Hudson River Museum Presents Thomas Cole’s Refrain: The Paintings of Catskill Creek

On view November 22, 2019–February 23, 2020

Press images can be downloaded here.

Thomas Cole’s Refrain: The Paintings of Catskill Creek, explores, for the first time as a series, Cole’s extraordinary Catskill Creek landscapes, which he created again and again from 1827 to 1845—virtually the whole course of his mature career. His fascination with Catskill Creek, which enters the Hudson River at Catskill, New York, speaks volumes about his artistry and his commitment to the environment. These iconic images—as timeless and timely as ever—are essential to understanding this pioneering artist and proto-environmentalist who captured nature’s beauty and underscored the essential need to protect the environment. The exhibition was organized by the Thomas Cole National Historic Site in association with the Hudson River Museum.

Created during an eighteen-year period that spans Cole’s mature career, the artist’s paintings of Catskill Creek constitute the most sustained sequence of landscapes he ever made. The views in the paintings are all anchored along a stretch of Catskill Creek near the Village of Catskill, where Thomas Cole lived and worked. Part of this waterfront, located less than a mile and a half from the Thomas Cole National Historic Site, has been preserved as a public park by the land conservancy groups Scenic Hudson and Greene Land Trust.

Cole’s repeated attention to Catskill Creek signifies his love of the views near his home and illustrates his development of a profound sense of place. The exhibition considers these paintings as a series unified by place as well as their stable composition and recurring motifs, even as they exhibit variations reflecting changes in the artist’s life and times, including intrusive development of the landscape. During Cole’s lifetime, Catskill Creek was increasingly threatened by industry, which is represented in the paintings by significant details.

The exhibition is based on new scholarship developed by H. Daniel Peck, Exhibition Curator and John Guy Vassar, Jr., Professor Emeritus of English at Vassar College, in his book of the same title, published by Three Hills, an imprint of Cornell University Press. “The exhibition tells the story of Cole’s discovery of Catskill Creek, with its Catskill Mountain background, and his ever-deepening attachment to it over the course of eighteen years. The paintings contain mysteries—enigmatic figures, evocative human structures, and symbolic landforms—that tell stories of their own,” notes Peck. Masha Turchinsky, Director of the Hudson River Museum states, “Just as Thomas Cole identified with Catskill Creek and the mountain scenery around his home, so too do we feel re-energized in our landscape along the Hudson. Cole’s revolutionary creativity and his perceptions of the wildness inherent in American scenery not only continue to reward our close looking, but inspire our ongoing environmental advocacy. We invite all to join us and to discover something new in these absolutely beautiful paintings.”

Exhibition Overview

The exhibition includes original oil paintings by the artist. Represented, as well, are paintings of the Catskill Creek scene by leading nineteenth century artists who were inspired by Cole: Asher B. Durand, Frederic Edwin Church, and Charles Herbert Moore. The exhibition features Thomas Cole paintings from private collections that have rarely been seen in public: Crossing the Stream, 1827, View Near Catskill, 1828–29, Settler’s Home in the Catskills, 1842, as well as major works from the collections of the New-York Historical Society, Yale University Art Gallery, the National Gallery of Art, Albany Institute of History and Art, Olana State Historic Site, the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center at Vassar College, and the Currier Museum of Art. The exhibition first appeared at the Thomas Cole Historic Site from May 4 to November 3, 2019, receiving superb reviews from The New Yorker, The Wall Street Journal, and other notable press.

Exhibition Catalog

The exhibition is accompanied by a 186-page publication written by H. Daniel Peck, with forewords by Elizabeth Jacks, Executive Director of the Thomas Cole National Historic Site, and Masha Turchinsky, Director of the Hudson River Museum. With new scholarship and interpretations of both Cole’s major and little-known works, the publication also features maps and aerial photography identifying the artist’s vantage points along Catskill Creek for the various paintings.

Professor Peck is the author of books about writers Henry David Thoreau and James Fenimore Cooper and has published on painters Asher B. Durand and Georgia O’Keeffe. His work on this project was supported by an Andrew W. Mellon Emeritus Fellowship. The recipient of several NEH and ACLS fellowships, Professor Peck has chaired the Modern Language Association’s Division on Nineteenth-Century American Literature and has served as director of Vassar College’s American Studies Program.

Thomas Cole’s Refrain: The Paintings of Catskill Creek is published by Three Hills, an imprint of Cornell University Press, and is available for purchase at the Hudson River Museum and the Thomas Cole National Historic Site.

At the Hudson River Museum, major sponsorship is made possible by The Mr. and Mrs. Raymond J. Horowitz Foundation for the Arts. Additional support is provided by Generation Yonkers and the Ann and Arthur Grey Foundation.

The exhibition was also supported by the National Endowment for the Arts, Wyeth Foundation for American Art, Marshall Field V, the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the New York State Legislature, Empire State Development’s I LOVE NEW YORK program under the Market NY initiative, Greene County Legislature through the County Initiative Program of the Greene County Council on the Arts, the Bank of Greene County, the Bay & Paul Foundations, the Enoch Foundation, the Educational Foundation of America, Joan K. Davidson through the J. M. Kaplan Fund, and the Kindred Spirits Society of the Thomas Cole National Historic Site.

Related Programs Include:

Saturday, December 14, 21, 3:30–5pm
Sunday, January 5, 3:30–5pm
Let’s Talk About: Place and Story
Examine the natural world that surrounds us, from New York to the West, in this reading and discussion series. Through poetry, fiction, and journalism, readers will engage with perspectives that capture the complicated relationship Americans have with the land and living things around them. Join environmental educator Troy Thompson as he leads stimulating conversations over the course of five sessions. Expand your knowledge while you enjoy connecting with new people. This program, which is free and open to the public, is made possible through the support of Humanities New York’s Reading and Discussion Program.

Saturday, November 23, 1:30pm
What Happened at Catskill Creek: A Musical
Sarah Lawrence College Theater Outreach program presents a new musical for all ages about a family seeking a deeper connection with nature. An urban family visits Catskill Creek, where they encounter and interact with the ghost of famed landscape painter Thomas Cole, a mysterious nature photographer with a large camera, and an orange-vested, contemporary landscape painter. With lyrics by Sarah Lawrence College Theatre Outreach Director, Allen Lang, and music by Sarah Lawrence Faculty William Cantanzaro.

Saturday, November 30, 1:30–3:30pm
Art Workshop: Sense of Place
HRM Teaching Artist-in-Residence Jia Sung will guide visitors in analyzing the ways in which artists have captured moments and moods through their use of color and language. Then, participants practice these very methods by making their own notebooks out of recycled paper, filling them with observational drawings, drawings from memory, and journal entries.

Sunday, December 1, 1:30 pm
Tour of Thomas Cole’s Refrain: The Paintings of Catskill Creek
Join Laura Vookles, Chair of the Curatorial Department, for a tour, and explore the deeper meanings of Thomas Cole’s Catskill Creek paintings. Vookles will discuss Cole’s importance to the development of American landscape paintings, as he laid the groundwork for many of the artists in our collection, for the Hudson River preservation movement of the 20th century, and for artists such as Janelle Lynch and James McElhinney today, who combine a deep love of nature and art with environmental consciousness.

Sunday, December 8, 2pm
Sunday Scholars: Thomas Cole’s Refrain, the Curator’s View
H. Daniel Peck, exhibition curator and the John Guy Vassar, Jr., Professor Emeritus of English at Vassar College, shares the new scholarship behind this unique and illuminating collection of masterpieces from major museums and private collections. The deeper meanings of Cole’s Catskill Creek paintings are explored in Thomas Cole’s Refrain: The Paintings of Catskill Creek, published by Three Hills, an imprint of Cornell University Press.

This program is supported by Jennifer Krieger and Eric Siegel.

Saturday, December 14, 1:30–3:30pm
Hudson River Haiku
Join poets from Ars Poetica for experiential poetry in the galleries inspired by our special exhibitions, the Museum’s dramatic river view, and your personal relationship to the landscape of the Hudson Valley. Tell them your topic (any word or idea will do) and within 120 seconds you will have a short poem of your own to keep, composed on their vintage typewriters.

Sunday, December 29, 3pm
The Tribe and the River
The HRM sits on traditional lands of the Leni Lenape, the First Peoples to inhabit the lower Hudson Valley. The Leni Lenape made use of the valley’s vast natural resources and network of waterways. Watch a performance by Turtle to Turtle, members of the Ramapough Lenape Nation, and learn about their history and relationship to the Hudson River through stories, artifacts, music, and drumming. Join in to learn the dances and songs that reflect their connection to nature, the earth, and the river.

Saturday, January 11, 1:30–3:30pm
Stitch Diary
Create an embroidered artwork on recycled fabric with Teaching Artist-in-Residence Jia Sung. Practice the basics of working with needle and thread to create an image, and playing with color choices that convey mood. This ancient and meditative craft offers a relaxing way to recover after the rush of the holidays, while the native plants and animals of the Hudson River provide a wonderful source of subject matter. Participants are encouraged to bring in their own scrap fabrics, and we’ll provide the rest!

Sunday, January 12, 2pm
The Recursive Landscape: Cole and Beyond
William L. Coleman, Ph.D., Director of Collections & Exhibitions at the Olana State Historic Site, speaks on the broader phenomenon of artists who have shown sustained devotion to a specific landscape subject over many different canvases. This talk places Cole’s repeated responses to the scenery of Catskill Creek in the context of a long tradition of landscape painters who have found sustained challenge and reward in a particular locale, both before and since his time, and shows the particular importance artists’ houses have played in this practice.

Sunday, January 26, 1:30pm
Follow the Flute: Experience Art Through Music
Travel through the landscapes of Thomas Cole, James McElhinney, and Janelle Lynch, along with the cityscapes of Self in the City with regional and national award-winning flutist Adam Ray, principal flute for the Lehman College Symphony Orchestra and second flute and piccolo for the Yonkers Philharmonic Orchestra. He also appears as a soloist for The College of New Jersey’s Jazz Ensemble, the Westchester Band, Michael Ray & the Cosmic Krewe and the Con Brio Ensemble. Of special note: Adam Ray is a graduate of the Museum’s Junior Docent program!

Sunday, February 2, 2pm
Nexus Hudson River: History, Science, and American Landscape Art
A discussion moderated by Laura Vookles, the Chair of HRM’s Curatorial Department, with artist James McElhinney, art historian Katherine Manthorne, and Frances F. Dunwell, Hudson River Estuary Coordinator at the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation. The panelists will discuss the dynamic and interdependent underpinnings of our Hudson Valley environment, across time, space, and consciousness.

The exhibition will be featured on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter via the hashtags #ThomasCole #ThomasColesRefrain, and #HRM100.

Press Contacts:
Samantha Hoover, shoover@hrm.org, (914) 963-4550 x216
Jen McCaffery, jmccaffery@hrm.org, (914) 963-4550 x240

Image: Thomas Cole. On Catskill Creek, Sunset, ca. 1845–47. Oil on panel. New-York Historical Society, Collection of Arthur and Eileen Newman, Bequest of Eileen Newman, 2015.33.8.

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About the Hudson River Museum

The Hudson River Museum is a preeminent cultural institution in Westchester County and the New York metropolitan area. Situated on the banks of the Hudson River in Yonkers, New York, the HRM is a place where diverse communities come together and experience the power of art, science, and history.

The Museum offers engaging experiences for every age and interest, with an ever-growing collection of American art; dynamic exhibitions that range from notable nineteenth-century paintings to contemporary art installations; Glenview, an 1877 house on the National Register of Historic Places; a state-of-the-art Planetarium; an environmental teaching gallery, Hudson Riverama; and an outdoor Amphitheater. Accredited by the American Association of Museums (AAM), the Museum is dedicated to collecting, preserving, exhibiting, and interpreting these multidisciplinary offerings, which are complemented by an array of public programs that encourage creative expression, collaboration, and artistic and scientific discovery.

The Hudson River Museum’s general operations are supported in part by Westchester County, the City of Yonkers, the Yonkers Board of Education, the New York State Council on the Arts, and the Westchester Delegation of the New York State Assembly and Senate.

Hours and Admission: The Hudson River Museum is open Wednesday–Sunday, 12–5pm. Museum Admission: Adults $8; Youth (3–18) $4; Seniors (62+) $5; Students (with valid ID) $5; Veterans $5; Children (under 3) FREE; Members FREE. Planetarium Tickets: Adults $5; Youth (3–18) $3; Seniors (62+) $4; Students (with valid ID) $4; Veterans $4; Children (under 3) FREE; Members FREE. The Museum is accessible by Metro-North, by Bee-Line Bus Route #1, by car, and by bike. Make your visit a One-Day Getaway, and buy a combined rail and admission discount ticket. Learn more about Metro-North Deals & Getaways.