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Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Day 13: Exploring Olana

I started off this morning reading an article called "Want to be Happy? Slow down." It was awesome and I didn't even know how much I needed to hear the wisdom the article contained. A few highlights: "We deal with our mind from morning till evening, and it can be our best friend or our worst enemy" (Matthieu Ricard). Another quote on stress, "But to choose one thought over another has to do with mind training. At the end of the day you can think of all the things that have gone wrong, or you can think of all the many, many things that we take for granted that have gone right" (Pico Iyer). So today when I woke up, and it was raining, and the museums I wanted to go to were closed because of my poor planning, and I felt kind of like a dumb dumb...I chose to say "what a gift this is - I have no choice but to read and study all this wonderful reading material I brought with me." Of course as my days always go it ended up different and better than I thought...but it was a needed message this morning.

I read some of a book I have scanned on my phone called Frederic Church and the Landscape Oil Sketch. It's a great little book that gave me a lot of insights into Church's process before I left on the trip. One thing it mentions that I haven't yet is the idea of the Sublime, which many, if not all, the 18th century Hudson River School painters sought in their works. This idea "accorded both intellectual and aesthetic priority to representations, in literature and visual arts, of the epic, the heroic, and the awe-inspiring..." Although captured in many of Church's oil sketches, and the studies of other artists, the true feeling of sublime comes with the scale of their final paintings. The works are very large and give the viewer the illusion that they are in and amongst the landscape (especially Thomas Moran's paintings of Yellowstone - they fill up massive walls at one of the museums in DC).

Church's work is also described as achieving the "rare feat of combining searching detail with almost overwhelming grandeur" and that it is "founded on a vivid acquaintance with the minutiae of the natural world, a complete familiarity with nuances of light, the movement of water, and the structure of clouds." Thomas Cole, his teacher and mentor for two years, described him as having "the finest eye for drawing in the world." It is clear from the sketches I've seen that he sketched with rapidity and accuracy. His good sense of humor is mentioned also...I think he'd be a cool guy to hang out with.

The rain stopped this afternoon and despite my resolve to find a coffee shop and read all day, I drove to Olana to tour the grounds (they are open even when the house is closed). So happy I did because the rain held off the rest of the day and there is tons to see on the Olana property. His house is incredible...decorated with stunningly intricate details and blues, teals, reds, oranges, and other unique colors for adorning a house. Church designed the building himself (see photos of his sketches at the end of the post) and carefully planned views around the property for visitors. He was never without inspiration, indoors or out. He sketched every day at Olana in his later years, which reminded me of Claude Monet in his studio at Giverny, amongst a world he had created for himself to fuel his inspiration and creative spirit.

I decided to walk around the site and visit as many of the site markers as I could along the carriage trails on the property. I stopped at a meadow with a bench in the middle and I actually heard it say "Emily, come sit down" so I went because how can you say no to a talking bench. The wild flowers were beautiful, crickets were chirping, clouds kept the sun from being too bright. I was the only person around and it was nice to be in that stillness. I thought about the beauty Church surrounded himself with, and how I need to go to graduate school somewhere with this kind of natural inspiration. I thought about how well traveled Church was (beyond New York and Maine, he visited South America multiple times, Newfoundland and Labrador...he was all over the place. I hope I continue to seek new landscapes as he did.

Then I started to think about what's the whole point of all this art I'm making. I read a few artist statements of plein air painters the other day and some seemed generic - things every plein air painter would have in of nature, the outdoors, how painting outside is such a great experience, etc. I also wonder sometimes where my art fits in today, how is it modern. (My professor would say "stop worrying about it and just go paint"). There is little about modern/contemporary art that I am drawn to. I had a great conversation with Katherine on Sunday that I helped me formulate more thoughts about my work. Plein air work forces focus, contemplation, and great attention. You must take a "long, loving look at the real" as Walter Burghardt said. In this way, the act of painting becomes an almost spiritual experience, taking such time to carefully consider and behold a natural wonder. I have more vivid memories of actually painting my plein air paintings...the scene, the surroundings, the temperature, how I felt, what I heard...than I ever have from looking at a photograph. The art translates something more real and truthful than words or photographs could describe. We are so saturated with images, words, and sounds in our modern life, and I find it personally and artistically important to remove these distractions from my art making process.

I found a sign post that marked where Church's old studio used to be. He tore it down and added a room on to Olana, but wow. It was amazing just to stand there and see the view he saw while working on his masterpieces. It was nice to be there in the calm of a rainy day. He said, "I am appalled when I look at the magnificent scenery which encircles my clumsy studio, and then glance at the painted oil cloth on my easel." Freddy C, so humble! I stopped and did a quick painted sketch here before leaving the site (because how could I not?!)

I stopped by the Thomas Cole Historic site but I'll save those pics for a few days. I feel very compartmentalized about the four big "chunks" of this trip. Even though there is definite overlap between Church and Cole, I'd like to finish all my work and research of Church moving on to Cole. But things have a way of just working out so I'll go with the flow. Enjoy the pics. :)

First pic with my NEW CAMERA!!!!
Ahhhh fangirling!
Was Andrew Wyeth here too...?
The house, Olana, is STUNNING
Church designed the entire house himself.
Inspired by Mediterranean and European architecture.
Amazing views of the Hudson.
That view, right from his house!
Olana on a cloudy day.
Selfie with Olana!
View from a studio he built around 1864 - he tore it down and built one attached to his house.
The grounds are really stunning.
Carriage roads go around the property.
Several restorations going on to get the grounds and views back to how Church envisioned them.
Ended up sitting here for quite a while, reading, journaling, and enjoying the stillness.
View from (and of) the meadow.
Some of Church's sketches and designs for Olana.
Sketch of the facade.
In addition to his artwork...what a sweet husband!
Painting at the location of his old studio!
Picture of a painting he did of this location from the point of interest marker. Why ELF? Of all the words you could choose to deface property...



1 comment:

  1. You are in your element, daughter!
    As I looked at your photos of the grounds and views, I have to wonder how much better the views must have been to Church without the 150+ years of tree growth!
    His house is stunning and it is good to learn it is so well preserved...both house and grounds! Keep up the excellent work!
    Love, mom