Thomas Cole, American Poet

In recent years, Director of Education Margarita Sandino and I have tried to make literacy a part of as many of the Dixon’s exhibitions as possible.  This is a Dixon tradition that goes way back to 2009 when we mounted Bold, Cautious, True: Walt Whitman and American Art of the Civil War Era.  In that show, we had a “reading room” with a table full of volumes of Walt Whitman’s poetry and other writings of the Civil War years.    

Those of you who attend my Munch and Learns know that I generally like to bring extra books “for further reading,” as a kind of bibliography for those talks.  I do this because I am one of those museum-goers who always wants to learn more.  I love the catalogues that accompany exhibitions, but I am always interested in finding out even more through additional books and catalogues.  I usually end up just doing an Amazon search once I am able to get to a computer (which is fun in its own right), but I love it even more when someone else does the work for me.   

So when it came time to put together the education space for our current exhibition, Thomas Cole’s The Voyage of Life, Margarita and I thought it would be a great idea to put out some great catalogues from past exhibitions on both Cole and the Hudson River School.  One book we knew we had to include is the compilation, Thomas Cole’s Poetry, edited by Marshall B. Tymn.  I think it’s important for visitors to know that in addition to being the founder of the Hudson River School, which applied a romantic aesthetic to the uniquely American landscape, Cole also advocated for romanticism in his poetry.    

It’s interesting to read the poems Cole penned in 1839 and 1840, the years in which he painted The Voyage of Life.  Many of them speak to the passage of time, the change of the seasons, and to aging, all of which are relevant to the beautiful series of paintings.  One poem in particular, “On Another” from 1840, stuck out to me for its connection to the paintings, but also for its mention of “the leaf,” which is the unofficial symbol of the Dixon.  Enjoy!   

On Another   

Beauty doth fade – its emblem is a leaf
That mingles with the earth in quick decay
But virtue like an exaltation bright
Springeth from each to heaven and never dies –   

Beauty doth fade – as fades the leaf
Its summer day is bright but brief
But virtue like a star on high
Shines on through eternity –   

Thomas Cole, 1840     

From Marshall B. Tymn, ed., Thomas Cole’s Poetry: The Collected Poems of America’s Foremost Painter of the Hudson River School.  York, Penn: Liberty Cap Books, 1972.  

Come read this poem and others, along with a sampling of books on Cole and the Hudson River School, in the Crump Gallery at the Dixon, in conjunction with the exhibition, Thomas Cole’s The Voyage of Life, on view at the Dixon until April 3, 2016.

- Julie Pierotti, Dixon Curator

Posted by Chantal Drake at 9:56 AM
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