Frederic Church wrote "The recollection of the blue
mountains is as fresh and vivid to me as the day I
last saw them," to Thomas Cole, his former art teacher,
about the Catskill Mountains. Fourteen years later
this memory brought the artist back to build a home
for his family. By then internationally lionized,
Church had traveled the Americas from Labrador to
Ecuador seeking panormaic landscapes to paint. On
large-scale canvases he depicted the variety and splendor
of the Americas: the frigid iridescence of icebergs,
the ceaseless turbulence of Niagara, and the boiling
fury of South American volcanoes. Church created the
images that fixed the features of the American continents
for a generation of pioneers and entrepreneurs. This
modest seventh-generation New Englander became a sought-after
but reluctant celebrity.
In 1859, at an exhibition
of his painting Heart of the Andes, Church
met Isabel Carnes (1836-1899). They married in June,
1860. In order to secure privacy to paint and to rear
a family, Church returned to the Catskills and bought
a 126-acre farm south of Hudson. His artistic eye
pronounced "the views [from Olana] most beautiful
and wonderful." Architect Richard Morris Hunt designed
a rural cottage for the couple. Halfway up the hillside
Church built a studio where he worked on all his major
purchase of land at the crest of the hill north of
his farm on which he would build a home, and believing
the landscape artist to be the premiere landscape
designer, Church began to improve his farm by laying
out roads, planting thousands of trees, and dredging
a marsh to create a reflecting pond. On a journey
to the Middle East and Europe, the Churches were captivated
by the Moorish architecture, which they felt provided
a sense of permanence, rich associations with the
past, and splendid decorative possibilities. So pleased
was Church that in 1868 he enthusiastically worte
a friend, "I have new and capital ideas about house
building." Upon their return, the Churches turned
to architect Calvert Vaux for a design for a Moorish
villa. Church elaborated upon Vaux's design, making
hundreds of drawings.
Church created Olana in
the same way that he painted a work of art: pencil
sketches followed by more finished color sketches.
Then, instead of painting the final work of art, he
built it. He also chose and mixed on his pallette
the colors for every room, and designed the exterior
and interior stencils. His influence extended to the
placement of the furniture, decorative objects, and
paintings. A home, however, is the creation of the
couple who live there and Church often commented that
Isabel's "taste in the house is shown from top to
bottom---and her advice was asked about in all."
Construction began in
1870 and the family moved into the second floor in
late 1872. The first-floor rooms required several
more years to design and decorate. Although Church
was increasingly affected by arthritis in the 1870's,
just as the popularity of his style of painting was
being supplanted, he continued to sketch regularly
and to paint when he was able. Between 1888 and 1891,
he added the studio wing to the house.
Throughout the 1880s he
continued to elaborate upon the naturalistic landscape
at Olana. Myriad scenes were composed contrasting
open pastoral views, dark mysterious woodlands, and
passive water reflecting the landscape with the majestic
Hudson River and sublime distant mountains. The careful
placement of roads revealed these scenes to the viewer
in an orderly sequence of experiences, allowing the
landscape to be seen through Church's sensibilities.
Church wrote: "I have made about 1 3/4 miles of road
this season, opening entirely new and beautiful views.
I can make more and better landscapes in this way
than by tampering with canvas and paint in the studio."
In order to spend the
winters in warmer climates that provided relief from
his arthritis and because of Isabel's growing frailty,
Chruch hired his youngest son, Louis Palmer Church,
as estate manager in 1891. Although over the next
several years Church continued to sketch and to augment
the furnishings and art in the interior of Olana,
he slowly withdrew his attention from the property's
management to focus on his and Isabel's failing health.
By 1891, Olana as a singular
work of art by one of America's greatest artists,
was complete. Olana remained in the family until 1964
when plans were made to sell the carefully preserved
house at auction. Soon after, Olana Preservation,
Inc., was formed by art historian David Huntington
(1922-1990). Under his leadership, Olana Preservation
purchased the property in 1966. Olana was transferred
to the State of New York later that year.
The house is open by
guided tour on Wednesdays through Sundays, mid April
until the end of October. From opening day until Labor
Day the house is open Weekdays and Saturday from 10AM
until 4PM and Sundays from Noon until 4PM. After Labor
Day until the end of October the house is open from
Noon until 4PM Wednesdays through Sundays.
The last tour always begins
at 4PM. There is no admittance to the house after
the last tour has begun. The house is open on Memorial
Day, Independence Day, Labor Day and Columbus Day.
The Visitors Center is open during regular site hours;
an exhibit and audiovisual program about the house
and Church is featured.
Tours of the house last
approximately fifty minutes, and are limited to twelve
persons each. Tickets can sell out for the entire
day early in the afternoon. Please do not wait until
4PM to arrive, as you may not be able to enter the
house. Grounds are open daily from 8AM until sunset.
There is a minimal
admission fee. Special rates are available for educational
groups and organizations who reserve in advance.
Great Lawn - take in the view
of the mighty Hudson River as Church
are not required, the daily number of tickets is limited.
If you are arriving from a great distance, a reservation
may be a good idea. Reservations are taken for a limited
number of tours each day and may be made by calling
(518)828-0135 up to two weeks in advance of your visit.
Reservations are held until fifteen minutes prior
to the tour. If they have not been picked up by then,
they are forfeit, and sold as general admission.
Olana is accessible to
people with mobility limitations. the house tour is
on one floor. An elevator provides access to the tour
floor. Please park in the designated parking area.
The Visitor Center and restrooms are also accessible.
The orientation film, "Frederick Chruch's Olana" is
closed-captioned. New York State Access Passes are
The entrance to Olana
is off of Rouote 9G, one mile south of the Rip Van
Winkle Bridge at Hudson, NY.
Friends of Olana
the Friends in their work to preserve Olana. Founded
in 1971, Friends advocate and support the preservation
of Olana. As a member of Friends, you will receive
membership benefits including a newsletter and invitations
to special events. For information on membership,
please write to:
PO Box 199
Hudson, NY 12534