Wednesday, August 4, 2010

As I leave Albany heading down the east side of the Hudson, I am met with an enormous bike lane. This route, a local told resident told me, is popular with Canadian cyclists who make the trek from Toronto to New York city. It is a countryside of rolling hills and 18th century houses in various states of repair and rehab. When Lincoln came through Albany, the bucolic countryside must have taken a backseat to his concerns when the wire service reported that Jefferson Davis had just taken the oath of office in Montgomery, Alabama. The Confederate States of America were born. Stopping in Hudson, Lincoln was prudent in his remarks and found other topics besides policy to talk about. The 'New York Illustrated' reported that "all people turned out to welcome Mr. Lincoln" and to do "honor to the brave railsplitter".

Just beyond Hudson is Olana, Frederik Church's home. He was one of the leading landscape painters in 19th century America with an international reputation. As a key member of the 'Hudson River School of Art', Church was instrumental in authoring the vision of granduer in the American landscape that we still subscribe to today. Mark Twain commented that to understand the US, one had to understand it's landmass,- and Church was going to see to it that you would. Painting 7 and 8 foot canvases that were monumental in scope, he could easily be likened to an IMax theater of the day. His home and studio overlook the Hudson River and his 250acre estate was a constructed model for his paintings. Careful landscape planning ensured that his vision of the grounds were based on the tenants of 19th century Romanticism,- neatly arranged trees surrounding a lake and a clear view of a river receding into the background. The humidity that the Great Lakes brings in is held in place by the Catskill Mountains and this inturn renders the beautiful atmospheric effects that became the source for his work. Seeing Olana made me understand his paintings on another level. Adding 14 miles to my day was well worth the effort.

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