The Park City Museum is currently showing "Wild Land: Thomas Cole and the Birth of American Landscape Painting." (Christopher Reeves/Park Record)
The Park City Museum is currently showing "Wild Land: Thomas Cole and the Birth of American Landscape Painting." (Christopher Reeves/Park Record)
Park City is a nature-lover's paradise. It features miles of trails, acres of wetlands, mountains, meadows and wildlife.

These are the reasons the Park City Museum is showing a new exhibit called "Wild Land: Thomas Cole and the Birth of American Landscape Painting."

The display, which will be up through Oct. 20, is about painter Thomas Cole, who is the founder of the Hudson River School, a mid-19th century American art movement that focused on nature landscapes, said Courtney Titus, curator of collections and exhibits for the Park City Museum.

"The school was comprised of a group of landscape artists who all had an aesthetic vision based on romanticism," Titus said during an interview with The Park Record.

"Wild Land: Thomas Cole and the Birth of American Landscape Painting," which is about artist and Hudson River School founder Thomas Cole, is
"Wild Land: Thomas Cole and the Birth of American Landscape Painting," which is about artist and Hudson River School founder Thomas Cole, is comprised of many interactive displays. (Christopher Reeves/Park Record)
"They tended to idealize the environments they painted."

For example, when painting his early works, Cole would erase all traces of humans.

"He wanted to take the scene back to what it was before the Europeans came into the picture," Titus explained.

Cole, who began painting in 1825, was an English immigrant who came to the United States in 1818.

"He had perfect timing when he came on to the scene, which was right about the time when America was all about progress, civilization and taming this wild land," Titus said. " the 1820s, cities had grown and actually began taking over farmlands, which had, in turn, taken over the wilderness and forests."

The public got nostalgic of what had been and longed for scenic views.

"They actually made attempts to get back to nature," Titus said. "In fact, some enterprising individuals developed what is known as 'landscape tourism' where they would offer steamboat routes that took people up the Hudson River."

Grand hotels were built so people could stay for a few days in upstate New York and go enjoy scenic view of nature.

"Thomas Cole took his first trip up the Hudson in 1825 and from that trip, he painted three works," Titus said.

Col. John Trumbull bought one a few months later.

Thomas Cole was the pioneer of American nature paintings and helped spawn the Environmental movement. (Christopher Reeves/Park Record)
Thomas Cole was the pioneer of American nature paintings and helped spawn the Environmental movement. (Christopher Reeves/Park Record)

"The colonel spread the word to his friends about this amazing new painter, which resulted in the other two works being sold," Titus said. "That's how Thomas Cole got his start."

Those paintings revolutionized American landscape art.

"Before this, landscape wasn't necessarily seen in American art," Titus said. "Painters mostly worked on portraits or historic images and the few landscapes that were shown depicted farmlands and similar scenes. There were no untamed views of nature."

The exhibit at the museum doesn't feature any original works, but does include large-scale banners of these paintings and other items in interactive stations, according to Titus.

"One station explains how Cole would venture out into nature to do some sketches while becoming inspired by what he saw around him," she said. "He would often collect specimens, mostly rocks and leaves, to bring back to his studio. The rocks and minerals that are shown in the display here are very similar to what he collected and these are very similar to the items he would pick up."

Another station shows how Cole transported his paint.

"He would fill pigs' bladders with paint and we have some examples of these vessels," Titus said. "People can feel what these felt like.

"We also have journals where people can write their own thoughts about nature and read what others have written," she said.

There is also a studio display that takes a step-by-step approach to how Cole created his works.

"This is where the true magic happened," Titus said. "He would create his art and erase any human element and just paint the scene. In fact, we do have one of Cole's original paintbrushes he used."

In addition, the exhibit features porcelain china and brass napkin rings that have scenes inspired by Cole's work painted on them.

"We also have a gallery wall where visitors can sit in the exhibit and draw or sketch their own nature art that will be put on the wall for everyone to see," said Titus. "We are also encouraging people to send us their drawings, photographs, stories, poems, anything they have produced that was inspired by nature."

The public can send their creations to education@parkcityhistory.org or they can drop them off at the museum.

The aspect of the exhibit that will appeal to Park City and Summit County residents most is that Thomas Cole had conservationist views, Titus said.

"He loved the nature he painted and had concerns about the development and destruction of the land that was happening around him," she said. "He would speak up from time to time and call for preservation."

His friends were poets and writers, who also shared his love of nature. Those individuals included Washington Irving, James Fenimore Cooper and William Cullen Bryant.

"Thomas Cole's paintings and views actually helped develop the conservation movement that helped establish the country's National Parks," Titus said. "It took a while, but the first National Park, Yellowstone, was designated 40 years after his death in 1848, but he was the first person to speak up to that movement."

The Park City Museum was able to schedule the "Wild Land" exhibit through the National Endowment for the Humanities' NEH on the Road program.

"It was originally organized by the Thomas Cole National Historic Site in Catskill, New York, before the Mid-America Arts Alliance adapted and decided to tour it," Titus said. "We're happy we are able to show it here."

The Park City Museum, 328 Main St., will exhibit "Wild Land: Thomas Cole and the Birth of American Landscape Painting" in the Tozer Gallery through Oct. 20. For more information, visit www.parkcityhistory.org.