Taking a Look Back at Olana State Historic Site’s Landscape Through Time

Two hundred years ago, these sweeping views captivated revolutionary Hudson River School artists, like Frederic Church, Thomas Cole, and Albert Bierstadt.
Photo by Beth Schneck Photography

Hartwick emeritus professor Robert Titus paints the picture of Hudson River School artist Frederic Church’s home throughout history.

Frederic Church had the best porch in the Hudson Valley, and both his paintings and his Olana home focused on the “planned views” he created on canvas and through his stunning landscape architecture. Robert Titus, however, sees a different view.

On a brilliant spring day, Titus, aka the Catskill Geologist, paints an older picture for a group of amateur science nerds. He puts us on Church’s front yard in 13,914 BC. The valley below is filled with ice; a glacier is flowing south, “creating the Catskill front… creating the centerpiece of Frederic Church’s planned view.”

For two hours, Titus, emeritus professor at Hartwick and the author of scores of books and articles about Hudson Valley geology, points out other “unplanned views” that Church cherished. A hunk of layered bedrock, 300-plus-million years old, peeking out from under a maple tree. A view of gentle Mt. Marino, part of a prehistoric range that once towered as high as the Rockies and, perhaps, the Himalayas. An “erratic” rock that hitched a ride on the glacier from the Adirondacks. A nearly imperceptible shadow in the stone of Olana’s steps that is the remnant of an ancient clam crawling out of the primordial ooze.

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With a professor’s insight and an actor’s hammy command of the stage, Titus recounts the hundreds of millions of years of Biblical storms and floods, earth-shattering continental grinding, and icy glacial destruction that left behind the beauty that Church and Olana celebrate.

Titus’ next Ice Age tour is “In the Footsteps of Sanford Robinson Gifford” on July 17. The geologist will lead participants on a moderate four-mile hike to spots along the Blue Trail where Sanford Robinson Gifford sketched. The group will examine evidence of glacial activity at each location. Register at www.mths.org or by calling 518.589.6657.


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