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Sunday, June 21, 2015

Day 18: Catskill Mountain House and Sunset Rock

First off, I would like to brag on myself for a second for cooking the most amazing sandwich last night - grilled cheese with honey ham and thin slices of Granny Smith apples. It was SO GOOD. Tonight was a little less exotic...Easy Mac and the leftover apple. Still finding it less of a hassle and much quicker to cook what I have than go out to eat. I haven't posted any pics or really touched on this but I'm living out of a minivan this summer - I have a tent but so far have slept in the car every night. It's decked out with drawers, a mattress pad for my sleeping bag, cooler and box for food, camp cooking supplies, curtains, etc. It has been great and simple living...really makes me wonder why I need all the other stuff not in this van.

I started my day at North/South Lake by going to the Catskill Mountain House, or old site of the Catskill Mountain House. It opened in 1823 and became one of America's premier hotels, described as a "place of glamour and comfort in the midst of a wild and beautiful landscape." Frederic Church did a sunrise painting here so I had loosely planned on doing that...I got a decent start in the morning but don't even rmember those early alarms. The guests used to be woken up by hotel staff to see the sunrise since the hotel faced east, so I would have needed one of them to come knock on my car door.

Anyway, as you readers may have already suspected, Thomas Cole hated this place! It was an eyesore in his beloved wilderness landscape. "What a desecration of the place where nature offered a feast of higher holier enjoyment - alas that men should thrust their frivolities into the very face of the sublime at regions of the world." He was asked to do a painting of the house for advertising purposes, refused at first, but then must have needed the money because he did the painting. It was hung in a ferry coming up from New York and reproduced on souvenir dishes. Cole included himself in this painting, sitting and looking up at the house.

Hudson River School artists did use the tourist destination to their advantage by taking the bumpy stagecoach service to the area to access the mountaintop scenery. However, artists found the particular view from the mountain house difficult to paint, and I did too. There isn't significant foreground or background or contrast. Church added trees in the foreground of his sunrise painting to add interest. The view is stunning, but as one kid kept saying "it just keeps going!" and "I CAN SEE THE WHOLE WORLD!"

Thomas Cole was inspired by William Gilpins writings on the picturesque in painting. I am still reasoning through my long-ago notes from Thomas Cole by Earl A. Powell. So the idea of picturesque is an alternative to beautiful and sublime, which Gilpin proposes are three different things. The picturesque is a mode of viewing the world that stimulated the mind and imagination. It was also objective and empirical, with definable features for a composition. There must be emphasis of nature in an uncultivated state, a rough, tactile surface, and vibrant chiaroscuro (light and dark). This may not be found all together in nature, but could be united in a single painting by a gifted artist. So here we really uncover Cole's motivation to alter the scenes he saw to fit this description of the picturesque. I am finding more of his views have been altered or dramaticized or invented in significant ways from the views I have seen on the ground. This is also different from Church, who was more scientific in his approach to painting and recording scenes more or less as he witnessed them.

Another things that is ringing so true throughout this whole process is how well versed these artists were with their subject matter. Powells book says that an experienced artist could achieve successful "compostions" only if they had a "store of natural images so abundant that they can arrange 'real views' from nature..." In their studios, they had to know what a pine tree looked like, and a bunch of pine trees together, and a bunch of them in the distance....and so on. And how the light would affect all these different elements! Quite amazing.

Back to the Catskill Mountain less and less people used railroad and stagecoach for transportation, the hotel lost their clientele. There is no hotel remaining today, just the site it was on and the stunning views. Part of me wishes I had painted the grassy field with trees in with the view. Very interesting and in line with Cole's series "Course of Empire" that the pristine landscape was there at the beginning, man built on it and tried to utilize it for our own goals, but it's gone back to nature in the end.

The best I can do to show you reproductions of Church and Cole's work with no cell service.
The Hudson was a bright silver color (similar to Maya Lin's modern art sculpture at Olana..shape of the entire River cast in silver).
Wide, sweeping view of the Hudson. On clear days you can see multiple STATES from this overlook.
The oldest rock carving I could find.
Excuse the bent paper...5x7 of the very distant view of the Hudson from the overlook.

My next stop was Sunset Rock, which was a longer hike than I thought. The second half of the day I saw the different groups of people I'd seen yesterday at Kaaterskill Falls...small world up here. All were very nice, and I got some hot tips from a man with his son and another dad and his sons (I think) on Mohonk Lake, where I'm going on Monday. We had a great talk about the Catskills area and Maine too. On my way down later I met two couples from New York who again were so super nice and I chatted with them for a while. It is really life affirming to meet people who are so immediately kind and friendly, and interested in the work I'm doing.

Anyway, I hiked up to Sunset Rock and stopped at Artists Rock along the way.

Steep hike.
OMG! It's an artist on Artist's Rock!!!
A sweeping view of the Hudson similar to this morning's view.

Rain had been predicted for around 6:00om so at 3:00ish when I got to Sunset Rock I knew I was racing against the rain. The fog made a very cool affect around the mountains, washing out certain parts so they were totally white, making an interesting contrast with the largest mountain. I started painting and at some point realized that I was getting "misted" on. And that the mountain I had been painting was now fully engulfed in a cloud. And soon I would be engulfed in that same cloud. So I painted furiously with a huge bristle brush to try to get some of the values and colors down, cursing AccuWeather for giving me such false information!

I frantically packed up my bag when I could no longer deny that I was getting wet. Here I throw a HUGE thanks to my wise and beloved Dan for getting me a rain cover for my backpack before I left on the trip. I suited up in my rain gear and took one last look before I left and I could literally see NOTHING. Where minutes before had been an entire landscape, I saw a wall of white. Coming down, I saw the same white sheet at Artist's Rock. It didn't really rain until I got to my car, but now at midnight writing this it is pouring and storming. Sending prayers to the weather gods that I have a clear day tomorrow to finish two paintings that I started earlier this week.......

My fog gear.
View from Sunset Rock.
Fog behind the mountain.
The view when I finished painting.
More work to be done, thank you Mother Nature.
Aaaand this is what I saw when I left Sunset Rock.
Aaaaand when I went down to Artist's Rock...!




  1. You were being swallowed by a giant marshmallow! Ha!

  2. You're an inspiration! Your art.. and your food. I made grilled cheese with ham and apples tonight.. MM delicious! :) Keep doing what you're doing, your work is absolutely stunning! :)

  3. Great to see a young artist inspired by this school of art - I'm a Barbizon school lover and these artists are close in spirit! I went to Miami of Ohio - you're lucky to be there (Cinci)- best, Chris