January 20, 2012

Being Honored by The Olana Partnership at The New York Public Library

On Tuesday’s blog, I told you about the award I was to receive along with Morrison H. Heckscher, Chairman of the just re-opened, renovated American Wing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, at the Olana Partnership 2012 Frederic E. Church Award Gala.  We were congratulated for our support of Olana and for our life-long commitment to the field of American Arts.  The gala benefitted the Olana Partnership, which works to protect and preserve Olana, the historic Persian-influenced home that landscape painter, Frederic Edwin Church built upon a hillside in the scenic Hudson River Valley.  I happened to be in the area last Saturday and stopped in to see Olana. Unfortunately, I got there too late and the doors were closed.  I took some photos of the exterior, which I attached at the end of this blog.  Also, please scroll down to read my speech from the gala.

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Thank you, Thomas [Landscape Architect Thomas Woltz], for the lovely introduction. And thank you to Rose Harvey [NYS Parks Commissioner], Kimberly Flook [Olana Site Manager] and the Olana Partnership board and staff, especially Chairman Rick Sharp and President Sara Griffen. I am honored to be recognized in this way. I would also like to congratulate my fellow honoree, Morrie Heckscher [Morrison H. Heckscher, Lawrence A. Fleischman Chairman of the American Wing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art]––I am flattered to be in your company! And, of course, I am delighted to be part of the Olana Partnership’s 2012 Frederic E. Church Award dinner.

I have a great appreciation for Frederic Edwin Church and the home he created on a hillside in the Hudson River Valley. Church was a true visionary not only as a painter, but as an architect, a designer and a landscape artist. I was also interested to discover that he was, at one time, the Parks Commissioner in New York City! His appreciation of Central Park may have been one reason that Church hired Calvert Vaux to design Olana. Vaux’s reputation for collaboration was surely another! Church was deeply involved in the project—he did everything from drawing ballusters and slate patterns for the roof to mixing all the colors. I’m sure some of the architects and designers in this room are thinking: “nightmare client!” In fact, Church’s immersion in the creation of Olana was such that Vaux eventually took to identifying himself a consultant on the project.

Church called Olana “the center of the world” and he believed it was as dazzling as his two-dimensional landscapes. When building a carriage drive approaching the house, he wrote to a friend, “I can make more and better landscapes in this way than by tampering with canvas and paint in the studio.” We are fortunate that Church has left us with landscapes rendered both in paint… and in earth, trees, water, and stone. And we are indebted to the Olana Partnership for all that it does to protect and preserve this American treasure.

Olana is more than a beautiful place with a unique house and glorious vistas of the Hudson River and its environs. It is an important place, too, as the home of a pioneering American artist whose magnificent landscape paintings celebrate nature at its most spectacular, helping to usher in the conservation movement of the late nineteenth century. Historic sites like Olana help us to know who we are, and where we come from. They connect us to our history and teach us about our past. They also serve to inspire us today. We, in turn, have a responsibility to preserve these sites. They are a valuable part of our nation’s heritage and a legacy we leave for future generations.

Thank you for this honor—and for your support of the Olana Partnership!