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American Society of Landscape Architects

 

November 2006 Issue

Cementing the Viewshed
The struggle to restore the Picturesque landscape of painter Frederic Church continues.

By Jane Roy Brown

Cementing the Viewshed Ted Spiegel

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 managed it.

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