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Thursday, June 18, 2015

Day 15: Catskill Creek and Catskills from Cedar Grove

Wow, it's been two weeks! Hard to believe. I feel immense love and support...if you've read any of the chapters in this novel of a blog I am writing, thank you. It makes me happy that others are enjoying it and I feel many people along on the journey with me.

Here in the Hudson, I am "making my own national park," as Dan wisely observed. I miss being in a national park...I felt more secure, more unified, more part of a common goal, more in tune with nature. Here I am piecing things together for myself. I'm not surrounded by people hiking and biking and enjoying great American scenery. There are no park rangers to answer my questions. Basically, national parks are awesome and I have a better appreciation for the experience they offer me as a painter...and I can't wait to get to Yellowstone.

This new found appreciation really came from my first stop (well I guess my third, since Olana and Thomas Cole historic site we both on there) on the Hudson River School Art Trail. It is a "trail" that has sites marked around the Hudson and some areas farther away in New York, and actually some surrounding states, where Hudson River School painters worked. The exact views they painted - you can imagine how thrilled I was to discover this when I started doing research for my project. I'm visiting spots where Church and Cole worked that are mapped on this was difficult not to do the whole thing (Sanford Gifford especially...he is one of my faves) but I had to draw some kind of limit because otherwise I'd be here for years (maybe that wouldn't be a bad thing?) There are running medallions at each stop and now I feel like I'm collecting Pokemon #GottaCatchEmAll.

Bad iPad pic from my car, but that's what the rubbing medallions look like.
Rubbing medallion.

I visited Catskill Creek today, where Cole loved to work and Cole took Church here during the two years Church was his student. The view is very nice, with more growth there than when they painted, but the creek is serene. The rest of the world around the creek, is not. There is a busy road on a bridge right behind the spot, and a busy railroad beyond that. The viewing spot, though there was a nice gazebo there, was in the parking lot of a restaurant. I was sitting in my car thinking, I really do not want to spend the day here painting. So I didn't. I stayed and did a sketch with detailed notes, which is actually the method Thomas Cole preferred to work. More on that tomorrow.

I started reading my Art Trail guide as soon as I got to the site and lo, there is this quote by Thomas Cole right at the top of the page: "Last evening I took a wake up the Catskill above Austins Mill where the Rail Road is now ,asking - This was once a favorite walk but the charm of quietness & solitude is gone..." In 2015 I felt the same way, TC. The view of the creek actually has more tree growth than the 1800s - the creek used to be lined with over 50 different mills, a brewery, two iron works...the list goes on. There was intense industrialization and development happening. In much of Cole's work, he eliminated that industry and showed a view of nature he desired. Today, visitors "will actually experience a landscape that looks wilder than that seen by artists of the 19th century" because of legislation creating the Catskill Forest Preserve.

But I still mourned the loss of Thomas Cole's favorite creek, and a place he taught Frederic Church as a student. He also wrote "this is a spot that in Europe would be considered one of the gems of the earth; it would be sought for by lovers of the beautiful, and protected by law from destruction...Where once was beauty, there is now barrenness." So sad that he saw the destruction of a place he held dear to his heart and his easel.

By not painting here, I followed Cole's instructions to Church to practice drawing for their first year together before plein air painting, "directing his pupil toward a program of extensive drawing out-of-doors." He also "stressed solid draftsmanship and an acute eye for recording color and atmosphere using richly descriptive written language." So because of the trains and cars, I was directed to use this method in recording my experience...perhaps more specifically in drawing and note taking than I had for any of my other drawings this way. So Thomas Cole was in Catskill Creek teaching me today.

Catskill Creek.
Behind me.......
Sketch with notes...kind of like a paint my number I made myself.
The Catskill Creek by Frederic Church, 1845.

Also see the two Cole paintings below, they are listed as views of the creek as well (but I think they are more accurately views from his porch). It is neat to see how young Church was learning from his mentor.

I went back to the Thomas Cole Historic Site and stopped by Cole's gravesite since it's right down the street from his home. The cemetery is larger than I thought and despite Cole's celebrity status in my mind, his grave marker is not huge with signs pointing out where it is. So I almost regretted the decision...but I found it pretty quickly. I did a little sketch of his gravestone but I think the painting I did later was a better homage to Cole. When he died, Church and another lanscape artist Asher B. Durand both made paintings to honor and remember Cole and I wanted to do something in that same vein.

To the Memory of Cole by Frederic Edwin Church.
After saying a little "thank you" to Thomas Cole at his gravesite, I went back to Cedar Grove to paint. The view room the balcony of the Catskills is pristine and Cole painted it many times throughout his life. Even though there is a busy road in front of the site, I felt more tucked away up on his porch painting the Catskills. Again, so appreciating our national (and state) parks, and historic sites, for not only the beauty and history they preserve, but the silence, stillness, and solitude as well.
Porch of
Selfie from Cole's porch!
View from TC's porch.
Bristle brushes working well - just have to remember to add details with smaller brushes too.
View from Thomas Cole's porch.
River in the Catskills by Thomas Cole.
View from Catskill by Thomas Cole.
The mountain peaks in the paintings.
Maybe Cole didn't paint sunsets often because he couldn't see them from his house!
Stopped on the side of the highway to sketch this epic sunset. The view on the right of this was even more amazing. Wow.




  1. Thanks for another lesson in art/art history, Emily!
    So happy for your experience, even with all the trains and cars!
    Love, mom

  2. I am really loving your little sketches!
    I am also learning about art through YOU!
    Thanks Em!