It was a dream come true for me to be on the estate of one of my all-time favorite artists, to tour his mansion, and to paint right on his land! From the time I was in high school, I was smitten by the style of the Hudson River Painters. An assignment by my high school art teacher, Mr. Ingham, requiring a paper on American artists from the 20th century sent me scouring the library shelves for books on American artists. In these books, I encountered the most beautiful landscape paintings I had ever seen; they spoke to my soul because I so loved nature and wanted to paint nature scenes. Although this art was from the 19th century and I couldn’t write a paper on it, I had found my muse – the school of art called the Hudson River Valley Painters.
Flash-forward several years from that discovery, and while researching for teaching art classes to middle and high school students, I stumbled upon a bed and breakfast that hosted art workshops in the Hudson River Valley. I bookmarked the website, joined the mailing list, but knew that it was pretty much a pipe-dream to ever go there. However, it was a dream that I didn’t want to let go of, and I did remain on the mailing list for many years.
Flash-forward again to the year 2014, I was in a new phase of life – empty nester, divorced and re-married, a new resident of West Virginia, and had just been juried in as an artist with Tamarack: The Best of West Virginia. As a Tamarack artist, I was given all kinds of information on opportunities for artists and one of them was a Professional Development Grant which would pay 75% of the costs for first-time recipients to purchase or do something to assist in their development as a professional artist. Oh, did I ever have an idea of what I would ask for! The grant-writing process was tedious and I had never done it on my own before. Ray had written a few grants so he was a great help in my process and I got the application in the mail to our State Department of Culture and Heritage and waited for an answer. This was a competitive grant so there was no guarantee of getting it, but I had to apply for the workshop of my choice in order to save a place. Many different workshops were offered throughout the season and I had always wanted to learn to paint en plein air (outdoors, on location) and there was a class for oil and pastel painters being offered. So, I called the owners of the inn and explained my situation and they graciously allowed me to register with the condition that I would only be able to attend if I was awarded the grant. Well, you obviously have figured out that I did get the grant, and I was overjoyed!
My drive from my home in Summersville, WV, through parts of Pennsylvania and up through the Catskill mountains in the spring was an inspiration of its own. The Greenville Arms Inn was even more charming than I had imagined, the hosts were very hospitable, and it was so fun having dinner the first night with all of the other participants in the workshop. Sometime I will write a blog about my experience there because the whole week was wonderful and I learned so much from our excellent instructor, Lorenzo Chavez.
Every day we painted in a different location, and imagine my delight when I learned that we would be going to the historic home of Frederick Edwin Church for one of our days. Frederick Church is one of the most well-known of the Hudson River Painters and I wasn’t even aware that his mansion, called Olana, was now a New York state historic park and that it was near our inn.
We arrived there in the morning and, as usual, Lorenzo did a demo for us as we surrounded his easel on the beautiful lawn of Olana. After the demo, we had lunch which was prepared by our inn hosts, and then we were allowed time for a tour of the mansion. It was so inspiring to see Church’s paintings up-close and in person! Many of the paintings in the mansion were his plein air studies and it was reassuring to see that they looked quite a bit rougher than his finished studio paintings. He used many of them as studies or sketches to create larger finished oil paintings in his studio. Photographs were not allowed in the mansion but I have included a link to the website which will give you a good idea of how impressive it is.
In the afternoon, we all set up our easels in different places and went to work. I liked the view from the that overlooked the Hudson river and included a row of daffodils, my favorite flower. Plein air paintings are generally quite small and done quickly which was a new concept for me. I’ll talk more about that next month as the painting for April is also from my time at the workshop. Since oil paint doesn’t dry real fast, I did a few of the details after returning home to my studio but most of the painting was done outdoors that day at Olana.