Frederic Edwin Church (1862-1900) lavished his skill
and attention on the creation of Olana, his Hudson River villa.
The culmination of his embellishment was the design and painting of
fanciful stencils on exterior cornices, and interior spandrels and borders.
More than 100 stencils are in the collection of the Olana Historic Site,
along with 500 drawings of architectural details and stencil motifs.
I had the pleasure of a leisurely tour of Olana's rooms and the opportunity
of viewing the original stencils and drawings under the care of curator
is truly one of Church's masterpieces. Conceived as a great romantic
landscape composition, the grounds of the estate undulate over 250 acres
with the house set on the crest of a tall hill overlooking the Catskill
Mountains and the Hudson River near Hudson, New York. Drawn to the site
as a student of Thomas Cole, the premier artist of the Hudson River
School who lived just across the river, Church began to purchase land
in 1860 and added the hilltop building site in 1867. Working with architects
Richard Morris Hunt and Calvert Vaux, Church's conception of Olana evolved
over several years into an eclectic Persian-inspired treasure house.
Traveling in the Near East, he collected 15 trunks full of furnishings
and artifacts. In particular he studied two books on Persian and Arab
architecture: Monuments Modernes de La Perse, by Pascal Coste, and Les
Artes Arabes by Jules Bourgoin.
executed rapid pencil sketches of stencil details and motifs, then proceeded
to paint color sketches of the motifs he and his wife preferred. The
stencil patterns were drawn on heavy paper; a ledger book's pages and
a calendar were used for some stencils that still exist today. The designs
were cut out and the same stencil was sometimes used for two or three
colors. The designs ranged from simple, four-petaled flowers to ornate
stars and arabesques.
were used to decorate borders around interior doors and baseboards.
They also covered the spandrels in the central court hall. Borders in
several rooms shared motifs with variations of details and coloration.
Maltese crosses, multi-petaled flowers, and fleurs-de-lis are used repeatedly
in varying forms.