I recently returned from a week of landscape painting in the Hudson River Valley, New York. A highlight of the trip was the day I spent painting at Olana, which was the home of Frederic Church, one of the most well-known painters of the Hudson River school. I’m familiar with his work, but I don’t know much about his life. It’s actually Thomas Cole and Alfred Bierstadt whose work I really love, but the lure of Olana pulled me there, and I was not disappointed.
Olana is a New York State Historic Site, on State Route 9G, so I was expecting a big sign. Not true. You should keep your eyes peeled and drive a bit slowly as you enter the vicinity, because you could easily miss it and pass by. Once I pulled into the humble entrance, I entered another world. Everything became quiet. Tall trees line both sides of the drive, which winds casually up a hill through the 250-acre forested estate. On the way up, I passed by a lake and got sneak peaks of the views.
I parked my car in the lot at the top of the hill. There were so many options for painting venues that I felt a bit overwhelmed. Fortunately, I ran into a woman who works there and asked for her recommendations. She told me about several spots, and I chose the one where Church had his first studio.
It was a bright, sunny, humid day and much of the valley was muted in haze. Nonetheless, it was a breathtaking, expansive view. I set up my easel and supplies underneath a lovely, large tree. The only sounds were the wind and the birds. It was incredibly peaceful. I felt such gratitude about being there, and having it all to myself.
After painting and sipping my tea for nearly 3 hours, I had my first human visitors. They were kind enough to sit on a nearby bench safeguarding my equipment while I went up to the Visitor’s Center to use the restroom. That’s when I first saw the Persian-inspired mansion (an impressive architectural structure), the gardens, and the other overlooks.
I returned to my painting spot and ate my lunch. A hawk swooped in the wind currents and perched in a tree a few yards away. Chipmunks and squirrels scattered about and took refuge underneath rocks or inside tree trunks. Bees buzzed by. I felt like I had become a part of the scene. I took several deep breaths and smiled. I remember thinking, “This is THE best peanut butter and banana sandwich I’ve EVER HAD!”
The day’s heat and humidity intensified after lunch. I painted for about an hour more, then packed up to leave. I hadn’t quite finished my painting, but that’s not unusual for me. Sometimes it takes more than one sitting for me to complete a painting. When I returned to Rhinebeck, where I was staying, I got into my bathing suit and jumped into the lake to cool off. An awesome way to end an awesome day of painting.