Vassar Student Association

Exploring the Hudson Valley: Olana State Historic Site

Olana State Historic Site


The Olana State Historic Site is the masterpiece estate of Frederic Edwin Church (1826 - 1900), one of the most renowned American artists of the Hudson River School. His home, now a museum and public park area, is about 25 minutes from Vassar’s central campus. A common site for art students, visitors can literally stand in the footprints of some of the nation’s greatest painters and see the same views of the Hudson with their own eyes.

The stone, brick, and polychrome stenciled Persian-style villa is the best known element of Olana. Church designed "the castle" as the family home for his wife and four children, as well as a multidimensional work of art. Church's architectural approach paralleled the way he planned his artwork—first pencil sketches, followed by more finished colored sketches, then creation. The exotically furnished interior remains as it was during Church's lifetime, decorated with an eclectic mixture reflecting Church's aesthetic sense, objects from Church's extensive travels, and paintings by the artist and his friends. Notable is the intricate stenciling on both the exterior of the building and the interior rooms. Each decorative stencil was created by Church, its design inspired by his travels to the Middle East and illustrations from books in his extensive library. The site also has the last of Church's studios, built as an addition to his home in 1888-1890.

Olana encompasses the house, the farm and the entire 250-acre estate owned by Frederic Church. The picturesque landscape, with panoramic vistas of the Hudson River and the Catskill Mountains, like the house, was designed by Church. Over a 40-year period he transformed 250 acres of treeless farm fields into an artistic composition encompassing a lake, park, farm, extensive road system, and gardens. Visitors throughout the year enjoy guided and self-guided tours of the Church-inspired landscape. Vassar students, especially art history enthusiasts, will enjoy the visit.

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