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Sting And Thomas Cole: Artists On The Cutting Edge In Their Own Times Meet In Spirit

WAMC photo by Dave Lucas
Thomas Cole's desk in the Old Studio at the Thomas Cole National Historic Site in Catskill, NY

This year marks the 200th anniversary of influential artist Thomas Cole’s first visit to the United States.  The Thomas Cole Historic Site in Catskill and New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art are paying tribute.

According to the historic site’s website, Thomas Cole was an English-born painter who founded the Hudson River School — a group of artists whose paintings paid homage to American wilderness even as it was being dramatically altered by industrialization.  Cole emigrated with his family to the United States in 1818, settling in the Midwest. At 22, Cole moved to Philadelphia eventually settling in Catskill , where he lived with his wife and children until  his death in 1847.

Betsy Jacks, executive director of the Thomas Cole National Historic Site, says its 15th annual Sunday Salons series is underway, exploring how the Hudson River School is relevant today, as people inhabit the same landscapes.  The first in the series featured Nicholas Robbins, a Ph.D. candidate in the History of Art at Yale University.    “It was exciting to hear his new research about Thomas Cole’s early life. He painted this portrait of this young man who was really struggling against all kinds of obstacles. His family had no money, he had no supplies and he had no time. He had to work as a child in a factory and snuck out in the early morning to sketch along the river before his workday began.”

Jacks notes Cole brought new ways of looking at landscape paintings from England and applied them to his work in the Catskills.   "We are going to open up a new exhibition on May 1st, and it will be curated by a team of five people from Yale and the Met. And it is a companion exhibition to the one that is opening at the Met at the end of this month."

Jacks says the new exhibit of the artist’s work entitled “Thomas Cole’s Journey: Atlantic Crossing” is set to open January 30th at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

In late April, a three-night "song and storytelling" concert series will take place at the Met, featuring former Police frontman Sting.His collaborative art book "The Last Ship from the River of the Northern City" with Stephen Hannock will be on view during the exhibition.     "It's going to be lyrics that's his and woodcuts of mine that show different parts of this Newcastle community, both from the 19th century and contemporary." Hannock says Sting and Cole have a geographic tie: Sting was born in Newcastle and Cole's birthplace was about 90 minutes southwest in Bolton le Moors, Lancashire.   "Americans are quite familiar with Thomas Cole's work. Thomas Cole was an Englishman, and one of the ironies is not one major museum in England owns a Thomas Cole painting," added Hannock.

Cole's paintings will eventually be displayed at London's National Portrait Gallery and the gallery will display Cole’s wooden paintbox for the exhibit.

The second season of winter tours of Cole’s historic home takes place the same days as the Salons lectures.

BONUS: an extended audio conversation with Stephen Hannock.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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