Artists and the Hudson Valley: 200 Years in Residence


The Hudson Valley is known for its world-class river scenery, the mountains that enclose it, the green fields that supply farm-to-table cuisine, beautiful towns with historic main streets, short travel times to Gotham, a burgeoning, educated population and, perhaps for nearly as long as anyone can recall, the arts.

In the nineteenth century, painters Frederick Edwin Church, Thomas Cole and others built houses on both sides of the river in Catskill and Hudson, New York.  Their studios played host to aspiring and practicing artists from New York City and beyond. Together, they portrayed a Catskill Mountains wilderness in epic strokes--creating the first genuine art movement in the New World.

Today Church's Persian-influenced Olana overlooks the river from a promontory just south of the Rip Van Winkle Bridge. Its view, known as the Olana Viewshed, is protected by law from major development. Just across the river in Catskill is Thomas Cole’s house, Cedar Grove, where the artist lived and painted for most of his creative life. Both of these houses--each distinct in character--can be visited and toured. No visitor to Olana can come away unimpressed with its superlative vista that encompasses a wide portion of the Hudson Valley and the blue Catskills to the west.

In the Twentieth Century, suburbs crept north in the Hudson Valley, and commuter rail today comes as far north as Poughkeepsie, about 35 miles south of the City of Hudson. Artists have colonized Woodstock in Ulster County from a time just after World War I even until today, when it is home to mostly creative types and is redolent of the age of tie-dye and drum-circles. It is home to what is perhaps the world's best crystal shop. It gave its name to the famous music festival held in 1969 in a town not very near to Woodstock, but which used the name anyway—because the name Woodstock then, as now, suggests a sort of bucolic enchantment that has only mellowed with time.

In the Twenty-first Century, artists seem to have migrated somewhat more north and east from Woodstock, and have turned Hudson and Columbia County into a surprisingly well-celebrated district with more than its share of music venues, performance spaces, meditation centers, artist collectives, filmmakers, painters, musicians, avant-garde motorcyclists, circus performers, and impresarios from all over the United States and Europe.

Many of the galleries and music are strung along Warren Street, a mile-and-a-half miracle on the Hudson where beautiful, old architecture now blends with new art and no small helping of great restaurants. Antique stores have run out of room on Warren Street, and now they begin to fill an enormous Antiques Warehouse down by the railroad station.

The arts have been in and around Hudson for a long time—200 years, in fact and show no sign of leaving the area any time soon.

Closely bound to the arts are other spiritual pursuits, and the Hudson Valley has no shortage of places to refresh your mind and body. There are, of course, the churches of old. But there are a growing number of yoga studios, dance theaters, wellness-spas, meditation centers and retreats. Of course, if you're thinking of more natural relaxation, there remains the resonant bucolic charm of the great woods and fields--where you'll hike and climb and picnic and watch birds and listen to frogs at night.

When the moon is out over the river, there are few who will say they've seen anything more evocative of mystery and of the vast expanses of unknown territories. It will inspire you, the Hudson Valley. Be prepared to take part in the experiment that artists have made here since the nation was young. Whether you've come to paint, or sing, or simply to sip espresso, you are made to feel welcome here in the heart of the great, steep-sided valley of the Hudson River—where urbanites discovered their first "wilderness" and where boundaries continue to be pushed by intrepid visitors and natives alike.




Racquel Roberts