On Sunday, September 23, 120 Members and friends of the Bronxville Historical Conservancy (BHC) enjoyed a day trip up the Hudson River and tour of the Thomas Cole National Historic Site in Catskill, New York. The trip, organized by Robert Riggs and Judy Unis, with fellow BHC committee members Ellen de Saint Phalle, Judy Foley, Marilynn Hill, Robert Shearer, Lorraine Shanley, Nancy Vittorini, and Bob Wein, was one of many Conservancy sponsored community events centered on their 20th anniversary year art theme.
Cole, founder of The Hudson River School, the first major art movement in America that inspired Bronxville’s great landscape artists, proclaimed, “The Hudson, for natural magnificence is unsurpassed. What can be more beautiful than the lake-like expanses of Tapaan [sic] and Haverstraw as seen from the rich orchards of the surrounding hills? … the Hudson has its wooded mountains…and an unbounded capacity for improvement by art.” (1841)
For more than two hours, passengers on board the SeaStreak fast ferry enjoyed the Hudson’s magnificence, taking in historic landmarks on both sides of the River. The ship’s three levels of seating included an open upper deck and two enclosed lower levels with expansive windows for optimum viewing. In addition to the breathtaking views, passengers enjoyed conversation, cards, and a hot lunch before disembarking in Catskill for buses to Cole’s house and studio.
The tour included the artist’s 1815 federal style home, and two artist studios. The larger studio, originally designed by Cole in 1846 was demolished in 1973 and rebuilt in 2015. Today it includes a museum-quality gallery where participants viewed paintings by Cole and other invaluable artwork from the 19th- century Hudson River School. The smaller studio, built in 1839, remains on the site. Restored in 2004, this smaller barn-like structure is furnished with Cole’s original easels and other tools and appears as though the artist has just stepped out. Cole’s writings are also prominently displayed throughout the exhibit and include personal letters and published poetry.
At the conclusion of the tour, the group boarded buses back to the ferry for the return ride home. Cruising home on the Hudson, passengers enjoyed wine, cheese and a light supper while continuing conversations inspired by the tour. Commenting on Cole’s work, Judy Unis said, “The struggle between preservation and progress is a recurring theme throughout Cole’s artwork and writings. He wanted desperately not only to capture, but also, preserve the natural beauty of his Cedar Grove home in Catskill and the Hudson Valley he so dearly loved. Preservation is what the Conservancy is all about- preserving and protecting our rich historic and cultural legacies, and having a lot of fun together, while doing it.”