Preservation of Olana

  • Arts & Culture
  • 1966

When renowned Hudson River School painter Frederic Church bought his Olana property in 1860, he originally lived there in a small cottage. Following extensive travels in Europe and the Middle East, he and his wife Isabel had a grand house built. It would be “Persian, adapted to the Occident,” as Church described it. The family moved into the building in 1872 and stocked it with thousands of items from great world civilizations—tapestries, paintings, sculptures, etc.—along with Church’s own wall stencils, room colors, and furniture and textile designs. Church simultaneously shaped the landscape around the house, considered by some to be among his most beautiful creations.

The property remained a project for the rest of the artist’s life; he had it more or less the way he wanted it by 1891, nine years before his death. When he passed away in 1900, the home stayed in the family, preserved by the fierce efforts of his daughter-in-law Sally. When she died in 1964 her nephew opted to auction off the property. Art historian David Huntingdon begged for time to raise funds to buy the house outright. He formed Olana Preservation and convinced some of the biggest names in the art and philanthropy worlds, including Lincoln Kirstein and Henry Hope Reed, to lend their support. The group was able to buy the 250-acre property, the house, and the furnishings in 1966. It is open today as a historic site and art museum, one of the most popular tourist sites in upstate New York. Even Church’s original cottage remains much as he left it.

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