Maria Bartow Cole

Thomas Cole, Maria Bartow Cole, c. 1838, pencil on paper, 9 ¾ x 11 in., Albany Institute of History & Art, gift of Mrs. Florence Cole Vincent, 1958.28.18


A head of household, homemaker, mother, wife, and seamstress, Maria Bartow Cole (1813-1884) is a formative figure to the history of Cedar Grove, the property known today as the Thomas Cole National Historic Site.

Maria was born in 1813 to Maria Thomson and Stephen Bartow in present-day Ontario, Canada. Although her parents were from Catskill, they immigrated to Canada in the early nineteenth century so that her father could escape debtor’s prison. Maria’s father died three years after her birth, and the family returned to New York to live on a farm in Broome. For the next sixteen years, Maria lived periodically with her mother in Broome and her mother’s family about thirty miles southeast in Catskill, where she received her education.

After her mother’s death in 1832, Maria and her sisters Emily, Harriet, and Frances moved permanently to Cedar Grove in Catskill to live with their uncle, John A. Thomson. The four sisters shared a bedroom on the house’s second floor. During the summer of 1832, a young artist named Thomas Cole rented the family’s nearby cottage. A few years later, Maria and Thomas became engaged, and they married on November 22, 1836 in the family’s Catskill home. Thomas then moved into the house to live with Maria and the rest of the Thomson-Bartow family and household laborers.

Maria and Thomas had five children over the course of their marriage: Theodore, Mary, Emily, Elizabeth, and Thomas, Junior. While Thomas was often traveling to advance his artistic career, much of Maria’s time was spent raising the children at home. Maria and Thomas were able to maintain their companionship, however, by frequently exchanging letters. Maria wrote to Thomas with stories of their growing children, advice on negotiating painting commissions, and news of friends and family back home.

When Maria was pregnant with their fifth child in 1848, Thomas passed away suddenly of pleurisy. Not only was Thomas’s death a tragedy for the family, it also ended the primary source of income for Maria and their children. For the remainder of her life, Maria found creative ways to manage household finances while continuing to support her children’s endeavors, including her daughter Emily’s artistic career. Maria also honored Thomas’ legacy by preserving the New Studio as he had left it, renting the studio to other artists and welcoming visitors to learn from and enjoy her late husband’s artwork. In this sense, Maria was the Cole Site’s first “curator.”

We have a large archive of Maria’s surviving journal and letters, which reveal Maria’s daily life in Catskill, occupations in sewing and homemaking, and close relationships with her husband and sisters. Maria Bartow Cole died in 1884 and her grave stands today besides Thomas Cole’s in Catskill Town Cemetery.

For more information on the life of Maria Bartow Cole, see Maureen Hennessy, Life at Cedar Grove: Research Report for the Thomas Cole National Historic Site (unpublished manuscript, January 2011).

Maria Bartow Cole’s Bible, published by Towar & Hogan, Philadelphia, PA, 1830, brown leather, paper, marbled end pages, 10 × 7 × 3 1/4 in., Thomas Cole National Historic Site, Catskill, NY, Gift of Edith Cole Silberstein, TC.1998.2.1

Thomas Cole, Portrait of the Artist’s Wife, c. 1836-48, graphite with white watercolor on light brown paper, 12 1/2 x 9 5/16 in., Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA, Gift of Maxim Karolik for the M. and M. Karolik Collection of American Watercolors and Drawings, 1800–1875, 55.716

Unknown photographer, Maria Bartow Cole and Thomas Cole Jr., n.d., carte de visite photograph in album, Thomas Cole National Historic Site, Box 4, TC2002.2.10

Heather ParoubekMaria Bartow Cole