Sunday, June 2, 2013

Place of the Week: Frederick Edwin Church's Magnificent "Olana"

Frederick Edwin Church, American’s premiere landscape painter of the mid-Nineteenth-Century long had a vision of the perfect home for his family. A follower of Thomas Cole of the Hudson River School style of painting, Church’s vision was realized at the majestic Hudson River Valley where he purchased a large parcel of land. There, in 1860, Church, his wife and two children commissioned a home called “Cosy Cottage.” Sadly, their two children died of diphtheria in 1865. In 1867, Church purchased eighteen acres of the land on the hill overlooking their property. Soon after, Church, his wife Isabel and their new infant son traveled the world. On this trip, Church became enamored with the architecture of the Middle East. Upon their return, Church began sketching his vision of an opulent mansion to be built upon the hill. After working with other architects, Church decided that Calvert Vaux should be the one to design his home. Church wished the mansion to be designed in a style that represented, “Persian adapted to the Occident.”

The result of that is the amazing Olana—named for a fortress and treasure house in ancient Persia.

As his family continued to grow, Church himself decorated their new home, stenciling the walls, painstakingly choosing the colors and filling the house with antiques and unusual furnishings collected throughout their travels. The early 1890’s saw additions to the mansion. By 1891, the house was complete, and remains almost unchanged.

Classifying the house as any one particular style is difficult. Church’s vision of “Persian adapted to the Occident” was certainly realized. A blend of popular Victorian styles, Moorish details and Persian overtones, the house is a magnificent creation of brick, stone and tile. Perhaps even more amazing are the views of the sweeping and colorful Hudson River Valley, the Catskill Mountains and Taconic Hills.

Today, the house remains a state historic site. If you find yourself in upstate New York, a visit to Olana is a must. With its 250 acre grounds, unrivaled views, glorious mansion, and the stunning collection of Church’s paintings, Olana is a glimpse at a more beautiful time.

Images Courtesy of The Olana State Historic Site.

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