The Rip Van Winkle Bridge that connects Columbia and Greene Counties has had a pedestrian walkway on the south side of the cantilevered structure since it opened in 1935. One of just three pedestrian crossings over the Hudson River (the others being the Mid-Hudson Bridge and Walkway over the Hudson, linking Dutchess and Ulster Counties), the pathway delivers panoramic views of the Catskills from approximately 150 feet over the river. But with a scant four-foot width, the Rip Van Winkle’s mile-long pedestrian sidewalk has not been the most user-friendly way to take in the sights.
That will soon change with completion of the Hudson River Skywalk, a $5.4 million project (paid for through grants) that will widen the pathway on the Rip Van Winkle and include the building of “bump-outs”: scenic viewing platforms ten feet deep and 50 feet long. But the most intriguing part of the project, perhaps, is that when it’s completed – scheduled for November, at this point – the new pedestrian pathway over the Hudson will allow visitors to walk over the river from one major cultural landmark in the area to another: a direct connection between the Thomas Cole National Historic Site in Catskill and the Olana State Historic Site across the river in Greenport, just south of Hudson.
The two sites will celebrate the progress made in the beginning phases of the project by collaborating with the Bridge Authority (builders of the Skywalk) and Historic Bridges of the Hudson Valley on a new festival that they plan to hold annually. The inaugural Skywalk Arts Festival will be held on Sunday, September 24 from 1 to 4 p.m. Olana and the Cole site will each host special events.
Cole’s home and studios will be open to the public with free admission to two special exhibitions and two permanent installations. The annual Community Day celebration will be held that day, which includes games, demonstrations, live music and family-friendly activities. There will be hands-on art lessons for all ages and the opportunity to take a look at the landscape through a 19th-century camera obscura. Refreshments will be available for purchase from Pippy’s hot dog truck.
The fifth annual Community Day exhibition event, “Picturing the Sublime 2017,” will display works made by artists of all ages and abilities who were asked to follow in the footsteps of the 19th-century Hudson River School landscape painters and create an original work of art responding to nature. The paintings will be available for purchase during the festival. Adult entries will be priced at $100, the kids’ category at $25. (Early arrival is suggested to get the best selection.) A portion of all sales will benefit the Thomas Cole National Historic Site.
The exhibition on view in the main house will be “Mind upon Nature: Thomas Cole’s Creative Process,” featuring his paintings and sketches. “Sanford R. Gifford in the Catskills” will be shown in the New Studio; and “Kiki Smith: From the Creek” will offer a solo exhibit in conjunction with the series “Open House: Contemporary Art in Conversation with Cole” and “The Parlors,” an immersive experience combining technology and meticulous restoration of Cole’s interior designs in his 1815 home.
The Olana State Historic Site will offer its regular schedule of landscape and house tours (guided and self-guided) during the Festival from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Olana was home to Frederic Edwin Church, a student of Thomas Cole. His 250-acre landscape with a Persian-inspired house at its summit embraces 360-degree views of the Hudson River Valley and Catskill Mountains. This year marks the 50th anniversary of Olana being open to the public.
The current special exhibition on view is “Overlook: Teresita Fernández Confronts Frederic Church at Olana,” a collaboration with the Colección Patricia Phelps de Cisneros (CPPC) in the Sharp Family Gallery (located in the main house), in which artist Teresita Fernández responds to work by Church and his contemporaries inspired by the cultures and landscapes that they experienced during their 19th-century Latin American travels. Visitors have the opportunity to explore Fernández’s perspective and respond to her provocative installation. The interactive sculpture Penetrable by the late Venezuelan artist Jesús Rafael Soto will be installed on a prominent scenic viewpoint in Olana’s designed landscape for the duration of the exhibition.
The Olana Partnership and the Ancram Opera House will present Performing Olana: Frederic Church Living His Art, with performances at 2, 4 and 6 p.m. (The program premieres prior to the festival on Friday, September 22 at 6 p.m., with additional performances on Saturday at 2, 4 and 6 p.m.) The dramatic work draws inspiration from Frederic Church’s paintings, letters, family life and the celebrated landscape, and is presented as an immersive theater experience in which performer and audience journey together into Church’s art. Tickets cost $15 for the general public, $10 for members of the Olana Partnership and $40 for families of up to five people.
Limited parking is available at both Olana and the Cole site, which are just a three-mile drive apart. Visitors to the Thomas Cole property who wish to walk on the completed portion of the Skywalk (not yet connected to Olana) will find signs directing them on a short walk through the neighborhood to enter the pedestrian walkway. Eventually the Olana side will take visitors off the walkway through a parklike setting where they can access the site directly by Olana’s historic carriage roads. (Visitors to the Cole site will also have direct access, without the walk through the neighborhood.)
Visitors going directly to the Rip Van Winkle Bridge (RVWB) Park on the river side of the RVWB administration building in Catskill will find temporary signs set up for the day, directing guests between the bridge and the historic sites. Signage giving historical information will be placed along the walkway so that visitors can learn about the area and the various historic sites.
Skywalk Arts Festival, Sunday, September 24, 1-4 p.m., free, Thomas Cole National Historic Site, 218 Spring Street, Catskill, (518) 943-7465, www.thomascole.org; Olana State Historic Site, 5720 Route 9G, Hudson, (518) 828-0135, www.olana.org.