A Day at The Albany Institute of History & Art

Museums are one of those places I never tire of going. They’re the curators of history, the keepers of knowledge and stories of the past for future generations.

So imagine how excited I was to see an exhibit dedicated to the Hudson River School painters. (I’ve been to both Thomas Cole’s and Frederic Edwin Church’s house and each was amazing in their own way. You can read about my time at Thomas Cole’s in this post — A Visit to Thomas Cole. And you can see pictures of Frederic Edwin Church’s house here.)

I spent somewhere between 2 and 2 1/2 hours with these paintings — staring at them, reading about them and their artist’s. It was worth every minute and, yet, I could’ve spent more time in that room. (And of course there were other exhibits, which I also looked at, but this was the one I was most excited about at the time.)

From Cole to Church to Kensett to Inness to Hart and everyone in-between, well-known and lesser-known artists were represented. As part of the Hudson River School, artists and their work were part of a mid-19th century American art movement where their landscapes were influenced by European Romanticism. They had a beautiful, majestic style and were celebrated for their realistic depictions of stunning and detailed landscapes.

As I stood there admiring the paintings, I was flooded with a sense of awe. These paintings had layers and depth. They had incredible details that made the image come alive. Close up there may have been a sighting of people or a deer or birds in the background. The rocks, ground and trees held texture and rivers or paths curved until they were out of sight. Far away the images came together and sometimes it felt as if it was possible to walk right into the scene being depicted.

Looking at Cole’s work, having been to his house and setting foot in his studio, I could invasion him with a canvas set up on the easel and a brush in his hand. But having an imagination like mine, I could easily picture any of these artists picking up a brush and stroking paint across the canvas.

It was amazing to me that art created decades ago could stand the test of time and survive. Not only that, but the paintings were in great conditions. Of course, up close, there were visible cracks in the paint and the frames clearly could tell a story or two of their own, but that’s not a bad thing. In fact, I loved it. It all came together and added to their character, giving the paintings more of a story to add to their already long history.

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Ocean City, NJ – Day Two

It was a complete turnaround from the previous day. The gray skies that had brought rain were now burning off, letting the sun shine. It’s warm rays were gracing the earth and the temperature was rising. There was still a wind blowing inland, but by now it was more of a breeze over calmer waters.

Today was the perfect day to do some exploring. Today, I was headed down the coast to Cape May. There were many things I wanted to see — the Cape May Lighthouse, the WWII bunker, the S.S. Atlantus, Sunset Beach, the WWII Lookout Tower — and the list goes on.

The first place I stopped was the nature preserve. I wanted to walk the paths with my camera and see what kind of wildlife would enjoy making an appearance for a photo opportunity. Unfortunately, most of the birds, reptiles and other animals seemed to be camera shy. I only saw one turtle (who happened to be making his way across the hot asphalt of the parking lot and decided to rest in the shade produced by a car’s back bumper), several swans (who appeared elegant) and many other birds (of names I’m unsure of). I did, however, still enjoy the beauty of nature and the Cape May Lighthouse could be seen from different angles while on the paths.

WWII BunkerNext up was the remains of a WWII bunker, know as Battery 223, built in the 1940s. There was a straight path from the nature preserve to the beach where it sits. Upon seeing it, I thought about how big and strong it looked, but knew that it had changed drastically over time. I’ve seen photos of this bunker throughout the years and the changes are astounding. People used to be able to walk under it, but due to land transformation that’s become impossible. It used to sit on top of giant, strong pillars (and still might, although it’s hard to say for certain) and the ocean would rush up and surround it. Now the pillars can’t be seen and the bunker appears as if it’s sitting on top of sand. I believe there was also a time when people were able to climb a set of wooden steps, which were built after the war sometime in the 70s, to an observation deck and even walk inside. I have no proof or photos of these steps or an observation deck, only word of mouth from those who say they remember it from years ago. As for the inside, I’ve seen only a few photos and as amazing as it looks it’s unfortunately covered with graffiti. There’s a large part of me that wishes I could’ve seen the inside for myself, walked the halls and entered the rooms that so many brave souls did long ago, but today the entire structure is sealed off. People can still walk around the perimeter of the bunker and touch the concrete walls, which I did, gladly. I had a feeling of awe as my hands rubbed along the concrete. When it comes to old, historical places part of me can’t believe I’m actually seeing it while the other part can’t believe it’s still standing. And the whole time I’m playing its history in my head, as if I can see it for what it was back in its prime as well as what it is today — a wonderful piece of history.

The Cape May Lighthouse was next on my list of places to go. It was built in 1859, the Cape May Lighthouse (Black and White)same year it was first lit. In 1946 it was automated and is still operational today. As is the case with many lighthouses today, people are able to climb the stairs, like lighthouse keepers. There were 199 steps to the top of the lighthouse and I climbed every single one. My journey started at the bottom and continued in intervals, as I stopped briefly at each landing to observe the view. At the top, surrounded by bright red metal bars, what I saw was breathtaking. From one side I could see the entire beach, another side the town and from another side I thought I could see the remains of a sunken ship sticking out of the water.

SS Atlantus (Black and White)The S.S. Atlantus was launched in 1918, a month after WWI ended, but was used to bring American troops home from Europe as well as transport coal in New England. In 1920 the ship was retired and six years later (1926) the S.S. Atlantus was purchased. The plan was to use it as a ferry dock in Cape May, NJ along with two other concrete ships. So it was towed to Cape May where it was kept waiting, but when a storm hit the ship broke free and ran aground 150 feet off the coast. Any attempt to free the ship was unsuccessful. By the late 50s the S.S. Atlantus begun to break apart in its midsection. I’ve seen photos of the ship through the years, as it’s slowly broken apart and it’s striking how large it used to be verses what remains of it today. From what I can tell there’s barely anything left. Still, there’s something about seeing it in person. Maybe it’s the sight itself. Maybe it’s the history behind the ship. Maybe it’s a little of both. Whatever the reason, the S.S. Atlantus is still an amazing sight to see with a great history. Colored Stones and The Ocean

Since the remains of the S.S. Atlantus sits off the coast of Sunset Beach it was easy to see both (practically simultaneously.) While the beach is sandy there are more and more colorful rocks and pebbles closer to the water. The way the sun bounces off their surfaces makes them sparkle and shine. It was a beautiful sight to behold.

WWII Lookout Tower (Fire Control Tower No. 23)The WWII Lookout Tower (Fire Control Tower No. 23) was near Sunset Beach so it was my next, and last, stop of the day. Built in 1942 it was one of fifteen towers meant to aim batteries of coastal artillery from North Wildwood, NJ to Bethany Beach, DE. There used to be four of these towers in Cape May, but two were torn down while the other two still stand. However, the one I visited is said to be the last remaining restorable WWII tower in New Jersey. Behind the tower is a deck with an “All Veterans Memorial” and inside the tower, on the third floor, is a “Wall of Honor” which features photographs from over 100 area WWII veterans. Although, I didn’t see this wall for myself. Considering this was my last stop of the day and all the other walking and climbing I participated in, I asked my legs a very serious question — if they thought they could make it up the nearly 200 steps. Reluctantly they responded with a no. It was the day’s first disappointment for me, but definitely on my list of things to do on my next trip to Cape May.

I loved the history of Cape May along with its beauty. If you’re ever in the area and enjoy history I’d recommend checking these place out, or go for the simple beauty of the ocean.

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Inspired By the Erie Canal

Recently, I visited the NYS Museum, as there were a few exhibits I wanted to see. One, and the one I’ll focus on in this post, was called Art of the Erie Canal.

This exhibit featured art inspired by the Erie Canal — sketches, photographs, paintings and transfer-printed earthenware. I found it interesting to see how each artist, professional and hobbyist alike, presented the Erie Canal while working in their chosen medium.

There was a set a of pictures done with water colors and chalk (or pastels), which was fascinating. The two were so well blended that it was difficult to tell where one or the other was used. From the weather to the buildings to the reflections, both depictions were beautifully done.

The paintings hanging in the gallery were gorgeous. The oil paints seemed to glisten under the lights. For some of the works, if you stood far enough away and took in the entire image, it was so well done it almost resembled a photograph. If you stood closer it was easier to notice all the details, like the people or houses in the background. You could see the expressions on faces more clearly and the line which connected the horses or cattle to the boat so it could be pulled through the waters of the canal. And if you stepped closer, so close in fact that your nose was almost touching the painting (but you never, ever, touch a painting), then, other details were visible. Paint appeared thicker in some places then others, a way of giving the image texture, or part of the artist’s technique. Multiple colors and shades were used in the sky and on the clouds to gain their present effect and you could see the layering and blending. In some parts of the paintings you could see the brush strokes where the artist laid their paint laden brush and whisked it across the canvas in a way only they knew how.

Incorporated into the exhibit were two large photographs, printed from glass plates. This is a very old style of photographing and while staring at the pictures from the angles they were taken I could imagine the photographer setting up their camera, sliding in the glass plate and taking the picture when the moment suited them. The one picture was a classic black and white with beautiful tonal range. The other picture had a reddish brown, or yellowish, tint as if done in sepia tone. It’s hard to say if this look was the artist’s intent or if time had taken it’s toll. Either way the photograph was beautiful from the viewpoint of the water as it rushed by. You could see and feel its movement as it blurred, due to it’s speed, in certain areas.

It’s always interesting to see how history has influenced the world. It’s equally as fascinating to see how history has inspired artists. In it’s own way this exhibit does both. (Plus there’s an exhibit on the history of the Erie Canal right next to it, which is also interesting.) While these beautiful works are only a small taste of the first 150 years, the Erie Canal has been inspiring artist for decades. So, I would recommend visiting this part of history and seeing these artworks for yourself.

A Fall Walk

For the longest time the leaves stayed green, the temperatures were above average and people wondered if it was actually fall. Then, it seemed as if overnight, the leaves began to burst into magnificent colors of gold, orange and red.
It was at that point I knew the leaves were at peak, so I took my camera and went to photograph the fall foliage.

There’s many parks in the area I live, but the one I chose is special. It’s a place I’ve enjoyed my entire life, although I don’t exactly remember the first time I fell in love with it. Maybe it was the architecture, or the statues, or the carousel. Maybe it was its history, or its beauty or its serenity. Maybe it’s the memories that live inside the park. Or maybe it’s a combination of all the above. Whatever it is, I love this park. And it never ceases to amaze me no matter how many times I’ve been there there’s always something new to see, a new adventure to go on.

Carousel IIII entered by the carousel, a magical beauty constructed in the early 1900s. It has twenty-eight individually hand carved horses which were made by Lithuanian born Marcus Charles Illions. Walking around the cobblestone path that lines the way, I looked through the windows and saw all the horses. They appear to be running with their legs raised high or kicked out, ready to take another step. I think they’re majestic works of art with details so ornate I can’t help but marvel at them. Of all the carousels Illions constructed during his lifetime this is the only two-row carousel left still in working order.

A few steps away from the carousel is a stream of water that runs into a larger pond A Fall Viewwhere ducks like to gather. There’s benches around the edge as well as trees and shrubs. By this time of year most of the trees had shed their leaves. They now covered the ground with the colors of a rustic blanket shielding the green grass. The dried leaves crunched under my feet as I walked around the pond and when the breeze blew it carried with it the scent of fall.

The pond is surrounded by history. On one side stands the Canfield Casino and on the other, almost up on a hill, is The Spirit of Life. I never knew what the Canfield Casino was or understood its history until a couple of years ago. It was once a place to gamble, but today it stands as a historic landmark and a popular place for weddings. Even before I knew exactly what the building was, I was always fascinated by its architecture.

Final.jpgThe Spirit of Life and Spencer Task Memorial was constructed in the early 1900s. This bronze statue overlooks her reflecting pool as she has done since the day she was built. Sometimes, in the summer, mother ducks and babies can be found swimming in the pool. Over the years I’ve photographed her on a number of occasions with many different cameras. On this trip to the park, I found yet another way I wanted to photograph her. In my mind the flowers, small trees and reflecting pool framed her well.

I left the lower area of the park, walked up a hill and entered the woods. As soon as the path curved I saw a tree with all its leaves, bright with shades of red and orange. Limbs and branches reached toward the sky, arched over the path, and created a canopy of color. The path itself was scattered with fallen leaves and acorns. Squirrels and chipmunks rustled through the leaves looking for food to store before the approaching winter. My feet, once again, made the leaves crunch with each step. I paused once or twice to kick at a pile of leaves, making them fly up in the air and twist in the wind and they floated effortlessly to the ground. It made me feel like a kid again. I’m not sure what it is about fall, or any season, but certain things, no matter how old you become, make you feel like a kid.

Continuing along the path, I walked through the woods and above the lower level of the park. A fountain with a small stream connected to it ran below. There’s multiple fountains and sculptures set around the park. Soon the path began to descend and curve back around. As the wind blew it pushed the fallen leaves across the ground, bringing with it the crispness of fall. Before long, I was back at the carousel where I’d started, looking at the horses once more.

Throughout the park paths weave their way past trees and shrubs and benches. They take you by ponds and through the woods. Not only do they lead you through nature, but also history. There’s many historic things I didn’t mention about this place, but there’s simply so much to it. As I said in the beginning, I’m always finding something new. To this day I’m constantly learning about the park with which I fell in love.

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Paying A Visit to Emily Dickinson

The HomesteadOn my recent visit to Amherst, MA, I visited Emily Dickinson’s house as well as the house of her brother and his wife. I learned that the Dickinson homes certainly have a unique charm. Although on the same property, and belonging to the same family, The Homestead and The Evergreens have a different beauty that I was excited to see.

The Homestead – the childhood home of Emily Dickinson and the place she lived until she died in 1886. It’s thought by some that she was a recluse, only writing depressing poems. (And there was a time when I thought the same, but she wrote on a variety of different topics and was interested in life.) After visiting her home and learning more about her, I believe she was happy with her life, spending it with the people she cared about most while doing what she loved. (Although, she never published a single poem during her lifetime.)

The house she lived in was simple – canary yellow with dark green shutters. There was aBirdbath in the Garden small flower garden on the side of the house with a birdbath. A few times I watched as a robin flew to the rim of the bath and drank the water before flying away. Also, further down from the house there was a larger garden which also contained flowers, among various vegetables. (Along with a rather friendly cat whose name seemed to be Oscar Wilde.)

While walking through the house I saw various rooms including the library, a large room off from the foyer and Emily’s room. It didn’t really hit me until I was standing in Emily’s room – the profound thought that this is where she not only lived, but wrote all those poems so many years ago. Her small desk with a lamp and a chair faced the window and I wondered if she wrote long into the night or whenever inspiration struck.

As any artist’s house that is turned into a museum, things were pristine and most of the furniture was authentic. Maybe it’s my active imagination, or maybe something else, but I could imagine the people who once lived in the house walking up and down the stair, through the halls, sitting and talking, entertaining. It really was like stepping into the past. But there’s a difference between stepping back in time and feeling as though time itself has stopped.

The Evergreens IIThe Evergreens – the home of Emily’s brother and his wife, a wedding present built by his father across the way from The Homestead. Structurally, this house is very different from the one Emily lived in, but what I found more breathtaking was what was on the inside.

As soon as I stepped into the dimly lit foyer, I could smell the houses age. (Some may call it a musty sent, but it wasn’t musty, it was age and history that floated through the air.) It was written in the family will that the house was to remained untouched. So everything was still in the same place. Every single piece of furniture, down to the rugs and wood floors, were authentic.

The wallpaper in the halls was peeling, the paint was chipping, there were small holes and cracks in the ceiling and long cracks that ran the length of the wall. Some of the rugs were torn after a lifetime of foot-traffic and the wood floors worn in places after years of people walking on them. Even the fireplaces appeared to have ash still in them. (Although, I could’ve imagined this.) Either way, this house felt like the family left long ago, leaving all their belongings, and was waiting for them to return.

That was the beauty of this house. In no way am I calling it unkept or ugly. All of these things add to its character. It shows this house had a life and I could imagine it in its glory days as Emily’s brother and wife entertained or simply took care of their family. I could feel it’s history pouring from the walls and thought of the stories they could tell, if only they could speak.

Both these houses had their own charm and their own personality. I loved them equally, but for different reasons. In The Homestead it was walking the same halls as Emily Dickinson once did (to name one) and in The Evergreens it was the pure authenticity of the house and the history that was ingrained into every floorboard (to name one). In the end, I’m glad I was able to explore these gorgeous houses and that they could be preserved not only for today, but also for future generations.

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A Visit to Thomas Cole

Thomas Cole's HouseVisiting historical places feels like stepping back in time. You might need to use your imagination to see the artist working or the writer writing, but often times the place you’re visiting has a personality all its own.

Recently, I visited Thomas Cole’s house. Thomas Cole was an artist, best known for his paintings, and credited with the founding of the Hudson River School. His paintings transform the landscape and captivates anyone who looks at them (at least in my opinion).

The house is simple – pale yellow with dark green shutters and an elevated porch. It used to sit on a large plot of land, orchards, but now there’s a road that goes through it and a Mountain Viewfew houses on the other side. In no way does this take away from the gorgeous view when standing on the porch. Beyond the bit of present-day construction lays the woods with its tall trees and mountains that appear to touch the sky. It’s a view that I believe must me seen to fully appreciate its beauty.

Of all the rooms in the house, I think the studio was my favorite. It’s one thing to step into the foyer of an old house, to see the different rooms, to imagine the use of each room and admire the authenticity of it all, but it’s another things entirely to enter a room that still feels as if it’s being used.

His studio is separate from the house, part of an old barn. Upon entering there’s a smell that matches that of an old barn, mixed with paint and age. Two easels site in the middle A Painter's Toolsof the room, one with a canvas balanced on it, the other empty and waiting for art to be created. A long desk is pushed against the wall and holds books, papers and some small paints. A separate, smaller desk, is positioned between the two easels where bottles of pigment (which would be transformed into his paints) sat. It was as if Thomas Cole had walked out of his studio and everything was left waiting for his return.

It’s possible the old studio sparked my imagination as the room still seemed to be alive. It felt special. And maybe that’s why these historical places feel like stepping back in time – each one is special in it’s own way.

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A Visit to The George Eastman House

George Eastman's HouseFor someone who likes photography and old cameras, visiting the George Eastman House is a welcomed opportunity. It’s not only the house that George Eastman (the maker of Kodak) built and lived in during his lifetime, but also a gallery and museum surrounded by many beautiful gardens.

From the outside the stone walls of the house appear gorgeous. The house itself is a work of art. At the front of the house there’s a patio, or sitting area, with two chairs. The door leads into a large foyer with a grand staircase straight ahead.

Inside the house it appears as if time has stood still. Some of the paintings, and I believe fixtures, are exact replicas, but everything is still as it would’ve been if Eastman himself was still living. From the crystal chandlers to the dishes to the bedrooms to the clothing hanging in the closet and the bathroom products sitting in the medicine cabinet, a tour through the house feels like stepping into the past.

The gardens on the property are full of flowers as well as lush, green grass and bushes. Some have stone, or slate, paths while others have paths laid in brick. One garden had lattice with grape vines growing. Another had a small pond in the center with fish and lily pads.

At the back of the house sits the gallery which is currently showing the work of Eugene Richards. It’s titled: Eugene Richards: The Run-On Time. His work explores large, complex social topics. While the photos are engaging, some may be difficult and uncomfortable to look at. Still, this exhibition is worth seeing.

Besides the gallery, the museum is also the home of many old cameras. They’re all gathered in one room and placed in multiply glass cases. They range from wooden cameras with wet plates to the camera of the 90s and, I believe, early digital. Along with the cameras are pictures lining the walls. In the same room are color and black and white photographs by famous photographers.

Whether it’s photography, cameras, a beautiful garden to walk through or even a little bit of history, I believe there’s something for everyone here.

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