School Programs

Bring History to Life!

School programs at the Thomas Cole National Historic Site promote learning through student participation in history, art, literature and preservation.  Our programs encourage students to explore in new ways, making history come alive.

General Information

By participating in the Thomas Cole Historic Site’s school programs, students will build higher level thinking skills while investigating the life and times of America’s most influential landscape painter, Thomas Cole. Students’ investigations begin when your class receives a package of evidence in the mail as the basis for pre-visit activities. The evidence includes documents, photographs and a powerpoint presentation introducing the class to Thomas Cole, the Hudson River School of Art, and Cedar Grove. Afterwards the students visit the historic site and explore more evidence about the life and creative output of Thomas Cole. Students examine data, gather information, and draw conclusions from their personal experiences. All school programs meet New York State learning standards for grades K-12.

An introduction to Thomas Cole’s Story

Get kids engaged before they even step in the door. Beloved children’s book author and illustrator Hudson Talbott takes us on Thomas Cole’s adventure in “Picturing America: Thomas Cole And The Birth of American Art.”


1) Youth Tour

The students will visit the historic home, studios, and grounds of the Thomas Cole National Historic Site. This special tour for students will pass through the historic flower garden and visit the site’s famous 200-year old Honey Locust Tree. The tour will then lead the group to the porch of the Main House, where perfect views of the Catskill Mountain range can be enjoyed. Students then enter the 1815 Federal yellow-brick Main House and tour the historic rooms where the Cole family lived, including the West Parlor where Thomas Cole was married. The Main House also includes gallery rooms, where exhibitions of art from the Hudson River School are on display. The tour continues into the “Old Studio” where Cole painted many of his best known works. The studio still contains Cole’s original easels and art-making materials.  The tour also includes a visit to the “New Studio” and the special exhibition inside it. This program lasts approximately one hour and costs $4-8 per student, on a sliding scale.

2) Thomas Cole and the Creative Process

Students examine Thomas Cole’s 1839 painting studio and learn what it was like to be an artist in the 19th century.  Students learn about the life of Thomas Cole, the Hudson River School of Art, and about the historic site.  The students then create sketches based on their experiences and turn these sketches into original paintings.  This program involves a youth tour and art project.  The entire program lasts approximately 2.5 hours and the cost is $6-12 per student, on a sliding scale.

Program Details

School Programs are offered Wednesday through Friday 9:30am to 1:00pm, May through October. Please make your group’s reservation at least one month in advance in order to secure your desired date and time.

Group size
Groups larger than 75 students may be accommodated when split over the course of two days.


For More Information

Contact: Heather Paroubek, Education Manager:


rootSchool Programs

The Village of Catskill in the Hudson Valley

The Thomas Cole National Historic Site sits near the Hudson River with a view of the Catskill Mountains, surrounded by other cultural destinations, lively restaurants, and world-renowned natural beauty. 

If you’re looking to plan your visit to the historic site, click here. To plan the rest of your stay, check out our recommendations below. From dazzling hikes in the Great Northern Catskills to the best places to sleep, we’ve got you covered.

When Thomas Cole first traveled up the Hudson River in 1825, he fell in love with this picturesque village on the water. Today, the Village of Catskill welcomes you with beautiful 19th-century architecture along the historic main street with shops and galleries, river activities including fishing and boating, waterfront restaurants, and an Audubon nature preserve where if you’re lucky you can spot a Bald Eagle.

General Visiting Information


The official website for visiting Greene County, where the Thomas Cole Site is located. This website includes a comprehensive listing of places to stay, places to eat, sights, activities and outdoor adventures.

Hudson River Valley National Heritage Area: A user-friendly website with in-depth information about the historic, cultural and natural resources of the Hudson River Valley. You can see a list of recommended sights to visit, create your own itinerary, or request free maps and brochures about visiting the Hudson River Valley.


Where to Eat

In Catskill…

Avalon Lounge, Music venue with a Korean kitchen. Right off Main Street.

Ambrosia Diner, A classic retro diner.

Crossroads Brewing Co, A water-front tap room and brewery in Catskill.

Gracie’s Luncheonette, A stylish diner where everything is homemade, right down to the ketchup. Located in nearby Leeds.

Hartland on Hudson, One of a kind stationery and coffee bar. Located in nearby Leeds.

New York Restaurant, The local spot for lunch and dinner. Right on Main Street.

Port of Call, Waterfront dining and seafood.

Willa’s Bakery Cafe, A waterfront breakfast and lunch spot on Catskill Creek. Just off Main Street.


Where to Stay

Photo by The Catskill Milliner

Photo by The Catskill Milliner

The Catskill Milliner: Boutique guest house and inn located just blocks from Catskill’s Main Street, the Thomas Cole Site, and the Hudson River.

Catskill Village House: Located on Main Street in the historic Village of Catskill, an entire home to rent with all your friends.

Hotel Mountain Brook: Adirondack-style lodge in Hunter with views of the Catskill Mountains

Hudson Milliner: A boutique guesthouse and inn located in the City of Hudson, across the river.

The Kaaterskill: A Farm Estate in the outskirts of the Town of Catskill.

The Morgan State House: The Hudson River Valley Painters Package

Scribner’s Catskill Lodge:  Recently reopened following an extensive renovation for a new generation of urban explorers,  the lodge features thoughtful design, friendly service, and delicious food and drinks in a mountain setting.

The Stewart House:  A recently renovated 11-room “River House” in nearby Athens, NY that first opened its doors in 1883 with a restaurant.

The Wick, A new full-service boutique hotel in Hudson, NY.

WM Farmer and Sons: Rustic chic accommodations and restaurant in Hudson, NY.


Nearby Attractions

Hudson River School Art Trail: Take a drive to the nearby views that Thomas Cole painted.

Hudson River Skywalk: See America’s first canvas with the Hudson River Skywalk, a new historic and scenic walkway at the place where American landscape painting began. The new walkway connects the Thomas Cole Site with Frederic Church’s Olana over the Rip Van Winkle.

Mountain Top Arboretum: A public garden in the Catskill Mountains, with trails connecting 178 acres of plant collections, meadows, wetlands, forest, and more.

RamsHorn-Livingston Audubon Sanctuary: Located in the Village of Catskill, this compact sanctuary contains over 436 acres of tidal marsh and swamp, upland forests and fallow farm fields. Keep your eyes peeled for Bald Eagles.

Scenic Hudson and Greene Land Trusts’ Mawignack Preserve: One mile loop trail along Catskill Creek, an area that Thomas Cole painted more than any other subject.

Olana State Historic Site: Just two miles away is the magnificent home of artist Frederic Church.

The Greene County Historical Society: Nine miles north is the Bronck Museum, the Hudson Valley’s oldest home, built in 1663.

City of Hudson: Across the Rip Van Winkle Bridge is this hopping city with shopping, restaurants and antiques.

Maps for download

Hiking in Greene County

Antiques and Country Stores

Nearby Attractions

Greene County Driving Tours

Itineraries for the Hudson River School Art Trail

rootThe Village of Catskill in the Hudson Valley

Cole’s 19th-century art studio getting a facelift


By Fred Johnsen, Freeman staff


THOMAS Edison had Menlo Park, Theodore Roosevelt had Sagamore Hill, and within these places were “inner sanctums.” For Edison his laboratory, for Roosevelt his trophy room.

In Catskill, the inner sanctum of Hudson River School of Art founder Thomas Cole is gaining new life.

Restoration began Wednesday on Cole’s “Old Studio” at the Cedar Grove Historic Site, where he lived. The project, expected to take about seven months, will entail a full restoration of the building, of which the studio is a part.

SITE DIRECTOR Betsy Jacks said the U.S. National Park Service considers the project to be the most significant restoration going on in the United States today.

“This site has been, for a long time, neglected,” Jacks said. “Like the Hudson River School of Art, it is experiencing a revival. Piece by piece, we’re putting it back together the way it looked in Cole’s time” in the 19th century.

Jacks said that, unlike Cole’s house, the studio is less visible but vastly important. It was in the studio that Cole (1801-48) painted his four-piece series “Voyage of Life” that used landscape as metaphor to depict man’s journey from birth to death.

“This (studio) is perhaps the most important piece,” Jacks said. “The house is the most visible from the street, but the studio is where it all happened.”

DIMENSIONS North of Catskill is the contractor for the restoration project. Company owner Richard Rappleyea said his crew had removed tons of material by Friday, some going to a dump and better pieces being saved.

“We’re going to be taking the studio back to the way it was when Thomas Cole used it when he was doing his paintings,” Rappleyea said.

The project is being overseen by the National Park Service bureau in Boston and will be completed in two phases. Phase 1e carries a price tag of $329,000 and will consist of exterior and studio restoration and structural repairs. Phase 2, which does not yet have an estimated cost, will center on the former barn area that will be used for a visitors’ center and gift shop.

Rappleyea said restoration of the studio alone entails removing several windows not part of the original “purpose built” studio. According to Rappleyea and Jacks, Cole preferred to paint by light coming from the north because northern light provided even illumination without shadows or glare.

Jacks said the studio itself will be restored with the idea in mind that “Cole just stepped out.” This includes the placement of many articles used by Cole, including his paint box, easel and chair.

Buildings on the Cole property originally used for horses and storage will restored authentically, with possible with the planned uses in mind.

CEDAR Grove Building and Grounds Committee Chairman Jack Van Loan said beginning work on the studio is exciting both locally and nationally.

“It’s exciting and a very, very important step for us, the community and the people of the county because we’re saving one of American’s treasures,” Van Loan said.

The project is being funded through a Save America’s Treasures grant and the Catskill-Olana Viewshed Mitigation Fund.


©Daily Freeman 2005 Originally found at

rootCole’s 19th-century art studio getting a facelift

An American Viruoso of Urgent Vision


By: TIMOTHY CAHILL Staff writer

Sunday, August 15, 2004

“To walk with nature as a poet,” wrote Thomas Cole, “is the necessary condition of a perfect artist.”

Ralph Albert Blakelock met this condition, and his finest paintings approach a level of expressive excellence one might call perfection. His life was beset with trouble, however, and it is the turmoil of his private nature that was the artist’s most constant companion.

In the history of American art, Blakelock’s place is small but worthy of attention. An exhibit of 32 paintings and a number of drawings and sketches now at the Thomas Cole National Historic Site in Catskill demonstrate he was a visionary whose best landscapes strike with the force of a depth charge.

The show is a brief introduction to the artist, and a welcome one. I mostly knew his paintings from reproductions, which is not to know them at all. Several of the works here come from the Salander-O’Reilly Galleries in New York City, augmented with seldom-seen paintings from local museums and private collections.

Elizabeth Stevens of Salander-O’Reilly assembled the exhibit, which also includes historic objects including Blakelock’s leather-covered sketchbook, his palette and a dinged metal paint box, crowded with smeared, half-used paint tubes. Some of the items were supplied by Blakelock’s descendants, who still reside in Greene County, and have never been displayed before. Most remarkable is a hand-drawn map of the Western states the artist Blakelock visited; written on the back is a long list of the towns he stopped in.

A fitting location

The Cole home Cedar Grove is a fitting location for the exhibit, since Blakelock’s first inspiration came from the Hudson River School. He was born in 1847, the year before Cole died, and grew up in New York City. Blakelock taught himself how to paint, emulating first the meticulous and reverent styles of Cole, Asher B. Durand and Frederic Church. In his 20s, at an age when other artists looked to Europe for training and refinement, Blakelock traveled alone on his first of three trips out West.

In the 1870s, Blakelock found his artistic voice, abandoning the tidiness of the Hudson River painters for an expressive style built on color and energy. An untitled painting from 1870 shows a log cabin in a mountain glade. It isn’t the scene that captures the artist’s attention, but the brilliant clash of crimson and fading orange of the fall foliage.

Blakelock used color the way certain composers use percussion, to set his art in violent motion. His “Indian Encampment,” of a single tepee in a woodland setting, glows a restless ocher. In a nearby untitled landscape, the evening sky resembles a lava flow. And an undated “Sunset” is a raucous solo of russet beneath layers of blue-gray and pale yellow glazes.

Artistic slang

Blakelock was admired by painters Franz Kline and Jackson Pollock for the expressiveness of his paint. He often laid on pigment thick, as if he couldn’t get it out of the tube and onto the canvas fast enough. He was speaking in an artistic slang that time would catch up with eventually. Had Blakelock lived 50 years later, he might well have been a pioneer of abstraction.

The arc of his career moved Blakelock away from representation to realms of memory and emotion. Look at “Indian Ocean,” from 1919, the year the painter died. It’s an almost minimalist composition, with a still, hard-edged horizon. Above, the blue-gray sky looks rubbed on with rags, while the moonlight in the waves is almost pointillist in its juxtaposition of color. You can’t see the moon itself in the painting; it’s somewhere above the frame.

Nocturnes were a common motif for Blakelock. One of the show’s masterpieces is on the stairway leading up to the second-floor gallery, titled simply “Moonlight.” Dated uncertainly between 1880 and 1899, the painting shows a full moon in a blue-green sky. The moon is bright, but, except for the reflection on a small pond, the landscape in it is thrown into an opaque murk. Why isn’t there more light on the scene? Can we read it as a metaphor for that tumultuous time in Blakelock’s life, when money to support his nine children was scare, and he was sometimes forced to paint trinkets in a factory, or mass-produce banal landscapes?

Whatever the reason, the darkness of the earth only accentuates the brilliance of the moon. Blakelock, like Robert Frost, was “one acquainted with the night.” He understood the cold, mesmerizing lunar light. Only van Gogh painted moons with as much melancholy ardor.

The moon is the lantern of eccentrics and the beacon of madmen. In the 1890s, Blakelock began to manifest mental illness that eventually institutionalized him for most of the rest of his life. The end of the show has several paintings made during his confinement at the Middletown State Homeopathic Hospital for the Insane in Middletown, Orange County rough, quick oil sketches that seem at once to be a collective wail and refuge. One, a nighttime idyll with two figures, suggests a wistful longing for youth.

Like his more famous contemporary Albert Pinkham Ryder, Ralph Blakelock spoke in the indigenous voice of the soul. His paintings have the primal urgency of seekers who never quite find what they’re looking for.

Timothy Cahill can be reached at 454-5084 or FACTS:ART REVIEW “RALPH EDWARD BLAKELOCK” Where: Thomas Cole National Historic Site, 218 Spring St., Catskill Hours: 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 1-5 p.m. Sunday Closes: Oct. 31 Admission: $5 (includes tour of the Cole house)Info: 943-7465;

All Times Union materials copyright 1996-2005, Capital Newspapers Division of The Hearst Corporation, Albany, N.Y.

rootAn American Viruoso of Urgent Vision

Inside the artist’s studio: Cole’s work space being restored


By Jonathan Ment, Freeman staff


AN OLD barn behind the Thomas Cole house on Spring Street in Catskill has been an antiques shop, an apartment house and, yes, a residence for animals.

But before all that, half the structure served as a storehouse and an art studio for Cole, the founder of the 19th-century art movement known as the Hudson River School.

The studio, built in 1839 and believed to be the first purposely constructed artist’s studio in America, will reopen Oct. 3. In the modest wood-and-brick structure, Cole painted his most widely distributed series, “The Voyage of Life” – a series of four paintings, each measuring more than 4 by 6 feet.

Grants totaling nearly $500,000 from the preservation group Save America’s Treasures; the Catskill-Olana Scenic Mitigation Fund, funded by Athens Generating; and Benjamin Moore & Co. will, by that time, have restored the studio to the way it looked in the 1840s.

BETSY Jacks, director of Cedar Grove, the Thomas Cole National Historic Site, said work on the property is overseen by the National Park Service, which has done extensive research to determine what the site was like originally. The property is owned by the Greene County Historical Society.

“As we opened a wall, we found an original shutter,” Jacks said.

Finds like that, numerous paintings created in the studio and early photographs of the property helped direct the restoration, which includes all period materials. “If it’s not from the 1830s or 1840s, it has to go,” Jacks said. “(But) we had a painting, from the 1860s, that is so detailed we can identify the flowers. We are in the process of restoring or replanting the original flowers.”

AND THROUGH scientific analysis of soils and rocks, the precise locations of the original gardens’ on the grounds were identified.

“In contrast to Olana (almost across the Hudson River in Columbia County), this was a working farm,” Jacks said. “Olana was a park. Here, they had chickens running around.”

Olana is the Persian-style mansion and studio built by Frederic Church, a Hudson River School painter from later in the 19th century who was a student of Cole’s.

“In the early days, American art wasn’t popular,” Jacks said. “Cole was a pioneer.”

WHEN THE barn at the Cole house was being built, Cole sought to include a 19-by-20-foot space in which to work. He used what now is known as the Storehouse Studio for seven years before building a more elaborate Italianate-styled studio that no longer stands. (It was demolished in the 1920s.)

“The loss of historic buildings really cuts deep,” Jacks said. The barn almost fell, too, she said, because “it was in such bad shape.”

“We’re really just lucky that it came down to us,” she said. AS AN architect, Cole designed that second studio, a church in Catskill that since has been replaced, a privy that still stands at Cedar Grove and a home for his family that never was built because his main patron died.

“He never became a wealthy man,” Jacks said.

THE COLE house, on property that belonged to John Alexander Thomson, the uncle of Cole’s wife, Maria Bartow, is now a museum. Some of the family’s possessions, auctioned on the front lawn in the 1960s, have been returned, including Cole’s hat and box and the family china. Other displays include period items like those that Cole and his wife may have owned.

A collection of paintings previously spread throughout the house has been brought together in the North Gallery. On one canvas, a massive honey locust tree standing several feet from the main entrance can be seen in its younger days in an 1868 painting by Charles Herbert Moore.

Against the opposite wall is a display case filled with Cole’s rock collection, a sketch book, and a slab of stone found in the storehouse bearing a drawing authenticated to be the work of the artist.

“It was a doorstop, found here in the late 1990s,” Jacks said. It was holding open a door in the storehouse, where a tenant had lived until then.

RENOVATIONS at the Thomas Cole National Historic Site will continue to follow a general management plan required by the National Park Service.

Jacks said the site is following the third of three alternative courses of action. “The first is to do nothing,” she said.

The next stage in the site development won’t reflect life as it was during Cole’s time but will include a modern visitors’ center in the balance of the barn that houses the Storehouse Studio.

“If someone gives us another half-million dollars, I’m ready to do it now,” said Jacks, who previously worked as marketing director at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City.

THE GRAND opening celebration for the Storehouse Studio will be from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Oct. 3 and is open to the public. Special exhibitions and presentations are planned.

The museum plans to regularly host temporary exhibits, such as a collection of work by Ralph Albert Blakelock, which is on display through Oct. 31.

For more information about Cedar Grove, visit the Web site

©Daily Freeman 2005 Originally found at

rootInside the artist’s studio: Cole’s work space being restored

Restored Studio Paints a Life


By: Timothy Cahill

Sunday, September 19, 2004


“Do you know that I have got a new painting-room?” wrote Thomas Cole to fellow painter Asher B. Durand near the end of 1839. “It answers pretty well … and being removed from the noise and bustle of the house, is really charming.”


Cole’s enthusiasm for his new work space came at a time when the artist was perhaps the most highly regarded American painter of his time. The studio, part of a much larger storage barn, is just steps from the main house at Cedar Grove, the Thomas Cole National Historic Site in Catskill.


As the latest phase of a long-term project to preserve the place where American landscape painting was born, the “Storehouse Studio” has undergone a complete restoration and will open to the public from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 3.


Cedar Grove consists of the painter’s 1815 three-story Federal-style house, 3 1/2 acres of grounds and outbuildings. Cole was the leader of the artistic movement called the Hudson River School. To have his work space intact and returned to its original condition marks a significant milestone in American cultural history.


“In many ways, this is the most important building (on the site),” observes Elizabeth Jacks, executive director of Cedar Grove. “If you start from the premise that the most important thing about Thomas Cole is his painting, then it follows that the most important building is the place that he painted. The house tells the story of his life and how he lived, but the studio tells the story of his work, of how he worked and where he worked.”


Among the masterpieces Cole produced in the 20-by-20-foot space is his four-part painting “The Voyage of Life,” perhaps his best-known work.


The $450,000 restoration began in February. Following Cole’s death in 1848, the studio was used as a storage shed, an antiques shop and finally a studio apartment. Re-creating the studio involved removing 20th-century materials and ripping out a makeshift loft to restore a ceiling nearly 12 feet high. Timbers salvaged from old barns were used to repair rotting infrastructure beams, and antique bricks brought in to rebuild interior masonry walls.


The studio is furnished with Cole’s materials, including his easels, a paint box and brushes, plaster casts and reference books. Period materials like those the artist was known to have used, including a camera obscura and magic lantern (an early slide projector), are also included.


“It adds a whole new dimension to understanding the man,” says Jacks of the studio. “You can get a lot of information from what we have. Cole was not a wealthy man — this was a space in a barn.


“The paintings he was working on were often more than 6 feet wide, he had to take his canvases off the stretchers to get them through the door,” Jacks adds. “And you can imagine what it was like in the winter. There’s a fireplace at one end, but Hudson Valley winters get cold. For me, I get a sense of his perseverance.”


All Times Union materials copyright 1996-2005, Capital Newspapers Division of The Hearst Corporation, Albany, N.Y.


rootRestored Studio Paints a Life

Found Underground


By: Bonnie Langston, Freeman staff


The next Sunday salon at the Catskill home of Thomas Cole, founder of the famed 19th-century Hudson River School of painting, will be led by a man who learned of the artist a relatively short time ago and in a rather unusual venue – a New York City subway stop.

The presenter is Manhattan’s David Barnes, and the image he saw a decade ago on a poster in the subway was of Cole’s “The Picnic,” then part of a retrospective at the Brooklyn Museum of Art. When Barnes saw the show, its impact changed his life.

“I can’t even tell you how powerful that was, he said in a telephone interview from his office at J.P. Morgan Investments in Brooklyn.

“I said, ‘That’s it. I want to learn everything there is to know about this guy.”

Barnes set out to do that, and as he rattles off dates of paintings, details of exhibits, information about the style and influence of the Hudson River School and all kinds of other minutia, one suspects he has either arrived or at least come very close to his goal. Barnes’ interest in Cole led him to become a member of Cedar Grove’s board of advisors as well as a docent at the New-York Historical Society. He led the first salon of the year at Cole’s home earlier this month, talking about the painter’s series masterpieces “The Course of Empire” – in the collection of the above-mentioned historical society – and “The Voyage of Life,” both created at the height of Cole’s career.

In the next salon, Feb. 13, Barnes will explore Cole’s influence on other artists by way of a slide lecture.

The program has been increased to two sessions, 2 and 3:30 p.m., because of the standing-room-only crowd at this year’s initial event.

“For a winter Sunday, it turned out to be fantastic,” said Barry Hencks, a spokesperson and volunteer at Cedar Grove. Hencks said he counted nearly 45 vehicles in the parking lot, making the recent presentation at the salon – in its second year – the largest off-season event at the historical site.

That is a major change for the 1815 Federal brick home that had been allowed to decay for two decades, leaving it with a crumbling porch, caved-in roof, peeling paint and a flooded basement.

Restoration was far enough along in the spring of 2001 for the home’s first major opening, in celebration of the bicentennial of Cole’s birth.

A year ago, Elizabeth Jacks came on as director, and a search is underway for the site’s first educational director. In addition, Cole’s renovated “Old Studio” opened to the public fewer than four months ago.

Barnes, distraught by the home’s earlier disrepair, joined forces more than four years ago with others to further aid its rebirth. Like second-generation Hudson River School artist Jasper Cropsey, who visited Cole’s home in 1850, two years after the painter’s death, Barnes has found that Cole’s essence remains.

“Artists talked about this feeling for years after he died,” Barnes said. “His spirit just pervades.”

It certainly touched others in the Hudson River School. Frederic Edwin Church, whose home Olana is a short distance from Hudson, was most influenced by Cole, Barnes said.

“He was Cole’s first and most prominent student. Church was 18 years old, a young kid,” he said. “He really became the rock star of his day. For his ‘Heart of the Andes,’ people lined up around the block to see it (for 25 cents each at Lyrique Hall in New York City).”

At least 12,000 visitors eventually viewed the mammoth work – 66 1/8 by 119 1/4 inches – which they viewed with theater glasses. Visitors to the salon in February will see a slide image of the painting now owned by the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Like Cole, the younger man portrayed both geological and botanical forms in exacting detail, Barnes said. But unlike his mentor Church tended to represent an entire series in one painting, a “visual feast” known for its profusion of detail and range of atmosphere.

Also unlike Cole, Church lived in an era in which landscapes were gaining more respect. For instance, Barnes said in the early 1840s, a few years before Cole’s death, 1 out of 10 works exhibited at the National Academy of Design in New York City were landscapes. A decade later, landscapes dominated, he said.

That does not mean Cole’s work went unappreciated. He made a living from his paintings. And works like “The Voyage of Life” gained much attention.

“Artists loved it. People responded to it,” Barnes said.

But the work was exhibited only a few times. For one thing, there was little opportunity to show art during Cole’s lifetime.

The first permanent art gallery in the United States, The Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art in Hartford, Conn., opened in 1844, four years before Cole’s death. Cole’s “Course of the Empire,” was shown there, and Barnes said today the museum has one of the best collections of Hudson River School paintings.

He said, too, that he is grateful for that fateful day when he glimpsed an image of Cole’s work at a New York City subway station. And he enjoys telling visitors to Cedar Grove all about it.

“I came to love Cole probably the way that he would have wanted – through his art,” he said.


©Daily Freeman 2005 Originally found at

rootFound Underground

The Hudson River School



Enjoying the Hudson River School

We want to see some of the sights that theHudson RiverSchoolpainted, if any of those places still exist. Can you suggest an itinerary, book or pamphlet that would guide us?-LeonoreLevit,Wilmette,Ill.

Considered the nation’s first school of painting, theHudson RiverSchoolencompasses more than 70 artists of the early and mid 19th century known for their realistic landscapes of theHudson RiverValley, theCatskill Mountainsand other locations. The time is right to follow in their footsteps: This month, the National Park Service (with several groups) opened Phase 1 of theHudson RiverSchoolArtTrail, a self-guided tour of seven sites featured in paintings.

Anchoring the tour are the former homes of Thomas Cole (1801-48), considered to be the group’s founder, and Frederic Church (1826-1900), one of its best-known artists. Cedar Grove, the Thomas Cole National Historic Site, 218 Spring Street, Catskill, (518) 943-7465, lies at the foot of theCatskill Mountainson the western side of the Rip Van Winkle Bridge. Across the river, Church’s former home, the Olana State Historic Site, on Route 9G, Hudson, (518) 828-0135, is one of the region’s most popular destinations, featuring dramatic Persian architecture, lush grounds and river and mountain views.

According to Elizabeth Jacks, director of the Cole site, visiting all seven sites takes at least a day. Some are accessible by car and others by walking trails. “The sites that are the most remote will give you the most rewarding views,” Ms. Jacks said.

The new trail brochure includes maps as well as reproductions of the paintings. It is available at sites along the route or by sending a stamped, self-addressed envelope to the Thomas Cole National Historic Site, Post OfficeBox 426,Catskill,N.Y.12414.

At the New York State Tourism site,, you can click on Travel Ideas, then Cultural Tourism, and find a list of 22 sites whereHudson RiverSchoolworks are on view and where the artists lived and painted. Among the best vantage points: Fort Putnam and Trophy Point at the United States Military Academy at West Point, (845) 938-2638; Kaaterskill Falls, Route 23A, Haines Falls; and the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center at Vassar College, (845) 437-5632, 124 Raymond Avenue, Poughkeepsie, which has about 25 paintings from the Hudson River School on display at any time.

For hikers, a new book, “Catskill Mountain House Trail Guide: In the Footsteps of theHudson RiverSchool,” by Robert A.Gildersleeve, (Black Dome Press, $16.95 ), includes period illustrations and maps to painting sites.

rootThe Hudson River School



Authors: Patricia Harris and David Lyon, GLOBE CORRESPONDENTS

Date: July 26, 2006

Page: E8

Section: Travel

CATSKILL, N.Y. In the typical Hudson River School painting, masses of cumulus clouds rise above an outsize vista of river and mountains. We always figured that those scenes were embellished by artistic license until we visited the painters’ haunts where the northern Catskill Mountains meet the Hudson River Valley.

As we crossed the Hudson on the high bridge at Castleton, the scenery was in our faces. We looked downriver past Rattlesnake and Coxsackie islands, and saw heaps of cumulus congestus percolating over the rippling spine of the distant Catskill ridges. The cult of American landscape began here when Thomas Cole started sketching and painting the wilderness near Catskill village in 1825. “Landscape hadn’t been `done’ yet,” guide Erica Benton explained on a tour of Cole’s home and studio, Cedar Grove. “He created a type of art that Americans could call their own.”

The yellow, Federal-style home features a wraparound veranda with sweeping views of Cole’s beloved Catskills. The tour progresses from the parlor where Cole was married in 1836 (his wife’s uncle owned the house) to the upstairs bedroom where he died in 1848 at 47. When the site opened as a museum in 2001, curators chose not to install artificial light in his studio on the property. “The light you see,” Benton said, gesturing to the large north windows, “was the light he painted by.”

Cedar Grove is the starting point of the Hudson River School Art Trail that ranges from artists’ homes to vistas that became touchstones of the heroic, ultimately patriotic style of landscape painting. The scenes vary in accessibility from roadside views to short walks to modestly challenging hikes. (Cedar Grove hands out a driving tour brochure.)

The logical base for the tour is Catskill village, a 19th-century river trade center on the rebound. Vacant storefronts still mar Main Street, but art galleries, antiques dealers, restaurants, and decor shops host evening wine receptions on the second Saturday of each month ( The Community Theatre (www.thecommunity runs an independent film festival on Wednesday nights, which can be packaged with dinner at the ambitious Bell’s Cafe a few doors down. On Saturday mornings, the former ice warehouse at The Point, where Catskill Creek reaches the Hudson, becomes a farmers’ and artisans’ market with live entertainment.

Cole may have launched the Hudson River School movement, but his protege, Frederic Edwin Church, carried the celebration of nature to new heights. Literally. Among Church’s first sketches were long views of the river from the formidable eastern bank opposite Cedar Grove. Church built a farmhouse cottage on land adjacent to that bluff, and when he eventually purchased the hilltop, he constructed a fanciful Moorish palace, Olana, to drink in the views. (See related story on Page E7.) He was not above tidying up those views, even creating a lake that, as seen from his porch, seems to nestle in a distant bend in the Hudson. Olana is closed for renovations this year (Church’s paintings normally hung at Olana are on display in Maine at the Portland Museum of Art through Sept. 10), but the interpretive landscape tour touches on the salient points of how Church bent nature to his will.

Nature isn’t always so pliant. Torrential late-June rains washed out the highway (Route 23A) that visitors would normally drive to follow the Hudson art trail. A consultation with State Police revealed that there’s a scenic back route around the closure: Route 23 over the north side of Catskill Mountain, then Route 296 south. (Call State Police for updates at 518-622-8600.) The bypass adds about 20 miles to the drive, but it’s worth the time for dramatic scenery and the opportunity to detour through the resort village of Windham and on to Windham Vineyard & Winery ( for a tasting on the deck amid the vines.

Although Route 296 connects to Route 23A west of the washout, we still couldn’t reach one of the most famous subjects of Hudson River School painters the view through Kaaterskill Clove (local parlance for a mountain notch) to 260-foot Kaaterskill Falls. Floods have ravaged both the road and the foot trail through the notch. But we did reach the less picturesque but still dramatic top of the falls by following County Route 18 (North-South Lake Road) to Laurel House Road, where there’s a parking lot at the end. Although the main trail (straight ahead) was closed because of erosion, a creekside trail leads about a half mile to the dizzying head of the highest waterfall in New York.

County Route 18 terminates at the North-South Lake Campground. In 1825, Cole sketched around North and South lakes (now joined). Those sketches evolved into his first breakthrough landscape paintings, including the famous “Lake with Dead Trees.” Although the area was remote when Cole visited, it’s now an active campground and recreation area within the Catskill Forest Preserve. Families toss softballs and horseshoes and children scamper in and out of the muddy water at North Lake Beach. But the deep forest, rocky hills, and overlooks are still there.

Prepared with walking sticks and sturdy shoes, we set out on the blue-blazed Escarpment Trail to see the heights. After scrambling up a clot of boulders about a quarter mile into the woods, we spied a yearling doe grazing along the trail. She looked up, stepped a few feet into the woods, and went back to chewing. We stared a moment, then kept on walking to the high ledges.

When Cole wrote his manifesto on landscape painting in 1835, he observed, “The most distinctive, and perhaps the most impressive characteristic of American scenery is its wildness.” We walked out onto the vertigo-inducing ledge at Artist’s Rock, where Cole often sketched, and observed a wooded valley spread out in the distance more than 1,000 feet below just like a Hudson River School painting.

All that was missing was a frame.

Contact Patricia Harris and David Lyon, Cambridge-based freelance writers, at



2 p.m. Sound sleep

Carl’s Rip Van Winkle Motor Lodge

810 Route 23B, Leeds


Many families come for the week to the 30 housekeeping cabins, but the 14 fresh and well-kept motel rooms rent by the night. Family-run mini-resort has playground, barbecues, picnic areas, and 160 acres of meadows and woods. $75-$90.

3 p.m. Birth of a movement

Cedar Grove

218 Spring St., Catskill


Home and studio of Thomas Cole vividly re-creates the spot where the painter saw America anew. Guided tour $7, Friday-Sunday 10 a.m.-4 p.m., through October.

7 p.m. Waterfront grazing

Creekside Restaurant

162 West Main St., Catskill


Huge burgers, racks of ribs, large steaks, and sandwiches available indoors or on deck overlooking marina on Catskill Creek. $6-$20.


12:30 p.m. Fuel up

The Catskill Mountain Country Store & Restaurant

5510 Route 23 (Main Street), Windham


You’ll be hard-pressed not to share your deli sandwich or burger with the friendly cats on the outdoor deck near the farm animal “looking zoo.” $7-$11.

2 p.m. Scale the heights

North-South Lake Campground

County Route 18, Hainesville


Hiking trails reach aeries favored by Hudson River School painters. Swimming beach and boat rentals. Parking and day use fee $6 per car.

7 p.m. Country fare

Ursula’s Logsider Cafe

800 Route 23B, Leeds


Hugely popular “country bistro” serves ample portions of diner food, including meatloaf and house specials of smoked chicken and ribs. $9-$13.


10 a.m. Morning glory

Bell’s Cafe

387 Main St., Catskill


Keith and Yael McMurrow’s snazzy in-town bistro does popular weekend brunch with Middle Eastern accents such as roast lamb panini with grilled vegetables and harissa. $7-$10.

11 a.m. Last sights

Thompson Street Cemetery, Catskill

Before leaving town, pay final respects to Thomas Cole’s grave in hilltop cemetery at junction of Thompson and Spring streets.


Visitor Center


The Visitor Center at the Thomas Cole site is located in part of an 1839 barn that was used as a storehouse for the farm operations at Cole’s home in Catskill. The other part of the building contains Thomas Cole’s “Old Studio”, the workspace that the artist used from 1839 to 1846, before his “New Studio” was completed. The charming 19th-century building with wide floorboards, exposed beams and the original bare wood walls on all sides, was restored to its original appearance in 2004. The Visitor Center now contains a great variety of books and gifts, public restrooms, and a welcome desk where visitors can purchase tickets and get information about their visit.

rootVisitor Center