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.


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