The Hudson River Valley Institute

Frederic Church’s “Niagara”


Niagara, 1857, oil on canvas, 40 x 90 inches

Fredric Edwin Church’s major influence on the world was not his ability as an innovative painter or a teacher, instead, his reputation is derived from his renditions of well-known sites and exotic locations. In particular, Church followed the process that other 19th century artists followed, using graphite drawings and oil sketches to complete the final painting. The marker that set Church apart from these other artists, however, was his use of dramatic lighting and intriguing details that played into his brilliant marketing strategies when selling his work.[1]

Niagara, painted in 1857, represents this process Church refined that made both his paintings and his personal life successful. The painting reveals the falls from the Canadian shores and was an attempt to capture what many believed to be a natural setting superior to any in Europe.[2] The dimensions of the painting contribute to its appeal, in that its width is twice as wide as its height, allowing his vast panoramic details to show through. The dimensions of the falls itself gives the onlooker a unique view. Church drops the nearest side of the falls down to allow the viewer a clear view of the waterfall on the other side. If you look deeper into the painting the immense detail that church uses is seen in every small wave. This attention to detail gave Church the reputation as the first to render the falls with such detail, naturalism, on such a grand scale.[3] Also contributing to the painting is the horizontal landscape in the background. This gives the viewer the effect of the sheer scale of the falls itself, playing into the natural wonder that Niagara Falls was at the time.

Niagara Falls, although in Canada, represented to many at the time the strength and power of the New World. The citizens of the United States considered the falls better than anything in Europe and felt empowered by Churches grandiose panorama painting of the falls. When the painting was completed in 1857, Church decided to exhibit his work at a one-painting show at the New York commercial art gallery of Williams, Steven, and Williams.[4] The first two weeks of its exhibition brought more than 100,000 visitors who were willing to spend the 25 cent charge and see what became an ‘American Image’.[5]

After successful exhibitions across New York, Church would take the painting to various cities along the east coast, as well as Paris and London. Church the businessman contribute to the success of the painting by generating additional revenue through the sale of chromolithographs of the painting. The popularity of Niagara made Church a wealthy man as well as a famous American painter. The unique abilities of Fredric Edwin Church set him apart from other artists, not just in art but also in life. While many artists of the day struggled to find success during their lives, Church established a reputation and a demand for his work that ensured a comfortable life.

The painting is currently located in the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C, particularly in the Corcoran Collection section of the museum.

  • Thomas Williams, Marist ’17


Doherty, M. Stephen. Oil Painting: Fredric Edwin Church. Artist Daily. February 28, 2017.

Niagra (1857). National Gallery of Art, February 28, 2017.

Zygmont, Brian. Church, Niagara and Heart of the Andes.  Khan Academy. February 28, 2017.


[1] M. Stephen Doherty, “Oil Painting: Fredric Edwin Church,” Artist Daily, February 28, 2017,

[2]  “Niagara (1857),” National Gallery of Art, February 28, 2017,

[3]  “Niagara (1857),” National Gallery of Art, February 28, 2017,

[4] Bryan Zygmont, “Church, Niagara and Heart of the Andes,” Khan Academy, February 28, 2017,

[5] Ibid.

Church’s painting “Cotopaxi,” and the Civil War


Frederic Edwin Church, Cotopaxi, Oil on Canvas, 48 x 85 inches, 1862


Hudson Valley Films Debuting in 2017: A Preview


From the movie moment that gave the film “cliffhanger” its name—the fictional Pauline’s brush with death on the New Jersey Palisades in the 1914 silent film The Perils of Pauline—to today, the area surrounding the Hudson River has been a popular spot for film production.  The Hudson Valley Film Commission’s website contains a multitude of behind-the-scenes photos from films shot primarily or partly in the Hudson River Valley, from War of the Worlds to The Night Listener.  This year, three Hudson Valley-based projects, including two that have already been released nationally, will give the Valley some recognition in the cinematic world.


Growing Up Smith is the story of a family from India making a new start in the 1979 United States, focusing especially on the family’s ten-year-old son, Smith.  The screenwriter, Paul Quinn, spent much of his life in the Hudson Valley, and though the film takes place in the Midwest, much of it was shot in Kingston.  Jason Lee, two-time Golden Globe nominee for My Name is Earl (and also Syndrome in The Incredibles, which I find far more notable), plays Smith’s neighbor.  The film won Best Feature Narrative Audience Award at the 2015 Woodstock Film Fest.



Stray Bullets is a thriller, the feature-film debut of its sixteen-year-old director, Jack Fessenden.  The film was shot over a period of sixteen days in July 2015, in several Hudson River Valley towns, including Kingston, Woodstock, and Marbletown.  Stray Bullets is the story of two teens who come across a trio of criminals in an abandoned mobile home.  Both Jack and his father, actor/director Larry Fessenden, have roles in the film.


THE AWAKENING is an independent film that was shot primarily in Liberty, in Sullivan County.  It’s a supernatural thriller about a soldier whose son develops preternatural powers and mystically uncovers information about a missing resident of the town.  It wrapped up filming at the end of 2016, and its producer, Michael Goodin, had nothing but good things to say about the film’s Hudson Valley shooting location, calling Sullivan “the most film-friendly county I’ve seen.”  The film stars Tammy Blanchard, a Golden Globe nominee who had roles in Moneyball and Into the Woods.


Growing Up Smith and Stray Bullets were both released nationally in February: the former on the 3rd and the latter on the 10thThe Awakening is scheduled for release at the end of 2017.

  • Meghan Jones, Marist ’17

*You can read about past movies shot in the Hudson River Valley here.

Meet the Intern: Thomas Williams

thomas_williams            Hi, my name is Thomas Williams and I am currently a senior at Marist College. I was born and raised in Suffolk County on Long Island where I attended Sachem East High school. I have two siblings, Brian and Katie, as well as two chubby beagles, Daisy and Heidi. My parents Carol and Tom Williams keep all of us in line and make sure that we are on the right path.  My early years introduced me to my passion for history which I continued after high school graduation. At Marist, I decided to combine my desire to learn History with that of Economics by majoring in both. This has proven to be both challenging and rewarding over my 4 years. In particular I was inducted into the Phi Alpha Theta history honors society for my work. At the same time, I may never get those sleepless nights back.

As a college student, I have been able to balance the difficulty of maintaining good grades as well as a life outside of the classroom. Many of the hobbies that I have are related to my early years during high school. As a kid, during the summer, I participated in organized sports and that passion has never left me. I currently play in both a men’s lacrosse and baseball league to stay active. When the weather gets cold, I go straight to the mountains for some snowboarding, a tradition my father has continued throughout my life. At Marist, intramural sports dominate part of my life, as I am part of both the reigning softball and Futsal champions. Other than sports, I have a strong passion for video games and the aspect of competition that comes with it. Even at the tender age of 22 I still find time to game with my high school buddies. When I am looking to relax I usually choose to watch a history documentary, which either puts me to sleep or draws me in. I find at times that I am enamored by the events of our past being played out through film.

As a college student who is going to be graduating I realize the difficulty in trying to find a job or a career right away. While the journey will be tough I no longer worry about what the future holds for me. As a major in history and economics, I see a unique situation where I can apply the tools I have gained from both majors to my own benefit. While many people are bound by the decisions they made freshmen year I feel I have the freedom to choose my path. I can follow in my father’s footsteps as a financial advisor and implement the knowledge I have of economics and the business world. Or I could choose a pathway towards the field of History, whether it be a job as a public historian or something else. My ultimate goal is to find a career path that enables me to live my life.

Meet the Intern: Meghan Jones


Meghan during her semester in Australia

My name is Meghan Jones, and I am a senior at Marist College.  This is my first semester with the Hudson River Valley Institute, and I am writing a regional history forum on Sunnyside, the home of Washington Irving.  I look forward to exploring the literary history of the Hudson Valley and the way literature inspired Irving’s vision of Sunnyside.

I hail from Longmeadow, Massachusetts, and I graduated from Longmeadow High School in 2013.  At Marist, I am majoring in English with a concentration in Writing and minoring in Creative Writing and Cinema Studies.  I am a member of the Honors Program, the Deans’ Circle, and Sigma Tau Delta, the English Honor Society.  I write and copy edit for The Circle, the on-campus newspaper, and participate in Dance Ensemble.  I am also an active member of the Marist College Singers; in fact, I served as Publicity Chairperson on the Executive Board my junior year before giving up the position to study abroad.  I spent fall of 2016 at Deakin University in Melbourne, Australia, where I studied editing, young adult literature, and Australian film.  During my semester abroad, I almost stepped on a snake, ate a spicy Fijian pepper thinking it was a pea pod, and made an exorbitant amount of Finding Nemo references, among other things.

Since December 2016, I have been a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.  After graduating from Marist, I hope to pursue a career in children’s or young adult publishing.  For my senior thesis project with the Marist Honors Program, I produced a draft of an original picture book, called The Runaway Pumpkin, which I hope to publish one day (ideally in the near future!).  I also love writing about books, music, TV, etc.  I’m a big superhero fan, and I write weekly reactions to DC’s Legends of Tomorrow on my blog, Avengers of Tomorrow?  While blogging, doing schoolwork, or doing pretty much anything, I’m most likely listening (and singing along) to Bastille, Adele, or the criminally unknown indie quartet Darlingside.

The Consummation of Empire, by Thomas Cole



Image from The painting is in the collection of The New-York Historical Society.

Date: 1835-1836;

Medium: oil on canvas;

Dimensions: 51.25in by 76in

By the late 1820s, Thomas Cole had begun to develop his reputation as a successful painter of Hudson River Valley landscapes. However, by 1827 he had conceived the idea of developing a series of paintings that would depict the rise and fall of a civilization.  In 1833, Cole secured a commission from New York merchant Luman Reed to paint a cycle of five paintings for an art gallery at his home.  This allowed him to paint The Course of Empire, which presents a cyclical view of history in which a civilization appears, matures and then collapses.  The five paintings create a vivid narrative that illustrates the ever changing relationship between man and nature. The transformation of the natural landscape is a key element to story that Thomas Cole is trying to make.  Cole intended The Consummation of Empire to be the visual climax of the series, which is why he used a larger canvas and spent a considerable amount of time on its composition.  Cole wanted to illustrate a great city at the height of its prosperity.  While Cole was able to successfully create this affluent image, he intended it to be a warning instead of an aspiration.  His initial name for this painting was Luxury because he wanted to show the specific point in a society when “glory”, turned into “greed”, “vice” and “corruption”.  It is also important to note that Cole’s trip to Europe, between 1829 and 1832, greatly influenced this painting, which can be seen in the architectural structure of the buildings.  In the painting, the city is succumbing to the militaristic rule of an emperor-like figure, who is being carried across the bridge on a beautiful day.  Cole projects the image of the common man being pressed into the service of glorifying the ruler. Even nature has been tamed to accommodate him.  This can be seen with the elephant that tows his chariot. The flowers and potted plants that decorate his domain indicate man’s control over nature.  Additionally, the large fountain represents humanity’s manipulation and diminishment of natural elements.  Cole places a statue of Minerva in the background to create the metaphor that wisdom is being ignored.  Additionally, there is a philosopher on the right side of the painting, on the balcony, that is observing the scene with disapproval.  Cole’s signature is engraved on the steps next to the philosopher indicating that he feels the same way as the man.  Many scholars believe that the red-cloaked emperor is a metaphor for Andrew Jackson which would suggest that Cole is sending his audience a cautionary message; which is to be weary of Jackson’s administration.

Vinny Donatacci, Marist ’18


“Explore Thomas Cole.” Explore Thomas Cole | Interactive Tour | The Course of Empire. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Feb. 2017.

“Museum Collections.” New-York Historical Society | The Course of Empire: The Consummation of Empire. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Feb. 2017.

Meet the Intern: Vinny Donatacci

vinny_donatacciMy name is Vinny Donatacci and I am a junior at Marist College.  This is my first time interning at the Hudson River Valley Institute.  I was born and raised in Summit, New Jersey.  In 2014, I graduated from Saint Peter’s Preparatory High School in Jersey City, New Jersey. I am a double major studying History and Finance.  History has always been one of my favorite subjects in school and I am excited to learn more about the Hudson River Valley. I am on the Marist College Club Volleyball Team and was the Community Service Manager for the Business Club on campus.  This past summer, I was fortunate enough to be able to study abroad in Italy for six weeks, which was a really amazing and eye-opening experience.  My favorite place was definitely the beaches in Cinque Terre.  I am a member of the Upsilon-Epsilon chapter of the Kappa Sigma Fraternity which was nationally chartered on campus last semester. I also work as a Student Assistant at the Marist College School of Management office and as an Intramural Referee.

In my free time, I love listening to music.  My favorite genre is classic rock and some of my favorite bands are the Rolling Stones, The Police, The Beatles and AC/DC.  I am also passionate about movies and cinema.  Some of my favorite films consist of Cinderella Man, The Godfather, History of the World Part I, and Major League.  I love watching stand-up comedians like Bill Burr, Louis C.K., Kevin Hart, Lewis Black and Tom Segura.  Outside of academia, I spend a lot of time focusing on sports and physical fitness. In high school, I was on the Baseball team and ran Cross Country.   In the future, I hope to run a marathon and maybe, by some miracle, finish an Iron Man Triathlon. I love to watch baseball and will always be a diehard Yankees fan. (I’m very happy that A-Rod is gone)

After graduating college, one of my main goals for the future is to pass the CFA exam to become a Chartered Financial Analyst. I also want to pursue a Master’s Degree in African History if finances and time will allow me to.   I want to start my career working in Investment Banking and eventually become the Chief Financial Officer of a large corporation.  After working in the business world, I would like to teach history and business classes at both the high school and college level.  In high school, some of my teachers really inspired me and made me want to be the best version of myself.  I hope that one day I can inspire students in the same way that I was inspired.  I am also interested in owning my own business at some point in my life.  I have no idea what that would be, but it would be really cool if I could be my own boss.  While in pursuit of my ambitious career goals, I would also like to travel to Europe, Africa and Australia.

Hours & Info

Mon-Fri:9am - 5pm