The Rural We: Mark Prezorski
Photo by Melanie Hasbrook.
The beauty of Olana Historic Site, the former home of artist Frederic Church and its accompanying land overlooking the Hudson River, is apparent even on the pages of a book, where Mark Prezorski first saw it. But viewing it in person was the catalyst that led him to buy a home near the site and to eventually become The Olana Partnership’s landscape curator. Prezorski, who recently was named one of the “Top 100 Creatives” by ORIGIN Magazine, discusses the site’s importance.
I’ve been connected to Columbia County in some way since 1997. The reason I first discovered the area was because of Olana. Owen Davidson (who is now my husband) and I drove in search of it one late summer afternoon. We’d only ever seen Olana in a book. It was a dry summer that year, really spectacular, and we felt like we’d discovered a landscape from some other part of the world—nowhere close to Manhattan, where we lived.
When we drove up Olana’s hillside that day and saw the great view, I remember thinking: We need to get a house here. Then, as we left, I noticed a small building on a neighboring hill, and I thought: THAT’S a great spot. I could never have imagined that, years later, Owen and I would own an old home and apple orchard on that hill, that our property would be protected as part of the Olana Viewshed, and that I would be so heavily involved with The Olana Partnership as its landscape curator.
Olana is one of the most significant large-scale designed landscapes in the United States, the vision of one of America’s great artists, Frederic Church, and it exists in the birthplace of America’s first art movement, the Hudson River School. Some even consider this an environmental movement. My job as landscape curator approaches these ideas from many angles. I work cooperatively with New York State Parks and other preservation and arts organizations to restore, protect and interpret Olana’s 250-acre landscape, and this also includes its integral viewshed. Without the views, Olana would not be a complete work of art.
Olana Viewshed photo by Beth Schneck Photography.
I’m also working with others to further position Olana on the national stage, where it clearly belongs. River Crossings, this year’s joint exhibition with the Thomas Cole site, has been getting a lot of attention, and I believe it will be a boost for our region. We’re also about to announce major restoration projects which coincide with the site’s big anniversary next year. Olana was nearly destroyed 50 years ago, and the way it was saved is an incredible New York preservation story.
I like that the Hudson Valley is experiencing a sense of energy and optimism. People who live in the area really like being here, and many of us feel that we’re part of a larger effort to help the region. A strong Olana benefits the area, but the same could be said for all of the other businesses and farms and arts organizations which keep developing on both sides of the river. I’ve also noticed that many of us who live in the Hudson Valley are grateful to be living in such a beautiful place—especially during a great Hudson River School sunset.