The morning started off with a great email from one of my fellow fellows Tyler (we all check in on Fridays) (he is in Patagonia right now on a farm in the backcountry on a mountain...so crazy cool) about living in the present and enjoying the beauty around me where my admired artists painted. "Take things slow because the details are magnificent, but you have to notice them first." Today I set off with a better mindset, ready to fully experience and enjoy the Catskills in the way Thomas Cole did.
I read in my book Thomas Cole's Creative Process that he'd take about twenty minutes to just look at his subject - "my desire & endeavor is always to get the objects of nature, sky, rocks, trees, as strongly impressed upon my mind as possible & by looking intently at an object for twenty minutes I can go to my room & paint it with much more truth, that I could if I employed several hours on the spot." He was very keen on visual observation. But I think he was also just tired after hiking whenever he got to his destination because all thoughts of "wow my paint pack feels lighter on my back!" were gone when I got to the falls.
I can't even imagine the effort it took back then to get places like this. And the trails I imagine were not as clearly marked (but maybe they were, because this used to be a huge tourist destination with a train at one point...so I'm actually probably off the mark with that). Thomas Cole visited Kaaterskill falls on his first trip to the Catskills in 1825. A dam used to control the flow of the water over the falls (Tyler!) but Cole eliminated any tourist evidence in his paintings. He describes waterfalls in his Essay on American Scenery as "the voice of the landscape for it strikes its own chords, and rocks and mountains re-echo in rich unison." How true, and here at Kaaterskill I was better able to appreciate that than I was at Niagara.
At just about this point in my journaling a huge tree FELL right on the hiking path to my right. I was safely on a rock away but one couple was actually on the path (not harmed). It was crazy!!!! Huge crash as it hit the ground. I think it was waterlogged from rain. Eek!
Back to Cole: he did several paintings of this waterfall, and the one from the middle falls looking out from a cave is one of those first three paintings that made him famous. He also brought Church here one winter as there is a sketch from Church of the frozen falls. In the view I portrayed, straight on the falls, Cole was advised to include a Native American figure to "assist in the idea of solitude." This idea ended up being common amongst Hudson River School painters, but also to help convey the scale of the landscape in comparison to a small figure. It helped people step into the painting and imagine what the landscape would look like if they were that tiny person. Thomas Cole's "The Oxbow" is a great example of this - he included himself very small with his plein air painting set up.
The Kaaterskill Falls are actually taller than Niagara Falls, but definitely not as voluminous with water. Many people came and went as I worked, enjoying the scenery, some even "swimming." As I said the sounds felt like Niagara but in the right setting. I could hear birds chirping, I was surrounded by lush bright green trees and large rocks piled against each other. There was a gentle breeze and every now and then I felt a light spray from the waterfall. The rock formations on the falls are very horizontal and layered, with plants and even some small trees emerging between the rock crevasses. It was hard to believe a busy road was only half a mile away.
I also took some time to reread a little booklet with excerpt from Thomas Cole's journals, essays, and letters. One quote from his Essay on American Scenery really speaks to his appreciation for the beauty of the American landscape: "Nature has spread for us a rich and delightful banquet. Shall we turn from it? We are still in Eden; the wall that shuts us out of the garden is our own ignorance and folly. May we at times turn from the ordinary pursuits of life to the pure enjoyment of rural nature: which is in the soul like a fountain of cool waters to the way-worn traveler..." These artists were so important in developing an appreciation for the American landscape. It really is incredible what they made people see. Art, and painting especially, is so beautiful in its capacity to make people see what they have not seen. Not only a distant landscape they may have never been to, but also the brightness of a green leaf or just how pure the blue is in water as it reflects from the sky. Thomas Cole was also compelled by the wildness in American scenery and believed that is what set our landscape apart from European landscape.
After watching people hike up to the middle section of the falls all day (how hard could it be) I decided to hike up. Definitely more difficult than I anticipated - basically no path and on the way down it was more sliding than hiking. But, Thomas Cole painted from the middle falls, so I wanted to see it. Totally worth it! Not sure how he got behind the falls or if that was invented, because you really can't stay upright and be behind the falls because of the slippery rocks and there's not really a cave. So he invented that part of the painting. It was stunning up there. I sat and admired the falls for a while, not really thinking about anything, but filled with a sense of calm.
I met some very nice people today. First I met Meredith, a pastel artist who hasn't worked for a while because of an illness. She agreed with me that you have to be outside first to capture the colors, and then use a photograph to reference details if needed. We talked shop for awhile (this is was so nice!) and she seemed to really get what I was doing. I met a couple with their daughter from Columbus, and the daughter is an athletic trainer for the rugby team at West Point! Obviously told him about Dan, etc. Go Ohio! I met another young girl who is going into fifth grade and she had some questions and we talked for a while. I really enjoy talking to kids about painting. Finally, as I was walking out with my painting held like a serving tray, someone asked me, "is that yours?" .....no I'm carrying it for a friend?!?? Anyway they complimented the painting so I shouldn't type sarcastically at them.
I do not feel quite as overwhelmed here about so much to paint (although again it is very beautiful here) but I am overwhelmed with the amount of literature I want to read and information I want to share. There is the mentorship between Cole and Church that took place here, the wonderful essay Thomas Cole wrote about American Scenery, I have essays on the picturesque by William Gilpin that Thomas Cole read, a book on Thomas Cole's creative process, and lots of information about the Hudson River School in general that I feel more closely connected to here in the Catskills/Hudson where the movement began. Anyway, I will continue to share snip-its from all of this in the next few days.
As always, thank you for reading! (And I apologize for the typos I know exist in all my posts...iPad life). The
|Kaaterskill Falls! So beautiful...|
|Blocking out the composition. Canvas is about 10x18, I think. Usually 8x10 fits in the box.|
|The tree that FELL as I was working. Smashed right on the hiking path. Yikes!!|
|The studio today.|
|Another shot of the studio - I was on a big flat boulder.|
|The fruits of my labor today...coming back Sunday to finish. Big canvas!!!|
|Falls of the Kaaterskill by Thomas Cole. 1826.|
|Kaaterskill Falls by Thomas Cole, 1826.|
|From the Top of Kaaterskill Falls by Thomas Cole, 1826.|
|The lower falls.|
|The upper falls.|
|Edge of the lower falls.|
|Detail of the cool rock I was painting all day...it really is blueish.|
|View of the Catskills.|
|Selfie with the falls.|
|Sat here very peacefully for a while.|
|Perhaps the same trail TC took? Aka no clear trail.|
|Brilliant sunset as I cooked dinner (yes you read that right - cooked).|