Olana was the 19th century home, studio and designed landscape of Hudson River School artist Frederic Edwin Church (1826-1900), his wife Isabel and their four children. The 250 acre historic estate features an elaborately stenciled, Persian-inspired mansion filled with original sketches, studies and paintings by one of the mid-19th century's most famous artists. A diverse decorative arts collection includes objects from around the world. Five miles of carriage drives, many of which are now pedestrian-use only, traverse a property developed in much the way Church created his canvasses, with strategically revealed vistas of one of the most strikingly beautiful places in the Hudson Valley.
Visitors to Olana enjoy guided house tours, view changing exhibits in the Evelyn & Maurice Sharp Gallery, hike, run and walk dogs in the Picturesque landscape, picnic, paint, photograph and take part in programs and special events for all ages. A Visitor Center offers an exhibit, film, interactive touch screen computers and museum shop. Family activities are available regularly at the Wagon House Education Center. A self-guided walking tour of the landscape leads visitors to the Church's first home on the property, the family's farm and orchards, a lake created from swampland, the site of Church's first studio at Olana and several planned views.
From now through November 1st, check out River Crossings, an exhibit featuring contemporary artwork inside the historic interiors at Olana and the nearby Thomas Cole National Historic Site. Visit http://www.rivercrossings.org/ for more information.
Don't miss these popular destinations within or near Olana State Historic Site:
*Reservations for guided house tours are strongly recommended. Please visit http://www.olana.org/book-a-tour/ to reserve your next tour. Tours are offered Tuesday through Sunday.
Thomas Cole and Olana to Open Mondays to expand access to "River Crossings"
The Thomas Cole National Historic Site and Olana State Historic Site will open on Mondays to expand access to their landmark collaborative exhibition "River Crossings: Contemporary Art Comes Home" before it closes on November 1. There has been an overwhelming response to this year's exhibition and to accommodate more visitors the two sites are staying open 7 days a week.
For more information on the exhibition or to schedule your tour time visit www.rivercrossings.org.
Historic sites charge a vehicle use fee and/or admittance fee at various times and locations throughout the year. A list of fees is available below. For program fees or to verify information, please contact the site directly.
House Tour- Main Floor and Second Floors with Studio & Gallery: $12/person; $10 per senior/group/studentGroups year round: Reservation only, call 518-828-0135 x 305
New! Download this park's digital map to your iOS Apple and Android device.
Frederic Edwin Church (1826-1900) was a mid-nineteenth century celebrity. As a landscape painter and member of what would eventually be called the Hudson River School, Church is best known for his picturesque views of the North and South American wilderness. The images were often dramatic – perhaps a reflection of the drama surrounding the tumultuous years through which Church achieved the height of his fame. The Mexican-American War (1846-1848) and Civil War (1861-1865) had each caused fundamental shifts in the new nation's direction and identity. The publication of Alexander von Humboldt's Cosmos at the turn of the 19th century, which in turn inspired the work of even more ground-breaking work by Wallace and Darwin, had increased interest in science and natural history. Church's paintings both reflect and embody these cultural shifts, through their desire to share with the viewer new and exciting views of far-off locales laden with meticulously rendered botanicals in often heavily manipulated compositions. He became internationally famous with paintings such as Niagara (1857, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.), Heart of the Andes (1859, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York), Twilight in the Wilderness (1860, Cleveland Museum of Art) and The Icebergs (1861, Dallas Museum of Art).
Church showed artistic talent even in his early childhood in Hartford, Connecticut. His father Joseph, a successful businessman, supported his son's efforts, and by 1844 had arranged through a friend to have Daniel Wadsworth, prominent Hartford community member and patron of Cole's work, write to landscape artist Thomas Cole on his son's behalf. Cole was already well recognized for his talent, and would later become known as the founder of the Hudson River School.
Cole agreed to take on then eighteen-year-old Frederic Church as his student, and Church joined him on sketching tours of the Catskill Mountains and surrounding area. Church learned to sketch the landscape, and then bring elements of his sketches together in the studio to create his paintings, manipulating the view to create better compositions. At age nineteen, Church showed his first work at New York's National Academy. He was elected to the Academy's membership by age twenty-three.
After two years studying with Cole, Church returned to Hartford, and the following year opened a studio in New York's Art-Union Building, where he would remain until an 1858 move to the 10th Street Studio Building. He would maintain his studio there until 1889.
During the 1859 exhibition of Heart of the Andes, Church met Isabel Carnes. Within a year, the couple planned to marry, and Church traveled back up the Hudson to choose a property on which they would build their first home. Before the wedding, he purchased a 126-acre working farm directly across the Hudson River from Catskill, where he'd studied with Cole. Cole had died in 1848 at the age of 47, just two years after Church's time in Catskill, but Church continued to maintain a relationship with the Cole family for many years.
Church hired Richard Morris Hunt as architect for a new house, Cosy Cottage, and the couple boarded with the Cole family during its construction. The couple would spend their first years in the new house surrounded by the news of the Civil War, which impacted Church both personally and artistically. His paintings The Icebergs, Our Banner in the Sky and Cotopaxi, among others, have been associated with his reactions to the events of the Civil War.
Church also began to manipulate the outdoor spaces of his property, adjusting elements of the landscape in much the same way he might manipulate a landscape on one of his canvasses. Church had trees planted and swampland dug into a lake, laid out roads and made decisions about land use as he created his picturesque landscape in three dimensions.
The Churches welcomed their first child, Herbert, and their second, Emma, in 1862 and 1864, but both died in a diphtheria epidemic in New York City in 1865. The Churches spent the early months of their grief in Jamaica, and after returning, welcomed son Frederic Joseph to renew their family. By 1867, Church finally had the opportunity to purchase a plot of land adjacent to his farm that included the hilltop where he would build his final home. He returned to Richard Morris Hunt to discuss plans for a larger house, and Hunt responded with an idea for a French manor house, but Church left on an 18 month trip to Europe and the Near East with his family before agreeing to a design.
The Churches spent time in the areas that are now Lebanon, Israel, Palestine, Syria, Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, and later Germany, Italy and Greece. It is their time in the East that ultimately drove Church's ideas about building a home.
Upon his return, Church secured the services of a new architect, Calvert Vaux, and began designing the new house in earnest. Olana's collection includes architectural sketches by both Vaux and Church that illustrate the collaborative relationship the two had during the home's design. Construction began in 1870, and Frederic, Isabel, Frederic Joseph, Theodore, Louis and Downie moved into the second floor of the unfinished house in 1872. Church continued his development of the landscape as well, taking advantage of the new views afforded by the higher elevation property. Church would continue to make changes and improvements to both the home and landscape throughout most of his life.
By the 1880s, Church was painting less frequently and the tightly brushed and highly detailed pictures of the Hudson River School had fallen out of fashion, replaced by the looser, obvious brushstrokes of the Impressionists. He spent his winters in the warmer, more arid climates of Mexico that alleviated the worsening symptoms of his arthritis, returning to Olana each year as the weather warmed. He died in 1900, during one of his return trips to Olana while visiting the home of a friend in New York City.
Church left Olana to his youngest son Louis, who had returned to manage the property in his parents' old age. Louis soon married Sarah (Sally) Good, who came to live with Louis at Olana. Louis died in 1943, and Sally in 1964. They'd had no children of their own, and Sally left Olana to her nephew in New Jersey. In the mid-1960s, the Hudson River School had not yet seen the revival of its popularity, and Olana and the contents of the house were almost auctioned! Art historian David Huntington learned of Sally's death, and after ensuring Sally's nephew would give him a little time, began to contact individuals who might be able to assist. Olana Preservation, Inc. was formed and began the two-year task of raising funds with which to purchase the property and contents of the house.
At the end of the two-year period, Olana Preservation, Inc. had raised over half the funds necessary to purchase the property, but was unable to raise the full amount. By June, 1966 the State Legislature under Governor Nelson Rockefeller had passed a bill authorizing the State of New York to purchase Olana. Olana Preservation, Inc. purchased Olana in July and conveyed the title to New York State in December. Olana opened as a New York State Historic Site in June, 1967.
Olana Preservation, Inc. disbanded, but several of its key members rejoined to start the non-profit Friends of Olana in 1971, which changed its name to The Olana Partnership in 2000. The Olana Partnership continues to play an integral part in supporting New York State Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation's efforts at Olana.
House tours at Olana introduce visitors to the story of Frederic Church and the development of Olana. The paintings and collections in the richly decorated, Eastern-inspired home illustrate the story of Olana's creation and its importance to Church and his family as a place of refuge and inspiration. See Olana's calendar of events for themed tours, such as ‘Lincoln, Church & the U.S. Civil War,' available on the 4th of July and throughout Presidents' Day Weekend, or ‘April Fools Olana!' in April.
Tours of the servants' quarters and Evelyn & Maurice Sharp Gallery at Olana lead visitors through the servants' entrance and portions of the unrestored servants' quarters. Interpretive panels encourage visitors to envision a servants' wing alive with the bustle of activity required to maintain the Church family's lifestyle. Leaving the servants' wing, visitors enter the Stair Hall Landing located directly above Olana's iconic Court Hall. From the landing, visitors can look into Frederic and Isabel Church's bedroom suite. Finally, visitors enter the Evelyn & Maurice Sharp Gallery. See the exhibitions section for an updated list of upcoming exhibitions.
Landscape tours and hikes focus on Church's development of the landscape at Olana as a three-dimensional work of art. Upcoming landscape tours and hikes are listed in Olana's calendar of events. Topic, length and level of difficulty vary from event to event. Call Olana State Historic Site at 518-828-0135 if you have questions about any of our upcoming hikes.
See Olana's Calendar for upcoming events. Below are some highlights of our annual events:
Presidents Day Weekend: Lincoln, Church and the U.S. Civil War
February: When the U.S. Civil War began in 1861, all citizens were affected in some way and artist Frederic Edwin Church was no exception. Join us for themed tours that shed a little light on the influence of the Civil War on Church and his art.
April Fools Olana!
April: April Fools Olana! tours feature objects that just don't belong scattered throughout the house. Can you find them all?
The Olana Partnership's Summer Party
July: The Olana Partnership's annual summer party - with amazing food, spectacular views, and dancing under the stars, this is the not-to-be-missed event of the summer.
Paint Out Olana!
October: Artists of all ages and experience are invited to paint, sketch and photograph the Olana landscape. Email Kimberly.Flook@parks.ny.gov for information on how to participate and be included in the Artist Directory.
Come join us at Olana State Historic State in celebrating the fifth annual I Love My Park Day! I Love My Park Day is an exciting statewide event to improve and enhance New York's parks and historic sites and bring visibility to the entire park system and its needs. Various volunteer projects will be available to choose from.
Contact event coordinator Elizabeth Schanz for more information: firstname.lastname@example.org
What can you find tucked away in Olana's landscape? Get ready to search our grounds high and low to find clues that lead you to the prize. Environmental educator, Fran Martino will teach us how to use compasses, maps, and GPS systems. Ages 5 and up.Member: $15, Non-Member: $20
May 15-October 30, Tuesday-Sunday, 10am-4pm.
Capturing the Cosmos, the 2016 exhibition in the Sharp Family Gallery, explores the influence of the great German Naturalist Alexander von Humboldt on Frederic Church. Acclaimed and revered during his own lifetime, Humboldt is currently enjoying a renaissance due to the recent award-winning bio The Invention of Nature by Andrea Wulf. Humboldt's writings inspired Church's South American adventures and the resulting masterpieces that made him internationally famous, and informed Church's later trips to Germany's Bavarian Lakes and Mexico. Sketches, diaries and artifacts from these trips trace Church's daring escapades to capture Humboldt's Cosmos. To book your tour visit: http://www.olana.org/book-a-tour/
Today's featured artists are Matthew Friday & Cara Benson. Kingston based Friday and East Greenbush based Benson make art about landscape and commerce: What is our currency; what is spent? What will we declare when we take inventory of our landscape through travel and notation? What cultural edges and borders appear in maps of our resources?
Ages 10 and up. Member: $5, Non-Member:$10
"Deep Air" is a series of talks designed to navigate artistic practice as it relates to travel, ecology, history, and landscape topics. This year, the series focuses on the very broadest themes of travel, which Frederic Church did so much of in his life, and artists continue to do to seek inspiration and enlightenment. Tea and cake will be served and a healthy Q&A follows artist talks.
The Olana Partnership partners with Columbia Memorial Health to encourage healthy community activities. Participants will experience a 15-minute talk in the Wagon House Education Center, and then medical insight and advice all along the 1.5 mile hike on Olana's moderately easy walking trails. Rain or shine. (Series continues June 21, July 19, August 30, September 20, and October 18.) All ages. Free.