Illustrated Talk On Frederic Church And The Conservation Movement, by Sara J. Griffen
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Illustrated Talk On Frederic Church And The Conservation Movement, by Sara J. Griffen

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Frederic Church and other Hudson River School painters as Catalysts for the Conservation Movement and their Legacy Today, a talk given for the University of Albany at the Albany Institute of History ...

Frederic Church and other Hudson River School painters as Catalysts for the Conservation Movement and their Legacy Today, a talk given for the University of Albany at the Albany Institute of History and Art, September 2009

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Illustrated Talk On Frederic Church And The Conservation Movement, by Sara J. Griffen Illustrated Talk On Frederic Church And The Conservation Movement, by Sara J. Griffen Document Transcript

  • Frederic Church and other Hudson River School painters as Catalysts for the Conservation Movement and their Legacy Today A Talk for the University at Albany Foundation Albany Institute of History and Art, September 2009 By Sara Johns GriffenView South from Olana It is at pivotal occasions like the Quadricentennial of Henry Hudson’s voyage up theHudson River of 1609 that allow us to step back to see what lessons can be learned from our past,to help us find new ways to address current concerns. One of the issues that many of us caredeeply about is how we can find a middle ground between the need for progress and developmentand the interest in preserving a defining characteristic of what makes America America -- - theextraordinary diversity of its scenery. This issue is not new – in fact, it has strong roots right herein the Hudson Valley, in the form of the Hudson River School painters. I would like to think thatby understanding how they approached this issue, we may find fresh perspectives and perhapsinspiration on dealing with the challenge. To understand what caused the formation of America’s first official art movement, theHudson River School, one needs to look back to colonial times. Early colonists had a very limitedinterest in the landscape as an art form. The American landscape, which was primarily wildernessat the time, was seen as a place of darkness and chaos, and the focus was on taming thatwilderness. And taming they did – cultivating fields, cutting trees for firewood and houses, andotherwise putting their imprint of civilization on the land. 1
  • During the 18th century, to the extent that there was art collected, it was primarily portraiture,or scenes of historical interest, with occasional landscape scenes portrayed in the background. Ifthere were any landscape paintings collected, they were more likely to be by European artists,displaying pastoral scenes in the tradition of Claude Lorraine. It should also be remembered thatthe collecting world was quite small in the 17th and 18th centuries, as industry, and thereforeenough wealth to actually collect, was only beginning. Those few who were wealthy tended todisplay their wealth through decorative arts – wallpaper, sconces, etc. rather than paintings. By the early 19th century, cities and industry were growing, gradually displacing thewilderness. With the steamboat invented in 1807, the Erie Canal opening in 1825, and therailroads starting to expand in the 1830’s, trade increased dramatically, bringing significantchanges to the landscape. While there was great optimism about this exciting growth, there wasalso a growing nostalgia for undisturbed land. It was during this time that a group of artists, ledby Thomas Cole, began to celebrate the beauty of the American wilderness. Thomas Cole (1801 – 1848), who came from Lancashire, England, moved to New Yorkand began travelling up the Hudson River, through the Palisades and Highlands, eventuallymaking his way up to the Catskills. His notes reveal a fascination with the beauty of thescenery…”Mists were resting on the vale of the Hudson like drifted snow,..” He was greatlyimpressed by Kaaterskill Falls, with its “savage and silent grandeur”. He would make numerous sketches in situ and thentravel back to his studio in NY and prepare the works in oil.In 1825, his works were discovered by three popular artists,John Trumbell, William Dunlap and Asher Durand. Fromthere, Cole’s fame quickly spread, encouraging many otherartists to flock to the Hudson Valley to paint, and ultimatelylaunching the movement known as the Hudson RiverSchool of painting. (Cole, Lake with Dead Trees, 1825). There were clear indications that Cole’s and others’ celebration of the distinctlyAmerican scenery struck a chord in the American public. Exhibits of these paintings in NewYork at the Artists Union between 1839 and 1851 drew up to 250,000 people a year and this waswhen New York’s population was barely 500,000. Before long, the public desired to experience 2
  • these wilderness areas first hand, resulting in a booming tourist industry. By 1850 there wereabout 150 steamboats used for commerce and leisure, carrying a million passengers up and downthe Hudson River. Cole’s and other artists’ work had their corollary in the writings of the group known asthe Knickerbockers – including Washington Irving, James Fenimore Cooper and William CullenBryant. Influenced by the same romantic concepts as the artists, the Knickerbockers were able toexpress the moral and spiritual significance of nature that the artists were attempting to convey oncanvas. The work of the Knickerbockers about American scenery and landscape in the 1830s and40s helped pave the way for growing acceptance of the Hudson River School painters. Looking a little more closely at Cole’s work reveals that he not only wanted to celebratethe wilderness but had important messages to share. Cole’s approach to landscape painting, asprofessor David Schuyler points out, aspired to what he called “a higher style of landscape art”.Interested in composition, he chose to idealize the landscape rather than record it directly. Attimes, when natural scenery had already been affected by human intervention, he often chose topaint it as he imagined before “culture” intervened. Given Cole’s strong writing on the issue, it is clearthat the sentiment behind his idealized paintings had a gooddeal to do with his concern about Americans’ lack ofsensitivity to the beauty and uniqueness of the Americanscenery and that it was falling prey to economicdevelopment. He showed his great concern over the signs ofprogress by painting out the railroad or other evidence ofindustry or by idealizing the wilderness. In the paintingKatterskill Falls, 1826, (right) scholars know, by comparingthe sketch to the finished work, that in the latter, he took outthe refreshment pavilion and sawmill. Also View fromMount Holyoke, Northhampton, MA omitted the refreshment pavilion. Another painting shows Cole’s willingness to enhance a scene to make it more visuallyappealing. View of Schroon Mountain, Essex Co, NY after a Storm (1838) he chose to include asmall pond that could not have actually been there. It was as if at this point, he had studied the 3
  • elements of nature so deeply that he could manipulate them in a manner that made sense in hisaesthetic judgment. Cole increasingly felt it imperative to warn Americans that they were in danger ofbefalling the same fate as the Old World. One of his most famous painting series, Course ofEmpire, is thought by many historians to be symbolic of his fears for the New World, with thegradual metamorphosis from wilderness to civilization, to destruction, and finally to decay (showthe Course of Empire series). Scholars believe that they demonstrated how concerned Cole wasabout how economic development was transforming the natural world. In his writings, he decriedthe massive felling of trees that had occurred over the past 2 centuries, stating “my heart waswounded by each savage blow (of the axe)”. It seems clear, that, between Cole’s paintings themselves, which awakened Americans’sense of pride for its own country’s scenery, as well as his expressed concern for the loss ofwilderness are clear precursors to later conservation and environmental movements. Moving forward to the second generation of the Hudson River School, roughly the 1850sand 60s, painters like Frederic Church, John Kensett, and Sanford Robertson Gifford carried thetradition to new heights, creating vast, awe inspiring scenes of both America and abroad. Theircontinued reverence for America’s natural beauty, but also concern about the continuingdegradation of the wilderness, was shared by contemporary American writers such as HenryDavid Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Francis Perkins Marsh. Frederic Edwin Church was one of Cole’sonly pupils. Born in Hartford in 1826, he wasinvited to study with Cole at his home in Catskillat the age of 18. They hiked all over the Catskills,sketching and bringing back their paintings tofinish them in the studio. As National GalleryDeputy Director and Chief Curator Frank Kellystates, “His earliest drawings revealed a level of competence that equaled or even surpassed hismaster." After two years of study, Church moved to New York City where he quickly came toprominence, ultimately rising to fame as the nation’s greatest landscape painter of the 1840s and50s. His paintings from South America, (see Cotopaxi, 1862), the Middle East and the Icebergs 4
  • in Newfoundland, not to mention the Hudson River Valley, drew enormous crowds, with peoplelining up around the blocks and paying 25 cents to see just one image like Heart of the Andes. Church’s earlier works of the late 40sand early 50’s demonstrate a belief that therecan be balance between development andpreservation of the landscape. Frank Kellypoints out several examples in his book FECand the National Landscape), including his1847 work View Near Stockbridge (right), andWest Rock, New Haven (1849), showing apastoral setting where humankind had settlednicely into American nature – adapting it,perhaps, but not destroying it. Also, fewpainters of his day portrayed as many sawmillsas Church did. Sawmills were a symbol of bothprogress and of degradation (flooding, erosionof soil from felling of trees, pollution of thewaterways etc.), and Church found manyopportunities to paint them, such as RutlandFalls, Vermont, 1848) and New England Landscape (Evening After a Storm) c. 1849. However,by the late 1850’s he was moving more and more towards bemoaning the loss of America’sunspoiled nature. In his painting shown above, Twilight in the Wilderness (1860), critics believeits celebration of pristine wilderness may be symbolic of Church’s ambivalence over progress,and in fact may be a plea for preservation of the wilderness. When the subject of the dichotomy between progress (industrial development) versuspreservation comes up, it is important to point out that the collectors of paintings by Cole andChurch were often the very ones who were contributing to the destruction of the wilderness tomake way for railroads and industry. As author Simon Schama pointed out, “Patrons Lumen Reedand Daniel Wadsworth prided themselves on their taste but they were merchants whose manyprofitable ventures were obliterating the woodlands they displayed on their walls.” 5
  • What makes Frederic Church so unique as we discuss how the Hudson River Schoolpainters addressed these controversial issues of the time is that he chose to express his ideasthrough more than painting but in a 3 dimensional form – the creation of his home – Olana, andthrough his activism. In 1860, Church bought property in Greenport, directly across from his mentor’s home,Cedar Grove, in Catskill. Over the next 10 years, he acquired more property until he finallybought the top of the hill and began to build his ultimate home. The property had been a hard-scrabble farm, and Church devoted much time to transforming that land, modeling it on thenatural style of landscape gardening practiced by European and American professional landscapegardeners of the early to mid- 19th century. The natural style was a romantic form of landscape gardening that incorporatedeighteenth century aesthetic theories on the Beautiful and the Picturesque and called forgardening to be an art form that followed the lead of nature. (Masters) In America, AndrewJackson Downing was the leading practitioner of the field, and had a significant impact onlandscape design throughout the Hudson Valley as well as the entire country. At Olana, Church devoted himself to creating a primarily Picturesque landscape, asdefined by Downing. Picturesque design produced “outlines of a certain spirited irregularity,surfaces, comparatively abrupt and broken, and growth of a somewhat wild and bold character”.This contrasts with the Beautiful mode of landscape design which shows little interest in wildnature. Instead, the Beautiful engendered “graceful outlines of highly cultivated forms”. Church used varioustechniques to achieve thisPicturesque design – plantingthousands of trees, creatingareas of shrubbery and grass,and framing views throughoutthe property using a system offive miles of carriage drives.He created a lake out ofswampland. He built up the 6
  • farm area in the “ferme ornee” tradition – bringing in an aesthetic sensibility into the placementof the various farming elements – farm buildings, orchards, vegetable gardens etc. When he builthis Persian-inspired house just below the highest point on the property, he was doing it foraesthetic and practical reasons -- creating a backdrop for the house, as well as protecting thehouse from high winds. All of these elements were situated within a background of thepanoramic views of the Catskills, the Taconic Ranges and the Hudson River. In essence, Church was creating a three dimensional landscape painting, with the houseand its environs as the foreground, the woodland, parkland and forest as the middle ground, andthe views as the background. As Church himself put it “I can make more and better landscapes inthis way than by tampering with canvas and paint in the studio” (1884). And this is precisely whatA.J. Downing had said in the 1830’s, that a landscape should be planned in much the samemanner as a painting is created, but that it was rare to have someone who was both a landscapearchitect and a painter. This is what makes Olana so extraordinary, as it was created by a painter;and not just any painter, but the most famous painter of his time. There are scholars who say that part of what was driving Church’s efforts to create thislandscape was not just on an aesthetic basis but also from a conservationist standpoint. AsBethany Astrachen describes in her master’s thesis on Church’s Contribution to WildernessPreservation, tree planting was called for in mid-nineteenth century by early wildernesspreservationists to save the American landscape, which had lost a great deal of forest in the pasttwo centuries. Church had two books in his library devoted to the importance of reestablishingforests, one of which, Man and Nature, published in 1864, was by one of the leaders of theconservation movement, George Perkins Marsh. Drawing parallels with the demise of the RomanEmpire due to “man’s ignorant disregard of the laws of nature”, Marsh warns that the same couldhappen in America. The remedies include draining and irrigation, the building of dams, and therebuilding of forests. At the same time, a number of articles were published in the mid-century lamenting overthe destruction of America’s forests and the need for preservation through tree planting. Plantingcame to be thought of as a moral obligation for all Americans. In this climate of preservation, itseems reasonable to think that Church could have been influenced by these philosophies. In fact,Church’s correspondence in the 1860s has as a major theme the planting and nurturing of trees.Landscape architect Robert Toole confirms that the naturally-wooded areas that Church bought 7
  • were incorporated as “wildernesses” within in the overall scheme of the landscape garden.Church’s plan was to balance the wild forest area and the pastoral park settings in his landscapescheme, which is something that Marsh strongly advocated for. Church’s active involvement in the preservation movement gives greater evidence thathis own choices in creating his landscape could have had conservationist motives. Through hiswork on the saving of Niagara Falls from commercial onslaught and serving on the Central ParkCommission, it is clear that he wanted to make a difference in preserving and creating beautifullandscapes. Church went on several sketching trips to Niagara Falls during the 1850s, resulting in twomajor paintings -- Niagara (1857) Corcoran Gallery of Art (see below) and Niagara Falls, fromthe American Side (1867) National Gallery of Scotland. At that time, a good deal of the areasurrounding the falls had been stripped of its trees in preparation for commercial establishments.Frederick Law Olmstead, the leading landscape architect of the day, who led the movement tomake Niagara Falls a State Reservation in 1885, credited Church as the catalyst for his efforts topreserve the falls. Olmstead writes in 1879: “My attention was first called to the rapidlyapproaching ruin of its characteristic scenery by Mr. F.E. Church, about ten years ago. Shortlyafterwards, several gentlemen, frequenters of the Falls, met at my request, to consider this danger. As for Church’s involvement in Central Park, the movement to establish parks inAmerica gained momentum throughout the first part of the 19th century, called for by AndrewJackson Downing, who had seen the benefits of such parks in England. After Downing’s death, 8
  • the movement shifted to Olmstead and Calvert Vaux, who had come up with the winning plan forCentral Park, called Greensward, which capitalized on the features of the natural style oflandscape gardening. The concept of Central Park was rooted in the idea that in the midst ofimportant development of commerce, it was equally important to establish parks, which not onlysaved a piece of the land increasingly sought after by developers, but it also supplied to the“hundreds of thousands of tired workers who have no opportunity to spend their summers in thecountry…” a place for respite. Church was appointed a commissioner of the New York City Department of Public Parksin 1871. Olmstead described the importance of Church’s appointment and the contribution apainter could provide: “There is I think a peculiar propriety and significance in it…we wereanxious on the matter of propriety that the art element should be recognized…”. Church wasresponsible for the siting of the Obelisk (known as Cleopatra’s needle). While records are scanty,there is no doubt that Church worked closely with Olmstead on various aspects of Central Park. Thus, not only through his paintings but in his actions Church played an important role inreflecting the mood of the time – concern over the loss of wilderness, but was also taking directsteps to put action behind his sentiments as part of the Conservation Movement. While Church’s work haddeclined in popularity by the late 1860’s,other painters like Albert Bierstadt andThomas Moran found fame and successtravelling west and painting dramaticvistas. Bierstadt first visited the Rockiesin 1858 and began to paint vast images ofWestern scenery, which had broadpopular impact. One painting, LookingDown Yosemite Valley (1865), (see right), is an example of his uncanny understanding of whatAmericans wanted to believe – that there was still untouched wilderness, and a promise of a newbeginning after the Civil War. The writer and preservationist John Muir, Bierstadt’s literarycounterpart, affirmed the idea that the Yosemite Valley could refresh the spirit. His activism(helped by, one would have to imagine, the public enthusiasm generated by Bierstadt’s hugely 9
  • popular paintings) helped save the Yosemite Valley, first leading to Yosemite’s becoming a statepark in 1864 and later a National Park in 1890. In 1870, Thomas Moranaccompanied the first government-sponsored expedition to Yellowstone.The drawings and watercolors hebrought back from the trip, such asGrand Canyon of the Yellowstone(1872) (see right), helped convinceCongress that Yellowstone should bepreserved. In 1872, Yellowstonebecame the world’s first official National Park. Closer to home, it is widely recognized that the Conservation Movement led to theestablishment of the Adirondack Forest Preserve in 1885. The legacy of the Hudson River School continued through into the 20th century. Eventhough the movement itself was out of favor, the momentum created during that period led tomore important conservation measures in the early 20th century – in the Hudson Valley, thePalisades cliffs, just north of NYC, suffering from relentless quarrying in the 19th century, weresaved in the early 20th century, becoming an Interstate institution in 1900. The Catskill Park wascreated in 1904. More broadly, the National Parks Service was established in 1917 and theCivilian Conservation Corps, a work relief program focused on natural resource conservation,was founded by FDR in 1933 during the depression. In the 40’s through early 60’s, environmental conservation interests seemed to take aback seat as the country was rebuilding itself after the war, leading to some memorable disasterssuch as the smog episode of 1943 in Los Angeles and when the Ohio River caught fire in 1969,spewing flames five stories high in the air due to pollution. In the 60’s Rachel Carson wroteSilent Spring, one of the first of her generation to sound the alarm for the environment. But itwas back in the Hudson Valley that one of the great milestones was achieved, paving the way forthe modern environmental movement. In 1963, Con Edison planned to embed the world’s largesthydro-electrical plant into the face of Storm King Mountain near Cornwall. The 17-year-old case, 10
  • which was finally won by the opponents of the plan, set important precedents in environmentallaw, including the right of citizens to speak out and initiate lawsuits to protect the environment.The group formed during that time, Scenic Hudson, is now one of the most respectedenvironmental organizations in the country. Other environmental groups, such as Pete Seeger’s Hudson River Sloop Clearwater,formed during that time and provided a strong voice to demand greater environmental efforts. Interestingly, it was about this time that the Hudson River School began to grow again inpopularity. In fact, it was because of the very few people who knew that the Hudson RiverSchool would be famous again that Olana was saved from being auctioned off for its contents in1964. By the 70’s, the Hudson River School was being used as part of the clarion call forpreservation – Metropolitan Museum curator John K. Howat’s seminal book The Hudson RiverSchool and its Painters, was published in 1971 (in the middle of the Storm King battle) with allthe proceeds going to Scenic Hudson. Another major visual and environmental threat occurred in 1979, when the State PowerAuthority advanced a project to build a huge nuclear power plant on riverfront land in Cementon,directly downriver from Olana, in Greene County. Two immense parabolic cooling towers wereproposed which it was claimed would have emitted enormous amounts of water vapor – wherebythe plumes would have towered thousands of feet in the air, dominating the primarysouthwesterly view from Olana and dwarfing the Catskills. This was bitterly opposed byenvironmental and citizen groups on ecological as well as economic, health, and social grounds. The Carey administration initially supported it. John Dyson, then head of the StatePower Authority, aggressively advocated for it. State Parks Commissioner Orin Lehman wouldnot permit the agency to testify against it. However, Friends of Olana, the Columbia CountyHistorical Society and the Hudson River Conservation Society became joint interveners in theproceeding. The issue was also subject to review and permit approval by Federal Energy RegulatoryCommission (FERC). Its staff hired a consultant, Carl Petrich, who spent months studying thecultural and aesthetic impacts of this plant and focused on the views from the site of the formerCatskill Mountain House, the State Forest Preserve and Olana. He concluded that this was one of 11
  • the most important cultural landscapes in American history and that the proposal would be utterlydestructive to the landscape and should not go forward. This position was adopted by the staff ofFERC – apparently the first time it had recommended against the siting of a nuclear power planton ANY grounds. Because it was almost certain that the full Commission would support therecommendation of the staff, Dyson withdrew the proposal with Governor Carey’s blessing. Environmental groups had been opposed to the Hudson River Conservation Society’spushing the issue on aesthetic grounds – the community said concentrating on the visual issueswas frivolous and that it would weaken their arguments of ecological, economic, social and healthissues. But in the end, the decision was made on the visual impact – one of the first times in theU.S. that such an outcome had been based on these grounds. Because the proposal waswithdrawn before a formal FERC ruling, it did not have the chance to become case law andtherefore precedent-setting. Still, the proceedings were critical in helping environmentalorganizations know that a case could be won on aesthetic grounds for the preservation of ahistoric site’s view. In fact, it laid the groundwork for the New York State EnvironmentalQuality Review procedures to include potential visual impacts in any environmental review ofnew development projects. We fast forward to more current times. In 1995, the U.S. Generating Company,announced its intention to build a $500 million gas-fired power plant on the river in Athens, NYapproximately four miles northwest of Olana. The plant was to withdraw 4.2 million gallons ofwater per day. Opponents, including The Olana Partnership, said that the power was not neededlocally, that the giant structure would mar the landscape and that the cooling systems wouldthreaten water supplies and fish in the area. In the end, due to a negotiated settlement, the plantwas built, but modified significantly, using cleaner combustion technology and a dry coolingsystem that would lower the stacks and reduce a number of pollutants and water consumption by99%. In 1998, Saint Lawrence Cement, asubsidiary of the Swiss firm Holcim,announced a plan to build a $300 millioncement plant within three miles of Olana.Its smokestack was to tower more than 600feet above sea level. It would be the tallest 12
  • structure between Manhattan and Albany, with a plume 6 miles across the state. This proposaldrew the ire of many individuals and groups, with Friends of Hudson, The Hudson ValleyPreservation Coalition, including Scenic Hudson, and The Olana Partnership taking the lead asgroups with full party status. They argued that the plant was greatly out of scale with the smallcommunity of Hudson (population 7,500), that the company’s own information revealeddangerous levels of air pollution, that it would create only one new job, and that it would mar theviews of one of the region’s most important sites, Olana. The dispute raged for six years. In the end, The New York Department of State gave anegative determination on the plant, arguing that the plant would be inconsistent with eight of theState’s coastal management policies. The ruling rested on three major findings – the significantadverse impact on Hudson’s waterfront, on the character of the Hudson Valley, and on Olana andother historic resources. Among the many references the DOS made to the importance of Olana,two are particularly poignant: “The Olana property is a designated landscape of extraordinaryimportance that recognizes its connection to the landscape beyond its borders" and "Olana’sviewsheds are among the most dramatic and famous in the Hudson River Valley.” There continues to be a strong legacy in protecting the beauty of the Hudson Valley.There have been great successes, not only in winning disputes over discordant industrialdevelopment projects, but in protecting the land. Environmental organizations like ScenicHudson, the Open Space Institute, and New York State, have so far protected thousands of acresin the Hudson Valley. The Hudson River is cleaner than it has been in a hundred years. Forestshave experienced a remarkable comeback, from 25% forest cover in 1890 to about 62% today.Agencies within New York State such as the Estuary Program within the Department ofEnvironmental Conservation have made the preservation of open space and views one of their toppriorities. State Parks has been working tirelessly to improve the existing historic resourceswithin its jurisdiction, which has been staggering under a deferred maintenance deficit of $650million. There are many State programs that have been created over the past 30 years tostrengthen efforts to preserve open space such as Scenic Areas of Statewide Significanceguidelines and the Coastal Management program of the DEC, which encourages LWRPs (LocalWaterfront Revitalization Plans). The Hudson River Valley Greenway helps communities 13
  • develop strategies for preserving their cultural resources while encouraging compatible economicdevelopment. The fact that the Hudson River Valley is now a National Heritage Area and the HudsonRiver an American Heritage River is a fitting tribute to all the work we’ve done to protect itsassets. There are still major hurdles. New York is a home-rule state, which means that eachcommunity’s local government can decide for itself what kind of zoning, if any, it wants toimpose to guide development. As a result, there is a patchwork of inconsistent developmenthappening throughout the state. It would be great if there were a shared vision for future growth leading to a region-widemaster plan. But how to develop a shared vision when our views can be so different? Whilemany of us assume that everyone “gets it” in terms of appreciation for the wilderness andbeautiful landscapes, experts contend that this is not necessarily inherent in people – it must belearned. The obesity epidemic facing our country, particularly our children, is attributed to moreand more time spent indoors, meaning that they have less time learning that appreciation. Spending time outdoors does much more than expand appreciation for our landscapes.Tony Hiss, in his book “The Experience of Place”, reminds us that our surroundings have animpact on the way we feel and act, and points to studies that show that rats, when exposed to anenriched, more outdoor environment, develop bigger cortexes, signaling greater intelligence. If that is true, there needs to be a steady focus on educating the public, especially theyounger generations, about the importance of “place”, because you want people to voluntarilysupport the preservation of beautiful landscapes and viewsheds and not be guided strictly byregulations (not to mention getting smarter!) The dangers of not doing everything we can to educate the public about the importance ofpreserving important landscapes and views are real. Our region is one of the nation’s mostdensely populated areas. Development patterns have changed; most growth occurs outsidetraditional city centers. Farmland is being lost at a rate of seven acres per day as land is bought upfor suburban development. To meet the anticipated influx of 1.4 million new residents over the 14
  • next decade, as many as 75,000 additional homes are in the planning stages, 15,000 alone on theHudson River waterfront.Example of Sprawl, Dutchess County, NY Development is crucial to the continued well-being of the Hudson River Valley. But ithas been found that thoughtful development, in which consideration is given to preserving openspace, does better economically than unplanned development. Comparisons of communities thattake different paths towards development reveal striking differences in their economics. Iconstantly cite Paul Bray’s article in the Times Union reporting on a study by sociologist HarveyMolotch, regarding the different paths taken by Santa Barbara and Ventura, both waterfrontcommunities with similar demographics. Santa Barbara chose to develop along the principles of“smart growth”. Ventura did not. Santa Barbara is now thriving while Ventura is not. Additional examples abound. With heritage tourism continuing its steady climb inpopularity, communities that preserve their character including the preservation of open space,beautiful vistas, and historic sites are benefitting more than those who have allowed insensitivedevelopment to dominate. Olana alone brings in $7.9 million into the local economy each year,through the 170,000 visitors it attracts and the employment of 32 people. Tourism in the HudsonValley as a whole brings in $4.6 billion a year. In addition, thoughtfully planned developmentalso encourages more “green” industries to locate there – they want to be in places that share theirconcern for culture and the environment. 15
  • What can we all specifically do to encourage a greater understanding of the importance ofpreserving cultural landscapes? This is where we can learn from our forbears of 150 years ago.Spend time looking at these Hudson River School paintings for inspiration. Get out into thewilderness as they did; you can actually hike on the Artists’ Trail, where you can see vistas thatare still virtually the same as the paintings created by the Hudson River School artists. Visit siteslike Olana and Thomas Cole’s home, Cedar Grove, that tell the story of this important period ofAmerica’s history. In fact, spend lots of time visiting the hundreds of historic sites in the Valley,especially this weekend – the first ever Heritage Weekend – wildly popular throughout Europebut only just starting here. Through these learning opportunities, hopefully we will all startinternalizing the crucial concepts that came out of the artists, writers and landscape architects ofthe 19th century – the importance of context, of long views, of the interplay between the pastoraland the wilderness, of a sense of place, and of the need to take action, as they did, to preservethese concepts. Ensure that the Hudson River School continues to be taught in the schools – at this point,some schools in the valley include it in the 4th grade curriculum as part of local history and it ismentioned in the 7th grade social studies curriculum. Advocate for adequate busing money to getschoolchildren to these rich historic resources in the valley. Studies show that children learnmuch more deeply when they experience a place rather than just read about it. Buy from local farmers markets so that there is a greater chance that the landscapes welove remain that way. Support efforts underway now to protect our open space – for instance, Scenic Hudsonhas launched an important campaign called “Saving the Land that Matters Most” that calls forpreserving 65,000 acres in the Hudson Valley. Those organizations preserving historic sites andlandscapes in the valley would all be grateful for your involvement. The debate between development and preservation of our wilderness and culturallandscapes has been raging now for centuries. If the Hudson River School painters have taught usanything, it is that we need to remember our roots – the Hudson River Valley, now coined “thelandscape that defined America”, is hallowed ground, and whatever development does take placeshould respect the natural beauty of the Valley. 16