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Stealing Beauty: The Olana Viewshed Tour

Rural Intelligence Road TripsYou don’t have to be erudite or sophisticated to be moved by a beautiful vista.  It’s one form of beauty that everyone agrees upon.  Yet the notion of protecting a view that’s comprised largely of private property, is new. 
 
On Saturday, October 24, The Olana Partnership, joins several private and governmental preservation initiatives, and Olana’s neighboring landowners in inviting us to celebrate and investigate the beauty surrounding Olana’s 250-acre property. This is a rare opportunity to trespass on private land, to walk across meadows, beside ponds and streams, through orchards and gardens in order to experience first-hand the variety and magnificence of the region the painter Frederic Church called “the center of the world.”
 
Church’s property, Olana, often referred to as the “crown jewel” of the Hudson Valley, is the focal point of the tour.  It is comprised of his Persian-style house, set amidst a 250-acre working farm and park designed by Church in the 19th-century Picturesque style.  His design repeatedly refers to the surrounding landscape, revealing and framing exceptional views, even echoing the shape of the river in a man-made pond near the house.  Preservationists argue that the grounds, now under restoration, constitute a masterpiece as worthy of protection as any of Church’s paintings. 
 
Each painting produced by Church and his fellow Hudson River School artists was, in its day, an event eagerly awaited by a broad public, much as a major motion picture might be today.  Once completed, the artist would take his picture on tour, at each stop drawing crowds who marveled at how magnificent their country was.  Today, the Hudson River School is credited with helping to launch the American Conservation Movement.

While the celebration of views was integral to the Hudson River School’s philosophy, the idea of the public recognizing them as national treasures, to be protected, is new. Efforts are presently underway to protect views in California’s Napa Valley, in the areas surrounding certain Civil War sites, in the environs surrounding Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello in Virginia.  Throughout the Hudson Valley, landscape historians, environmentalists, concerned citizens, art patrons, and land conservationists have joined forces to protect spectacular viewsheds, of which Olana’s is preeminent. 

The ten private properties featured on this year’s tour are located along the Hudson River and in the foothills of the Catskill range. They include an 1870’s Calvert Vaux-designed home, the former estate of the famous landscape painter Charles Herbert Moore, a bio-dynamic farm, and a restored 1743 barn perched above 436 protected acres.  Following the tour there will be a party at an 1850’s farm with 180-degree views of the Catskill range.  As an added incentive for those on the tour to join the Olana Partnership, the Olana bell tower will be open the day of the tour and may be climbed by non-members for an extra fee and by members for free.

Olana Viewshed Tour
5720 Route 9G, Hudson; 518.828.1872 ext. 103
Saturday, October 24, 10 - 4
Tickets and maps may be picked up on the day of the tour at the Wagon House Education Center at Olana

Viewshed tour only: $50/non-members; $40/members
Benefit party only: $100/non-members; $75/members
Bell tower tour:  $50/non-members; free/members
Olana Partnership Memberships: $40 - $100

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Posted by Marilyn Bethany on 10/21/09 at 04:26 PM • Permalink