James Trainor


Framing Wilderness

Framing Wilderness

Lecture course and field seminar, July 2010
Columbia University, School of the Arts, MFA Program

New York City, Hudson River Valley, Catskill Mountains

Inwood Hill Park/The 10th Street Studio/Alan Sonfist, Time Landscape/ Fresh Kills Landfill, Staten Island/The Century Club/Central Park/New York Historical Society/American Museum of Natural History/Washington Irving’s Sunnyside, Irvington/Dick’s Castle, Garrison/Bannerman Castle Munitions Warehouse, Pollepel Island, Beacon/The Taconic State Parkway/Olana State Historic Site, Hudson/Cedar Grove, Thomas Cole National Historic Site, Catskill/Plattekill Clove/Kaaterskill Falls/Byrdcliffe Art Colony, Woodstock/Maverick Theater, Woodstock/Harvey Fite, Opus 40, Saugerties, NY/Maya Lin, Wavefield, Storm King Art Center, Mountainville/Tilcon Co. Haverstraw Limestone Quarry, Haverstraw.

Participants: N. Dash, Matthew Fischer, Jesse Greenberg, Pooneh Maghazehe, Rory Parks, Brie Ruais, William Santen, Lior Shvil, Naama Tsabar, Leah Wolff.

Instructors: James Trainor, Andrea Zittel.

He built his house and the environment to go with it.
The land gave him everything else.

— photo caption for Woodstock Handmade Houses, Robert Haney, David Ballantine (1974)

Americans understand their landscape better than they understand their art.

— Theodore Roosevelt

We moved along ye water course with good traveling under ye shade of lofty firs being pretty open. At last we came to ye great gulf that swallowed all down into it. We throwed down stones to ye bottom and could count twenty while going down.

—John Bartram, Observations on A Journey to Ye Catts Kill Mountain with Billy, 9 pages of a notebook, September 1753. First written account of Kaaterskill Falls.

Loiterings and Meditations among the Catskill Mountains.

Laurel House, in the Catskills, Saturday, Aug. 12, 1854, To the Editor of the New-York Daily Times: At these heights, — in these silences, with the clouds beneath you, and above you trees that in VIRGIL’S phrase strive to strike the sky with their lofty tops — the ordinary language of human life — of credit-profit-and-loss life especially — seems the dialect of another, and, in more senses than one, of a lower world. Unfortunately, a man brings his soul with him wherever he comes, and Wall-street on the Mountain is Wall street in New York. As I write this, I am looking down the gorge, below the Falls, and a man is by my side who cannot descend three hundred feet by the most rural of staircases, to see the water precipitate itself from such a height, because he must “get back home again” to attend to his pigs. So the language of Wall-street and the dialect of the swine-herd are of one family. The broker to his bonds, and the pig-keeper to his porkers. For within a hundred yards stands a Wall-street broker, who told me in distinct phrase, and without a blush, that the great pleasure of the Catskills is freedom from mosquitoes and a cool temperature, — but he must get back to-day. He arrived here this morning.

[The critic and columnist Charles Welden, part of a series of articles published under his pseudonym in the New-York Daily Times, August 15, 1854.]

To-morrow we shall join a party for the ascent. It is somewhat of an adventure. The distance is ten perpendicular miles, with no sort of a road, and we must camp out on the summit all night. Blankets and overcoats are desiderata here. So we expect to find it bleak. We shall make a magnificent fire, for fuel is cheap – it is to be had not for the asking, but for the trouble of getting. Bears exist here, but are not likely to visit us. If they do, woe betide them. Rattlesnakes we intend to catch. Panthers are sometimes seen here in the Fall, and wild-cats are not innumerous, even at this season. Wolves departed twenty years since with the deer. The deer are returning, but the wolves are absent, though they howl o’ nights in Delaware County. There are still materials enough here for a romance, and game, of the wildest sort.

— Loiterings and Meditations among the Catskill Mountains.

…wounderous place
n rocks lofty torre-
nts ragin down the
rudged steep…

— Lyrical graffiti carved into shelving bluestone, Kaaterskill Falls, c. 1840–1850s

Carved graffiti, Kaaterskill Falls, 1819-2011. The hotel band was here.

Carved graffiti, Kaaterskill Falls, 1819-2011.

At length he reached to where the ravine had opened through the cliffs to the amphitheatre; but no traces of such an opening remained. The rocks presented a high impenetrable wall, over which the torrent came tumbling in a sheet of feathery foam, and fell into a deep broad basin, black from the shadows of the surrounding forest.

— Washington Irving, Rip Van Winkle, 1819.

About an hour this side of Albany is the Center of the World—and I own it.

— Painter Frederic E. Church, in a letter to sculptor Erastus Dow Palmer, upon returning home to Olana from the Near East and Europe in June 1869. He would spend the better part of the next two decades redesigning the surrounding farmland into a more perfect approximation of the Sublime and picturesque vision of Nature found in his paintings.

Would Frederic E. Church drive a Honda?

Cedar Grove, Thomas Cole National Historic Site, Catskill, New York

Helping summer interns excavate the remains of Thomas Cole's studio.

Byrdcliffe Colony, Woodstock, New York

The oldest Arts and Crafts colony in the United States, founded in 1902 by Jane Byrd McCall (1861–1955) and Ralph Radcliffe Whitehead (1854–1929), together with the artist Bolton Brown and writer/social reformer Hervey White (1866–1944). Inspired by the ideas of their mentor John Ruskin, it was envisioned as an experiment in rustic artisanal utopian living.

Byrdcliffe Colony, White Pines attic, unfired and unglazed ceramics

There is a growing number of those who would like to liberate their children and themselves from the slavery of our too artificial and too hurried life, to return to some way of living which requires less material apparatus, and to throw off the weight of custom which is laid on them by the society in which they have been accustomed to live.

— Ralph Radcliffe Whitehead, Byrdcliffe Prospectus, 1907.

Woodstock Art Colony calling card. 1912. Collection Lucy Van Tuyl Koch.

Byrdcliffe Colony, White Pines attic. Private Utopia.

Byrdcliffe Colony, former ceramic studio, exploded oxides.

Byrdcliffe Colony, in the library.

Tilcon Co., Haverstraw Limestone Quarry, Haverstraw, New York.

The blasted tree has often a fine effect both in natural and in artificial landscape. In some scenes it is almost essential. When the dreary heath is spread before the eye, and ideas of wildness and desolation are required, what more suitable accompaniment can be imagined, than the blasted oak, ragged, scathed, and leafless, shooting its peeled white branches athwart the gathering blackness of some rising storm?

— William Gilpin, Remarks of Forest Scenery, 1791.

We seek in the world that kind of beauty which is agreeable in a picture.

— William Gilpin, Observations Relative Chiefly to Picturesque Beauty, 1776.

Inwood Hill Park, New York.

The last remaining old growth primeval forest and tidal salt marsh left in Manhattan; traditional site of the ceremonial purchase of the island by the Peter Minuit and the Dutch East India Company from the Lenape tribes in 1626. An orphanage and a “home for wayward girls” was located on the rocky bluff.

Imagining a pre-lapsarian New York City with Dr. Eric W. Sanderson, ecosystem and landscape ecologist and Senior Conservation Ecologist at the Wildlife Conservation Society. Author of Mannahatta and founder of the Mannahatta Project.

The Durand — 10 ounces of Filet Mignon in a red wine & mushroom demi-glaze — $29.95
The Cole — 14 ounces of juicy Ribeye beef grilled to your liking — $26.95
The Cropsey — 12 ounces of Angus New York Strip grilled to your liking — $24.95

— from the menu, Kindred Sprits Steakhouse and Pub, 2011

I fear to trespass on your time and patience. Yet I cannot but express my sorrow that the beauty of our landscapes are quickly passing away--the ravages of the axe are daily increasing - the most noble scenes are made desolate, and oftentimes with a wantonness and barbarism scarcely credible in a civilized nation. The wayside is becoming shadeless, and another generation will behold spots now rife with beauty desecrated by what is called improvement; which, as yet, generally destroys Nature's beauty without substituting that of Art. This is a regret rather than a complaint; such is the road society has to travel. […] Nature has spread for us a rich and delightful banquet. Shall we turn from it?

We are still in Eden; the wall that shuts us out of the garden is our own ignorance and folly.

— Thomas Cole, lecture notes, published as Essay on American Scenery, in American Monthly Magazine, January 1836.