Fredric Edwin Church's Eclectic Olana House On The Hudson River Valley

1406 words - 6 pages

In the Hudson River Valley sits several unique and diverse houses, from the Livingston Family house Clermont, to Lynhurst a gothic style castle. Nestled in with these eclectic houses sits another called Olana House, whose original owner was the famed Hudson River School artist Frederic Edwin Church. From a distance it looks to be some kind of Middle Eastern palace that brightly radiates uniqueness as it sits among the beautiful landscape of the Hudson River Valley. It was built in the latter part of the nineteenth century and is proclaimed by many to be a prime example of the Aesthetic Movement in America.
While living on a small farmstead near what is known as Long Hill, Church ...view middle of the document...

Though the position of the kitchen which connects to the dining room by a passage beneath the stairs was recommend by Vaux in his book Villas and Cottages, suggesting that he did have some influence in Olana’s construction. The end result was a mixture of Victorian architecture styled with Persian and Moorish features in which many scholars list as one of his last great masterpieces. Church himself called the style “Persian, adapted to the Occident.” He even called his home Olana after a fortress house that was in ancient Persia.
The family moved into the house by 1872 while the house was still undergoing construction and which would not be wholly finished until 1888 when Church’s studio was completed. Church died in 1900 and the house was then passed onto his youngest son Louis Palmer Church who married Sarah (Sally) Baker Good, who insisted on keeping Olana in the same state that Frederic Church had originally left it. Upon Sally’s death a campaign was started for the preservation of Olana led by David C. Huntington, with help from the state of New York Olana was purchased and opened to the public. Thanks in part to Sally Good Church and the state of New York the house is looking much the same today as it had when Church died, which is a rarity among historic houses and provides excellent opportunities for historians to study the house.
Though the house has an eastern feel to it the architecture is harder to define as it follows no particular prototype. From a distant the house does look like some kind of colorful Middle Eastern castle with a tower on one end of the building and a bright exterior that catches the eye. Some of the more obvious features found on the exterior are the high ogival or pointed arched windows and doors. Surrounding the doors and on the building’s many cornices are detailed Middle Eastern motifs in slate or ceramic tile arranged in geometrical shapes and designs. The house is covered with multi-colored brickwork and a slate mansard roof that is ornately stenciled in bright colors that truly provides the sense of a Persian palace. Most of the ornamental stenciling was designed by Church himself though he did retrieve the designs from pattern books.
The floor plan reveals eastern influence as the house is built around a central room called the Court Hall and idea that Church most likely took from the homes he visited in the Middle East. The Court Hall is shaped like a symmetrical or Greek cross with large pointed arches opening to all the other rooms. This gives the house an open floor plan that doesn’t restrict entrance into the various rooms which is slightly contrary to the normal Victorian style. From the vestibule one of the axis of the cross runs through to the west wall which opened up to a view of the Catskills. The west wall would eventually become a hall that connected the house to Church’s studio. The axis that runs north and south ending in the room called the ombra which possess...

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