Have you ever wondered who was walking these same streets centuries ago? What their lives were like, how they got there, and how the Hudson Valley became what it is today?
These questions — and more — are answered in A Sense of Time, the latest exhibit at the Albany Institute of History & Art, featuring more than 90 works by Hudson Valley-based artist L.F. Tantillo, who is one of our time’s most noted painters of historical subjects and marine views.
Through July 25, visitors can step into a time machine chronicling the historic events that led to modern-day New York. Tantillo’s work imagines what the Hudson Valley looked like throughout history, from the era of Native American settlements right up to the Industrial Revolution.
“I grew up in New Paltz, and even when I was a little kid, I was aware that history was around me,” says the artist, whose pieces are included in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Fenimore Art Museum, and many other institutions. “You can’t come from the Hudson Valley without being aware of the old houses that are everywhere.”
After studying architecture at the Rhode Island School of Design, Tantillo found himself working in an architect’s office, mostly producing illustrations. With this newfound skill, he began freelance work creating architectural illustrations, using plans and site visits to create renderings of what a building would look like once completed.
“I found that I could also sort of work backwards,” Tantillo says. “I could visit a site and I could discuss the possible construction of a building that no longer existed.” This ability is the foundation of a majority of the paintings in the exhibit.
A Sense of Time tells the story of New York through 40 years of Tantillo’s work, by way of nine themes: Native People, New Netherland, New Amsterdam, The English Colony, A New Nation, Steam Powers a Nation, Building Interest, Technology and Defense, and En Plein Air.
Contextual notes accompany each painting. The Normal School Fire, 1906, a painting completed by Tantillo in 2018, imagines what unfolded after a destructive fire broke out at The Normal School, a teacher’s college on Huguenot Street in New Paltz.
Some paintings are accompanied by physical models, built by Tantillo in his Rensselaer County studio while he worked on the piece, plus videos that walk visitors through the artistic process — which usually takes “no less than two months.”
Tantillo hopes that after visiting the exhibit, museumgoers will be fascinated by the portrait of history he has presented through decades of work. “I hope they find it interesting that an artist would spend an entire career telling one story,” he says.
Tickets for the exhibit and museum can be purchased at www.albanyinstitute.org.