Wild Land takes visitors "into the woods" and through Cole’s studio, revealing the ways in which he, and other artists of his time, pioneered cultural conversations that shaped our national landscape—intellectually, physically, and visually. Thomas Cole was not only an iconic 19th-century artist but a conservational visionary whose ideas on the natural world heralded the sense of American identity that we know today.
In November 1825, three large oil paintings by a relatively unknown artist appeared in a New York City gallery window. The three works, featuring dramatic landscapes from locations in upstate New York, immediately attracted critical acclaim. “This youth has done at once, and without instruction, what I can not do after fifty years of practice,” exclaimed one prominent American artist.
The creator of those three works was a young English immigrant named Thomas Cole. Over the course of the next two decades, Cole revolutionized the field of American landscape painting. He gave rise to a style of painting that later become known as the Hudson River School. In the process, the young self-taught artist helped Americans rethink their relationship with the natural world around them. He revealed connections between that landscape and America’s national identity.
Wild Land explores the story of Thomas Cole’s role as an artistic and cultural pioneer who helped give rise to the emerging concept of the American nation. How did this young Englishman see something in the American wilderness that many Americans themselves did not yet see?
Using a combination of large-scale banner graphics, immersive environments, media features, and other interactive strategies, Wild Land takes audiences on a journey with Cole through the story of his creative process. From an itinerant portrait artist to the founder of the Hudson River
School, how did this landscape artist transform sketches from nature into a new vision of the wilderness? Visitors will examine how the meaning of nature has changed over time into a source for creative and intellectual inspiration. And just as Thomas Cole did, visitors will explore the concept of preservation and how societies come to value and live in balance with natural resources. In concluding the exhibit, visitors are left to contemplate whether Cole’s premature death may have signified a beginning of an American artistic legacy and an identity as a nation inextricably tied to nature.