A VERY FINE EYE:

A CONVERSATION WITH
FREDERIC CHURCH


A ONE-MAN SHOW

by

DANIEL REGION


Thomas Cole once said to me, “If the imagination is shackled and nothing is described but what we see, seldom will anything truly great be produced either in
painting or poetry.”

It is certainly the imagination, which can make the highest use of the facts, by arranging them so as to produce the strongest impression of the truth. The loftier the subject, the greater the need for imagination. Grasp nature with one hand and do what you like with the other. Good night.

~ Frederic Church


A VERY FINE EYE: A CONVERSATION WITH FREDERIC CHURCH

Interior of Olana, the home of Frederic Church. The audience is seated in the Court Hall facing the stage area (stair landing). A staircase rises to a landing then continues, out of sight to the second floor. There is a large cathedral window at the landing which serves as a beautiful backdrop to the setting. It consists of large double panes of glass with paper, cut into a mosaic pattern, pressed in between. The window is golden yellow, the color of late afternoon sunlight. Mr. Church descends the stairs and as he comes into view on the landing he stops and gazes out the window. He is in his early sixties. The signs of Rheumatism are already visible in his hands and his movement making him appear much older. He sports his enormous mustache and mutton chops. He carries a leather bound folder. After a long moment of studying the landscape effects out the window, he turns to continue down the stairs and is startled at the sight of the audience. When he speaks he speaks directly to the audience as if they were guests at his home.


CHURCH
Oh, my! I was told there were guests waiting to see me downstairs, but I had no idea you would be so many. I normally receive visitors in the East Parlor. How we could fit a gathering this size in the East Parlor is entirely beyond me. The Court Hall will serve nicely. I will join you.

He has begun his descent of the stairs. His arthritic affliction is apparent; his movements are difficult and deliberate. He pauses briefly to catch his breath.

CHURCH
I am a victim of rheumatism. It makes my knees rather stiff. Capital idea putting joints midway in the legs. I could never have appreciated the importance of it fully if I had not been stiffened there. The perfect stairway to ascend 13 feet requires a space equivalent in length to 40 feet not including the landing at the top or bottom. The Romans were the best stair builders. I measured the most perfect stairs in Rome, the Piazza di Spagna, five and one half
inch riser and a nineteen inch tread. These stairs measure fifteen and one half inch tread and six inch rise. The importance of an easy stairway in a house cannot be over rated.

When he has reaches the stage area he investigates the set. There is a table containing a small Mexican pottery vase. Rather than flowers, a large assortment of brushes protrude from it's mouth. There are two Persian looking bottles possibly containing turpentine and linseed oil. There is also a chair with arms. A pitcher of water and a glass sit on a small table next to the chair. Prominently displayed on the table is a photograph in an oval frame, and a small leather bound book, a diary.

CHURCH
I assume you know who I am or you would not be here, but one should never assume. Therefore, I am Mr. Church and I spell my name, Frederic, without a "K". You are a very nice looking group of guests. In fact as nice a looking group as I can recall seeing in quite some time. Allow me the courtesy of welcoming you to my home, Olana. Mahaba, as it says in Arabic above the door, welcome. I once wrote to my dear friend Erastus Palmer, " About an hour this side of Albany is the center of the world. I own it."

Pause.

CHURCH
Can you imagine the nudge Galileo gave
Copernicus when he heard that!


He ponders a moment.

CHURCH
The center of the world. Did you think it would look
such as this? I remain in awe of God's work in nature.


He pauses a moment, looking toward the southern sky. After a moment he refers to the folder in his hand.


CHURCH
Charles Dudly Warner has been digging through my old letters as he is preparing some sort of biography. He said I might find these of use during our conversation. By the way if you have any old letters from me lying around I feel quite certain Warner would like to see them. Feel free to drop them by at any time.

He opens and places the folder on the table. He finds one of special interest and takes it with him as he sits. He pulls his pocket watch from his vest pocket and checks the time.


CHURCH
I was born May 4, 1826 in Hartford, Connecticut. I am a landscape painter. During dinner one evening I happened to make the mistake of referring to myself as a landscape artist, wherein a visitor friend of Erastus Palmer arose from my table exclaiming, "You made all this here money plantin' trees?" No. Not exactly. No. But I was extremely fortunate in my life. God blessed me with three gifts, the visual understanding of light, the ability to retain detail indefinitely and the privilege to have studied with Thomas Cole.

He reads the letter.

CHURCH

"May 1844, Dear Mr. Cole. My highest ambition lies in excelling in the art. I pursue it not as a source of gain or merely as amusement. I am sensible of the unusual advantage I enjoy in being allowed to look to you, Sir, as an instructor. Yours very respectfully, Frederic Church."

I studied with Thomas Cole in Catskill, directly across the river, and sketched from this very hill, below where the house now stands, when I was19 or 20. My Father reluctantly agreed to my studies with Thomas Cole paying him $600.00 for two years instruction. What a small commodity money is when compared to the teachings and friendship of the greatest landscape painter who ever lived. I have always believed that the only proof that anything can be done is in the doing of it. Upon completion of my studies with Thomas Cole I moved to New York, and painted.


Note: All material contained on this web site is ©Copyright Daniel Region 2003 and may not be used or reprinted in any form without the express permission of Mr. Region.

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