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The Thomas Cole National Historic Site in Catskill, New York, marks the place where this nation’s first major art movement began. Thomas Cole’s profound influence on America’s cultural landscape inspires us to engage broad audiences through innovative educational programs that are relevant today.

Your encouragement means the world to us. A gift of any amount helps make possible everything we achieve. Read about our innovative year in the 2020 newsletter and browse our in-person and online arts programming available now.

All donations are tax-deductible to the full extent of the law. You can make your gift here online or by mail to the Thomas Cole Historic House, 218 Spring Street, Catskill, NY 12414. Thank you so much for your generosity towards this place we all love.

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The Educational Program Endowment

A gift to the Program Endowment is a gift that gives forever. The Program Endowment provides a permanent source of income for all of our educational programs, including school programs, the Cole Fellows program, art exhibitions, free community events, our lectures series, and more.

Support the Program Endowment

Making Your Gift a Lasting Legacy

Many of our supporters have already left a gift to the Thomas Cole National Historic Site in their wills or estate plans to help preserve this historic place for future generations, and you can too. If you have already included the Thomas Cole Site in your will, please let us know. We can’t wait to thank you.

Information on Planned Giving 

To talk about your goals and any questions please reach out to Jennifer at jgreim@thomascole.org.

Important Information

Legal Name: Thomas Cole Historic House

Tax Identification Number (EIN): 27-0599147

 

 

The Program Endowment that supports educational programs at the Thomas Cole National Historic Site has been made possible in part by a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the human endeavor. Any views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this the programs do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

rootThank you for being a part of this community

Old Studio

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.

Immediately after his marriage in 1836, Thomas Cole 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.

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Main House

The Main House is a three-story, Federal structure of painted brick that was built in 1815 by the brothers Thomas and John Thomson.  In 1836, Cole married John Thomson’s niece, Maria Bartow, who was living in the Main House with her uncle along with her sisters. After Thomas and Maria were married, the Main House became Cole’s permanent home. During Cole’s lifetime the household included John Thomson, Maria’s three unmarried sisters, three of the Coles’ children, Theodore, Mary, and Emily, and several hired servants. In the 1830s and 40s, Thomsons, Bartows, Coles, and their servants occupied every inch of the main house, including its attic and basement, and space was tight. There were between 11 and 14 people living in the home during this time.

Before the 1850s, American rooms seldom had fixed single uses as they do today. Like other significant rooms in the house, the entry hall had many purposes. In addition to providing a transition between outside and inside, the hall served as the receiving parlor for guests, a gathering place, a dining room, a children’s playroom, and a work area, especially in hot weather when the door could be left open to let in a breeze. Circular vents or grates in the second-floor bedrooms hint that a coal stove in the entry hall powered an innovative central heating system intended to heat bedrooms and the east parlor in the winter. The Thomson-Cole household used coal very early, as evidenced by records showing the purchase of coal stoves by John Thomson in the 1830s.

The west parlor, or sitting room, always had opulent appointments right from the beginning when furnishings were first being acquired for the house in 1821. In addition to a pianoforte worth the great sum of $250, the room contained a set of rush-bottomed chairs with a settee—together worth $42—a tea table, a writing table, a valuable carpet, an elegant looking-glass valued at $45, and the latest heating technology, which was a pyramid stove that probably burned wood. Despite this stove, however, the family continued to complain of cold in their letters and diaries throughout the 1830s and 40s. Around the time of the Coles’ 1836 marriage, the room was modified and updated to reflect the new Greek Revival style then in vogue.

The east parlor’s position and size make it the most likely location for family meals, although it was called the “East Parlor,” not the dining room. But in the first half of the nineteenth century, it would have been uncommon to have a designated eating room. Lightweight, highly mobile dining furniture moved around as required; and families used the room in which they ate for many other activities, including family prayers, children’s lessons, sewing, and socializing with friends. Thus, eating in the “East Parlor” rather than in the “dining room” followed period custom.

Upstairs, the Cole sitting room, the children’s bedroom, and Thomas and Maria’s bedroom constituted the Cole family apartment. The sitting room particularly provided the Coles with a private space, separate from the extended family, in which to create and maintain a married life together. Over the years, as the Cole family grew, there is a sense that the room was a refuge for the artist as well as for his wife. In the winter, the Coles drew together around their stove for such activities as reading aloud, sewing, and making quilts.

The small space off the Cole sitting room is believed to be the children’s bedroom. By 1846, Theodore, Mary, and Emily were old enough to share a room, which was common practice at the time. In an era of limited space, heat, and privacy, adults as well as children frequently shared bedrooms and beds. In fact, all three children may have slept in the same bed, or one child may have occupied a cot in the same room.

In the north corner of the crowded house, Thomas and Maria enjoyed the luxury of a small private bedroom. This room’s proximity to the Cole’s sitting room and to the children’s bedroom had obvious advantages. The Cole’s bedroom also offered ready access to the stairway and, via a triple-hung window, to the second floor porch. Perhaps befitting their new status as a married couple, the Coles slept in the most expensive bed in the house, one of two curtained beds owned by John Thomson. The remaining bedroom on the second floor was occupied by Maria Cole’s three unmarried sisters: Emily, Harriet and Francis.

Immediately after his marriage to Maria in 1836, Thomas Cole apparently worked in the main house itself. But in 1839, Cole was able to move to a larger and more private space in the Old Studio.

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Thomas Cole’s New Studio

On May 1, 2016, the reconstruction of Thomas Cole’s New Studio officially opened to the public. Originally built in 1846 according to Thomas Cole’s own design, the building stood about 75 yards from Cole’s home in Catskill for 125 years. Tragically, it was torn down in 1973 after falling into disrepair. Now, after many years of research and a successful capital campaign, the building has been reconstructed and is open to visitors. Visit Reconstructing Thomas Cole’s New Studio for a behind-the-scenes look into the process.

The interior of the New Studio features a state-of-the-art exhibition space for displaying changing exhibitions, and its open floor plan provides a flexible space for lectures and educational programing. The building enables the Thomas Cole National Historic Site to effectively serve as a catalyst for the burgeoning national and international interest in 19th century American landscape painting, an outstanding destination for visitors to and residents of the Hudson Valley, and a resource and inspiration for future generations of scholars, collectors and artists.

Jasper Cropsey, Thomas Cole's Studio, Catskill, New York, 1850. Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art

Jasper Cropsey, Thomas Cole’s Studio, Catskill, New York, 1850. Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art

An Inspiration for Generations

After Cole’s death, his widow Maria, her three unmarried sisters and the Cole children – Theodore, Mary, Emily, and Thomas II – remained at the Cole property, known as Cedar Grove.  For decades little changed at the property, which was maintained consistently by the family into the twentieth century, as one reporter in 1871 described it, “like a shrine.”  After Cole’s passing, artists Frederic Church and Jasper Cropsey sketched Cedar Grove, including glimpses of the “new studio,” the only such images that survive before photographs from the turn of the century.   After his visit, Cropsey wrote this moving description of the space:

After breakfast we were invited to the studio. It is a new building about 1000 yards from the house, large and commodious, with a neat little porch and a wide open hall before entering the painting department. It is built in the modern florid style. We Entered; it seemed as if Mr. Cole would be in in a few minutes for every thing remains as when he last left painting. The picture he last painted on yet stands on the Easel, The brushes he painted with that last day are there; his paint table looks as when he was there – There too is the sketches upon the floor, and standing by the Easel as he left them – There are his books, his writing table, portfolios, and in short I felt like asking, “when will Mr. C be in,” Though the man has departed, yet he has left a spell behind him that is not broken, as you may sit there upon the sofa, and look upon his works, we will feel more than ever the devotion, genius and spirit of the man. Every thing breaths so much candor of will, truth of purpose, and love of the refined and beautiful, that we feel a kind of reverence there, we instinctively feel like taking off our hats, when we enter although He is not there.

A Comprehensive Plan

The Trustees and staff of the Thomas Cole National Historic Site completed a new strategic plan in 2010 focusing on transforming Thomas Cole’s home and studios into a leading center for education and scholarship about the artist and his influence on America’s cultural landscape. These goals will be achieved with dynamic and relevant programming, supported by an expanding permanent collection and well maintained physical facilities.

The New Studio is part of the overall site-wide plan to prepare the organization for a strong and sustainable future. Many pieces of the plan have already been implemented – including a site-wide landscape restoration, upgrades to parking and paths, reconstruction of the historic stone wall and fence along Spring Street, and relocating staff offices out of the 1815 Main House and into a different building on the property.  The reconstruction of the New Studio will provide the Thomas Cole National Historic Site with many of the remaining key pieces of the plan: an interior program space that serves as a museum-quality gallery for special exhibitions and a lecture hall for a variety of programs and events. It will serve all ages and segments of the community – students and teachers, families, scholars, area businesses and visitors from across the country. Most importantly, the New Studio project will ensure that present and future generations can learn about the profound impact of Thomas Cole and the Hudson River School.

Support provided by Market NY through I LOVE NY/ New York State’s Division of Tourism as a part of the Regional Economic Development Council awards.

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