-garde films of the first decade of the new millennium, Hutton’s At Sea was voted the number #1 film of the decade, and Hutton himself one of the top filmmakers of the decade.

The Columbia-Greene Community College Theater is located at 4400 Route 23, Hudson, NY. A reception will follow the lecture. Tickets are $9 or $8 for members, available in advance or at the door. This event is sponsored in part by the National Endowment for the Arts “Imagine Your Parks” program as well as individual funders including Adele Pressman, David Gatten, Erin Espelie, Patricia O’Connor, John Knecht, James Benning, Sharon Lockhart, Robb Moss, Alfred Guzzetti, Richard Herskowitz, David Rodowick, and Patricia Zimmermann.

About Thomas Cole: As the founder of America’s first art movement, the Hudson River School, Thomas Cole (1801-1848) is a central figure in the development of American culture. When Cole made his first trip up the Hudson River in 1825, thought-leaders were searching for something distinctly American to establish the nation’s own culture as separate from that of Europe. Thomas Cole found it in the Catskill Mountain wilderness, which came to symbolize the unspoiled character of the new nation. Lionized during his lifetime and celebrated by a generation of artists who followed in his footsteps, Cole is now widely regarded as the father of American landscape painting.

About the Thomas Cole National Historic Site: The Thomas Cole National Historic Site preserves and interprets the home and studios of Thomas Cole, the founder of the Hudson River School of painting, the nation’s first art movement. Cole’s profound influence on America’s cultural landscape inspires us to engage broad audiences through educational programs that are relevant today. The Thomas Cole Historic House is an independent non-profit organization and an affiliate of the National Park Service. HOURS:  Tour the Main House and Old Studio, Tues-Thurs, 10am-4pm, and Fri-Sun, 10am-1pm. Your ticket also includes the New Studio and exhibitions. Explore all the historic buildings and special exhibitions at your own pace with guides are on hand to answer questions, Fri, Sat & Sun from 2 to 5pm. The site is open May through October 30, 2016. Grounds are free and open to the public from dawn until dusk.


Contact: Heather Paroubek – 518.943.7465 ext. 5

Thomas Cole National Historic Site

218 Spring St, P.O. Box 426

Catskill, NY 12414




Kate MenconeriSpecial Event to Honor Peter Hutton Sunday, October 9, 2 pm