Cementing the Viewshed
The struggle to restore the Picturesque landscape of painter Frederic Church continues.
By Jane Roy Brown
Landscape painter Frederic Edwin Church (1826–1900), musing
on the views he had composed at Olana, his Hudson Valley, New York, estate,
observed that he could “make better landscapes this way than by tampering with
paint and canvas.”
Although this wasn’t a novel insight given the entwined
history of painting and landscape gardening, it was, for Church, a profound,
perhaps soul-saving revelation. As his painting style waned in popularity even
as arthritis slowly stole his ability to hold a brush, the artist transferred
his creative energy to designing a Persian fantasy of a house and the
surrounding 250-acre landscape. Creating the estate, which he came to recognize
as his masterpiece, occupied him for the last 30 years of his life.
Today Olana is a National Historic Landmark, the federal
designation for properties of exceptional historical value. Open to the public,
it operates as a state historic site managed by the New York State Office of
Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation (OPRHP) with support from The
Olana Partnership (TOP), a private nonprofit group. The two agencies are
nearing the end of a decade-long restoration of Church’s house and landscape,
taking the property back to 1890, the last year Frederic Church actively
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