And yet locally, where he lived and worked, creating the Hudson River School of painting almost by accident, Cole is still something of an afterthought, an also-ran. There are no major Hudson Valley museums dedicated to his creations, which have ended up scattered all over the globe (with the great Course of Empire series on view in bad light in a back room at the New-York Historical Society downstate). His output as an architect has been torn down, to be replaced by Greene County's giant new legislative building. And his humble home, while elegant and Catskills-facing, has ended up playing second fiddle to his student Frederic Church's ostentatious Olana across the River.
All of this lends the elements involved in a new show of his works at the Catskill home where he lived and painted them, Cedar Grove, that much more importance. "From Yard Sale to Homecoming" is the name of a new exhibition of rarely seen oil sketches of famous Cole paintings, including Cole's oil study for his famous painting Kaaterskill Falls, and his actual brushes, palettes and plein air painting easel, that opens this coming weekend with a reception on Sunday, May 4 and an afternoon talk by Eleanor Jones Harvey, the Smithsonian American Art Museum's chief curator.
The backstory on the new show heralds back to the 1970s, when descendants of the famous painter, who's buried down the street from his old home, could no longer afford the upkeep of the family house and were forced to sell his belongings in a yard sale, including paintings. The new show - one of the largest displays of Cole works at Cedar Grove since it was saved in the last decade - includes not only the master's works, but also various oil sketches by his friend Sanford Gifford and student Frederic Church. The exhibition was put together with the aid of a National Endowment for the Humanities grant for the exploration of Cole's creative process. Talk about proving that one can go home again.
This is a must-see show for anyone interested in the Valley's continuing cultural importance, as well as a great excuse to get to this great historic site while the exhibition's up through the autumn. For further information on this coming Sunday's events, as well as Cedar Grove and Cole in general, call (518) 943-7465 or visit www.thomascole.org.