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Arts & Culture

Curator's Lecture: Thomas Cole's Refrain

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Composite photo by Dave Lucas
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There's a new exhibition now open at the Thomas Cole National Historic Site in Catskill.

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Thomas Cole’s Refrain: The Paintings of Catskill Creek explores, for the first time as a series, Cole’s extraordinary paintings of the Catskill Creek landscape and reveals the importance of the Catskill Creek to Cole’s pioneering commitment to the environment.

This is a unique opportunity to immerse yourself in Cole’s stunning paintings of Catskill Creek and to visit the very place that Cole fell in love with nearly 200 years ago. The stretch of land depicted in the paintings is preserved as a public park – just a few miles from the historic site – and continues to remind us of Cole’s important environmental message.– Betsy Jacks, Executive Director of the Thomas Cole National Historic Site

Cole site director Betsy Jacks:  "We are opening a magnificent exhibition on the paintings of Catskill Creek, which is to Thomas Cole like Walden's Pond was to Thoreau. It's just his magic place. And the paintings that he created of this have the Catskill Mountains right along the horizon in this beautiful blue outline, and in the foreground is this meandering creek that goes right through the village of Catskill. So all of us who live in the area are familiar with the creek, but seeing it through Thomas Cole's eye sin these paintings makes you see it like you've never seen it before."

Created during an 18-year period that spans Cole’s mature career, the artist's completed 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.

Sunday at 2 p.m. Exhibition Curator H. Daniel Peck, the John Guy Vassar, Jr. Professor Emeritus of English at Vassar College, will give a talk on the exhibition, which is the basis of a new scholarship developed by Peck in his book also titled "Thomas Cole's Refrain, The Paintings of Catskill Creek."   Jacks says Peck is one of Cole's biggest fans.  "He just thought this was a fascinating story about how these paintings of Catskill Creek are full of secrets, and no one has written about them before, but he noticed, and he is a very careful looker at paintings and he found all these details that no one has really seen. People had assumed for example [in one painting] that a man running after horses was just holding up his hand to gesture to them because it's a very very tiny figure. But when you look closely, he's holding up a falcon and a falcon's glove. What does that mean? He's running across a field with a falcon. So there's all these little details that hint at stories and hidden meanings in the paintings. So he's illuminated them all, he magnifies them in his book, and you can of course go right up close to them in the paintings in the exhibition."

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 18 years. The paintings contain mysteries – enigmatic figures, evocative human structures, and symbolic landforms – that tell stories of their own.– H. Daniel Peck, Exhibition Curator and John Guy Vassar, Jr., Professor Emeritus of English at Vassar College

Thomas Cole’s Refrain: The Paintings of Catskill Creek is presented in the Thomas Cole Site’s reconstructed “New Studio” – a building designed by Cole at his Catskill home. After its debut here, the exhibition will travel to the Hudson River Museum in Yonkers, NY, where it will be on view from November 2019, to February 2020.

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