All Roads in Catskill Lead to Thomas Cole

Unless visiting Cedar Grove, the Thomas Cole National Historic Site, my drives to Catskill have usually taken me through the town en route to somewhere else–usually over the Rip van Winkle Bridge to Olana or some other Columbia County destination. Deciding last Sunday to stop and check out Catskill’s Main Street, I discovered a visual treat of colorful old homes and stores, such as the Catskill Country Store pictured here. Topographically, the Main Street of Catskill is interesting in that it is crisscrossed by alleyways that, on one side, lead up a hill to a more residential part of town and, on the other side, take you downhill to what I later discovered, when checking a map, is the waterfront of Catskill Creek. The very raw weather that day was not conducive to undertaking my usual curiosity detours, but I did take one, and a fortuitous one it was, because I then discovered St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, where Thomas Cole was an active parishioner. This photo shows one of the beautiful windows in the church, which stands on a hill overlooking the town and the Catskill Mountains in the distance.

OK, I must confess: The ultimate purpose of this visit to Catskill was Thomas Cole-related. I was headed to a lecture at Cedar Grove. But first I stopped at the local cemetery to visit Cole’s grave, armed with a map given me by Marie Spano on my last visit to Cedar Grove. Cole and his wife, Maria Bartow, and other family members are buried there, all together. On Cole’s grave is engraved “The Lord is my shepherd,” and after his religious conversion he did indeed live by those words from Psalm 23.

The lecture being given last Sunday was the second of the four Sunday Salons for this season. Kevin Sharp, who has an amazing reputation as a gallery museum and director and curator of groundbreaking exhibitions all over the country, spoke about how Cole drew inspiration from such English Romantic poets as Coleridge and Byron for his later work. Like many first-rate artists, Cole sometimes rebelled against the idea of depicting scenes from poetry in order to please clients and instead probed further to uncover and interpret the poem’s deeper meaning. As a photographer I could well relate to the discussion of documentation vs. interpretation and so I was glad to be able to purchase Kevin Sharp’s book Poetic Journey, which includes a relevant article.

The next Sunday Salon at Cedar Grove will be a particularly exciting one. Did you know that Thomas Cole now has an exhibition at the Louvre in Paris? Dr. Katherine Bourguignon, the curator of “New Frontier: Thomas Cole and the Birth of Landscape Painting in America,” will be speaking about the exhibition on Sunday March 11. If you are interested in Thomas Cole, the Hudson River School, or nineteenth-century landscape painting in general, please consider attending this unique event. You can visit the Thomas Cole National Historic Site’s website for further information including directions and to sign up for emails reminding you of future events.

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Please visit my website where you can see my gallery of photos of the Hudson Valley and the Catskills. My Print of the Month, which is of a favorite nature site in Rhode Island, is available for purchase at a special price until February 29.

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