Many have noted how the world and all in it is knowable in any molecule – or person or his or her stories. The joys associated with finding the macro in all micros has fueled the museum world and our sense of history, especially here in the Hudson Valley where the repercussions of things seemingly hyperlocal have a tendency to reveal whole worlds of influence and cascading understanding.
Each year, the Thomas Cole House up in Catskill hosts a major, elegantly curated exhibit that, while small and concise, expands the world that the small museum with a big reach covers in the great Hudson River School painter’s scenic home, Cedar Grove. Combined with Olana, the Frederic Church home directly across the river in Columbia County, what results can have the force of ageless epiphanies – especially when combined with the sort of enlightened academic lectures that the Cole House presents each year.
This weekend, John Wilmerding, professor of American Art emeritus at Princeton University, longtime visiting curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and former senior curator and deputy director of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, will be giving a curator’s talk about that new show at Cedar Grove, “Master, Mentor, Master: Thomas Cole & Frederic Church,” which explores and finds new meaning in the relationship between the area’s two best-known practitioners of the Hudson River School of painting. Because of Professor Wilmerding’s renown as a trustee of the Guggenheim Museum, the new Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Arkansas and the Wyeth Foundation for American Art, as well as for his appointment by President Obama to the Committee for the Preservation of the White House, the free afternoon lecture will be taking place in the Arts Center Theater of the Columbia/Greene Community College in Hudson on Sunday, May 18, with a reception and free tour of the new exhibit that he has curated at Cedar Grove following.
The new exhibit follows themes and tropes that unite and differentiate Cole from his great student Church, who first came to Catskill as an 18-year-old and studied with the new form of landscape painting’s founder and lead practitioner for two years, later championing him alongside the great painters of Europe as his own career rose in estimation and profit. Through early works and later masterpieces, one sees the direct influences at play in such relationships, as well as the departures that one must always take to set out on one’s own road as an individual talent. Along the way, one gets subtle glimmerings of the ways in which our culture has always grown in such ways – and not.
“Master, Mentor, Master” runs in the gallery spaces of the Thomas Cole National Historic Site up until November 2. The exhibition is sponsored by the Wyeth Foundation for American Art, Eli Wilner & Co., the Bay and Paul Foundations, the Bank of Greene County, the Greene County Legislature and the Hudson River Valley National Heritage Area.
“Master, Mentor, Master: Thomas Cole & Frederic Church,” curator’s talk by John Wilmerding, Sunday, May 18, 2 p.m., free, Arts Center Theater, Columbia/Greene Community College, 4400 Route 23, Hudson; reception, 3-5 p.m., free, Thomas Cole National Historic Site, 207 Spring Street, Catskill; (518) 943-7465, www.thomascole.org.