I spent last weekend in the Hudson River Valley – not nearly enough time. I saw the Dia Foundation’s modern art museum in Beacon, NY on Saturday; and, on Sunday, Olana – Frederic Edwin Church’s home on the top of a very high hill near Hudson, NY.
I want to return soon; it was frustrating to drive north on the beautiful state Route 9 through Hyde Park and Rhinebeck and not to stop to tour FDR’s home, or any of the other historic sites along the river-side of the road.
But Dia and Olana were my priorities this time. The collection at Dia is – mostly but not entirely – too conceptualist and minimalist for my taste. (One exception was a beautiful big room lined with Andy Warhol’s “Shadows” series from the 1970s.)
Olana is anything but minimalist. Church spent some of the money he earned as a very successful landscape artist to create a beautiful estate across the river from the home of his mentor and teacher Thomas Cole. He designed the landscape to include a lake in a shape echoing the curves of the Hudson River just to the west. He established a farm on the property that was a serious money-making venture. But mostly . . . he had a splendid house built.
Although he used an architect, he did much of the design work himself. Especially the interior design and decoration. He and his wife had fallen in love with Arab and Moorish art and decoration during an extended tour of the Middle East in the late 1860s or early 1870s. Olana – outside and in – was his effort to re-create what they had seen in Beirut, Jerusalem, and Damascus. He designed the stencils used to decorate the walls, and mixed the interior paints himself. The Church family moved in in 1872, but the house was always a work in progress. It was mostly complete by 1891. Church died in 1900.
The house is wonderful also for all the paintings by Church – still there, as they were during his lifetime. (And the paintings have wonderful frames – Church designed his own frames, too.) Olana stayed in the Church family until 1966, when it was acquired by a partnership consisting of a private foundation and the State of New York.
Photography is not allowed inside the house. Above is one photo of the view from the house; another is below, followed by two of the exterior of the house – all taken on a very damp, foggy day.