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Catskill's Thomas Cole House on a roll

Jan 14, 2011 8:36 am
[caption id="" align="alignright" width="200" caption="Cedar Grove, home of Thomas Cole, Hudson River School painter, in Catskill."][/caption]Not only is Cedar Grove, the Thomas Cole Historic Site in Catskill, gearing up for the first of its 2011 lecture series this coming Sunday, January 16, but progress on its new front wall and fence, along with other site improvements, were a key topic of upbeat discussion at this past week's Village of Catskill trustee's meeting, where a report was made by local author Hudson Talbott, a WGXC Radio Council member, and other Cole House board members and employees.

The Sunday afternoon lectures at the home of Thomas Cole, the British painter who helped launch the Hudson River School of painting, America's first great art movement, kick off on January 16 with a presentation by historian and New York City architecture expert Francis Morrone on "Thomas Cole the Architect," including his design of the town's first St. Luke's Episcopal Church, turn down by Greene County in the last decade to make room for its new offices.

Future talks include Jack Larkin, The Chief Historian and Museum Scholar at Old Sturbridge Village, on "The Shape of Everyday Life: Peeking in on Thomas Cole and His Family at Home" on February 6; David Bjelajac on :Thomas Cole, Freemasonry and the American Hercules" on March 6; and Gay Myers and Lance Mayer doing "In the Studio with Thomas Cole," a sneak preview into new research on Thomas Cole's painting techniques, on April 3.

As for the January 10 meeting, the Daily Mail's Jim Planck reports that
Thomas Cole National Historic Site representatives attended to let the board know that all goes well with reconstruction of a stone wall fence that, in earlier days, once ran along the Spring Street face of the property.

For more information on the Thomas Cole National Historic Site, visit www.thomascole.org.

Local author Hudson Talbott, who is on the facility’s Board of Directors and is also in charge of its new Committee on Community Outreach, and Melissa Gavilanes, the site’s new Programs & Education Coordinator, told those present they were on hand to give an update on the project and answer any questions.

Gavilanes noted that the “fence is attracting a lot of attention,” in terms of what the project is, and that she also wanted to address the “rumor mill” regarding the project’s funding and finances.

“It’s to let everybody know what’s going on,” she said.

Gavilanes said the stone wall was part of the site’s original infrastructure, and explained that one of the missions of the organization is to not only preserve the house and grounds, but to restore them to their original conditions, when and as practicable and feasible.

To illustrate her statement, a handout distributed at the meeting contained a printout of an 1848 pencil drawing of Cedar Grove by Frederic Church, which shows the entire length of the fence, plus its two entrance column piers.

Also printed on the flyer was a circa 1905 photograph by early 20th century Catskill photographer Charles Van Loan, which shows the two columns with people next to them, thus providing a height reference for reconstruction.

Gavilanes said the funding for the project comes from stimulus funds through the Department of Interior’s National Park Service, and that the work — which is on hold for the winter months — is being performed by Majestic Restore Corp., the reconstruction company that was the low bidder.

The Queens and Yonkers-based firm has done work on a number of historic facilities in the Hudson Valley, including the 1730 Livingston Mansion, in Germantown, and the John Jay Homestead, in Katonah.

Gavilanes said that all the stones being used in the project are either purchased locally or are recycled ones from on-site.

She said trees that were restored earlier were also purchased locally, and that local people were used to plant them.

Gavilanes said work on the wall will resume in April.

“The stonewall’s a beautiful addition,” she said, “but it’s just one element of the site.”

Talbott agreed, adding that the goal is “to recreate the house and grounds to Cole’s times.”

“That’s our long term plan,” he said. “It’ll take us a while.”

Talbott also noted the local economic benefit from the project.

“It’s all federal dollars that we’re bringing back to our community,” he said.

Gavilanes said attendance at the historic facility is also part of the site’s economic benefit.

“We had 10,000 visitors last year,” she said, noting that number was achieved on only a six months-per-year season, from May to Oct.

She said visitors came from, literally, all over the nation and the globe.

Village President Vincent Seeley asked of other projects that might be coming down the line at some point, and Talbott said they hope eventually to relocate the entrance.

“The long term plan is to reorient our entrance (from the north side) to the Hudson Avenue side (on the south),” he said, “so you would enter with a view of the front of the house.”

Village Trustee James Chewens asked whether the organization is seeking to purchase adjoining properties, and Talbott said there are none being sought.

Talbott explained that a small parcel was, however, previously purchased, but that it is unrelated to the site and is a residential rental property, and not part of the not-for-profit agency.

He said it is on the opposite side of Spring Street, is already rented, and that apple trees have been planted in the front yard to begin a visual screening.