Continuing our tour of New York's museums, we start with a virtual weekend-long art-history course that only the Hudson Valley and Catskills could provide. (And we never, ever have to take a test.) In this region just north of New York City, the art scene is remarkably varied, with sites and exhibitions that land you in nearly every decade of American art and design.
Museums of the Hudson Valley and Catskills:
Thomas Cole National Historic Site marks the sylvan spot where the master of the Hudson River School of painters lived and worked throughout his brief lifetime. Back in 1840, Cole first journeyed to the upstate wilderness and began painting his visions of nature as a spiritual allegory. Cole influenced younger artists like Frederic Edwin Church, Jasper Cropsey and dozens more who, in time, coalesced into what is now known as the Hudson River School. Visitors today can tour the home, see the art, stroll the gardens and take in the spectacular views of the Catskill Mountains. The museum has just reconstructed Cole's self-designed New Studio, and a new exhibit there features the artist's lesser known architectural endeavors.
Olana State Historic Site is a short drive away, across the Rip Van Winkle Bridge and through the town of Catskill. Olana, where Cole's student Frederic Edwin Church flourished, is simply one of the most remarkable historic homes in the nation. Inspired by their travels through the Middle East, the Churches designed a thrilling showcase of Persian and Ottoman influences. It is appropriately poised over a sweeping view, the kind that inspired the art that afforded him such prosperity.
Francis Lehman Loeb Art Center in Poughkeepsie is on the campus of Vassar College, the first university in the nation to include an art museum as part of its original plan. The 36,000-square-foot facility includes more than 19,000 paintings, sculptures, photographs, textiles, glass works, ceramic wares and more, from ancient to modern times. The collection includes masterworks from Hudson River School painters as well as contemporary artists like Georgia O'Keefe, Matisse, Pablo Picasso and Jackson Pollock.
Dia: Beacon in Beacon is the place to sign up for a dose of the avant-garde. Opened in 2005 in a reclaimed Nabisco box factory, the 36,000 square feet of gallery space is perfectly suited to the monumental art pieces within, spanning from the 1960s to the present. Dia:Beacon calls itself a "daylight museum" thanks to copious natural light provided by more than 34,000-square-feet of skylights and broad spans between supporting columns. The museum has significant holdings of Warhol and features guided tours, gallery talks and more.
Storm King Art Center in New Windsor takes the prize for sheer size and scope. Its 700-acres of woods, meadows and riverbank comprise an unsurpassed outdoor museum for sculptures whose dimensions daunt and dazzle. Don't miss the rolling hills that make up Maya Lin's Wavefield, or the meandering Wall by Andy Goldsworthy-you'll never view masonry the same way again.
The Hudson River Maritime Museum, located on the Rondout waterfront in Kingston, commemorates the days when shipping-via oceans, rivers and canals-was the mode of delivery for nearly all of the goods that kept people alive. The Hudson River was, of course, the major conduit of commerce for New York City, delivering food, fuel and, well, everything else. This compact and colorful museum drops anchor in the deep end of Hudson Valley shipping, hosting exhibits on just about every aspect of our maritime heritage. Kids will love the Mathilda, a 1898 steam tug berthed outside the museum, at water's edge.
The Museum at Bethel Woods in Bethel is dedicated to making the lessons and ideals of the tumultuous decade of the 1960s relevant and accessible. The famous Woodstock Music & Art Fair didn't take place in the town called Woodstock. It happened on a dairy farm in Bethel, sixty miles from Woodstock, when the previously arranged venue there fell through. The museum is situated on the property of that very farm and uses the legend of Woodstock as a jumping off point to explore the broader context of an era that dramatically altered American society in all sorts of ways. The award-winning Main Exhibit, "Woodstock and The Sixties," offers 21 short films, interactive exhibits and lots of interesting artifacts to tell its story. The museum is part of the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts, a concert venue that operates throughout the summer. Best way to go? Tour the museum and take in a concert!
Museums of the Capital-Saratoga region:
Any grade school student should be able to tell you that Albany is the Capital of New York. The region is also a hotbed of history, from its prominence in colonial history to its pivotal role in the American Revolution.
Though it's not, strictly speaking, a museum, the New York State Capitol Building is a bona fide historic site with museum-quality exhibits on many aspects of New York State history. Completed in 1899, it's a spectacular sight, the architectural star of New York's Gilded Age, the Camelot Castle of the Empire State. It's now fully open for tours on which you can walk the majestic paneled hallways and carved staircases and view the many historic artifacts on display.
The Albany Institute of History & Art, a few blocks away from the Capitol, is one of America's oldest museums. The Institute's elegant and studied collection documents the rise of the Capital and Upper Hudson Valley regions, their political and cultural identities, and how much of the epic story of modern America- from smudgy jewel in the colonial crown to dominant mercantile power-house-begins in upstate New York, right here on the Hudson River. There are even two mummies with a fascinating history of how they ended up in New York's Capital District.
The New York State Museum, just a 10-minute walk from the Capitol across the 98-acre, white-marbled expanse of Empire State Plaza - thank you, Nelson Rockefeller - is an even more ambitious repository of NY artifacts and archives. Its exhibits trace the natural and cultural origins of the state. You could spend hours here in the towering exhibition halls. Make sure you don't miss the 9/11 artifacts, the collection of antique fire trucks and subways, the dioramas of NY birds, an eons-old mastodon and a ride on the century-old carousel.
In Saratoga Springs, the New York State Military Museum commemorates the service of New York military units from the Revolution to the Civil War to modern day battlegrounds. Most visitors will also want to head north to the Saratoga National Historic Site where, in 1777, the British General John Burgoyne surrendered his sword in what historians call "The Turning Point of the American Revolution." Don't miss the chance to climb to the top of the nearby Saratoga Monument for a birds-eye view of the area-and some excellent cardio.
For more museums in the Capital-Saratoga region, click here.
Next week, we journey into the state's North Country. Onward and upward!