Wild Land, Thomas Cole, and the Birth of American Landscape Painting

“Nature has spread for us a rich and delightful banquet. Shall we turn from it?” – Thomas Cole

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.

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Wild Land is touring September 2011 through August 2016. It is fully booked.


  • September 1–October 20, 2011 Brazos Valley Museum of Natural History
    Bryan, TX
  • November 10, 2011–January 7, 2012 Stedman Art Gallery, Rutgers University
    Camden, NJ
  • January 28–March 16, 2012 Fellows Riverside Garden
    Youngstown, OH
  • April 6–May 25, 2012 Gorman Conservation Discovery Center
    Kansas City, MO
  • June 16–August 11, 2012 Thorne-Sagendorph Art Gallery
    Keene, NH
  • September 1–October 20, 2012 Regina A. Quick Center for the Arts
    St. Bonaventure, NY
  • November 10, 2012–January 7, 2013 Sonoma County Museum
    Santa Rosa, CA
  • January 28–March 16, 2013 Brigham City Museum
    Brigham City, UT
  • April 6–May 25, 2013 Arnot Art Museum
    Elmira, NY
  • June 16–August 11, 2013 Ravalli County Museum
    Hamilton, MT
  • September 1–October 20, 2013 Decatur Public Library
    Decatur, IL
  • November 10, 2013–January 7, 2014 Clymer Gallery
    Ellensburg, WA
  • January 28–March 16, 2014 Refurbishment
    Kansas City, MO
  • April 6–May 25, 2014 Rolling Hills Consolidated Library
    St. Joseph, MO
  • June 16–October 20, 2014 Park City Museum
    Park City, UT
  • November 10, 2014–January 7, 2015 West Baton Rouge Museum
    Port Allen, LA
  • January 28–March 16, 2015 Provo City Library at Academy Square
    Provo, UT
  • April 6–May 25, 2015 Brown County Historical Society
    Hiawatha, KS
  • June 16–August 11, 2015 The Parthenon
    Nashville, TN
  • September 1–October 20, 2015 Wayland Baptist University
    Plainview, TX
  • November 10, 2015–January 7, 2016 Texarkana Regional Arts and Humanities Council, Inc.
    Texarkana, TX
  • January 28–March 16, 2016 California State University, Dominguez Hills
    Carson, CA
  • April 6–May 25, 2016 Ypsilanti District Library
    Ypsilanti, MI
  • June 16–August 11, 2016 St. George Art Museum
    St. George, UT

Exhibition Details & Specifications

  • Curated By

    Elizabeth Jacks, Executive Director, Thomas Cole National Historic Site, with Essayist: Dr. Kevin J. Avery, Department of American Paintings, Metropolitan Museum of Art

  • Organized By

    The Thomas Cole National Historic Site / Cedar Grove, Catskill, New York.
  • Content

    This exhibition includes 10 freestanding display units, with one flashvideo monitor and in-gallery web components. These include a partial reproduction of painting equipment from Thomas Cole’s old studio. Objects in the exhibition include nineteenth-century painting materials and natural history specimens, early American literature and related nineteenth-century books by authors such as James Fenimore Cooper, Washington Irving, and William Cullen Bryant, other early philosophical and art treatises, materials related to the term Hudson River School, nineteenth-century prints and “scenic” publications (including works by Thomas Cole), transportation artifacts, early tourism materials and items related to the Catskills and the Catskill Mountain House, and artifacts tracing the origins of the American conservation movement. Please note: this is a Limited Security exhibition. While it includes prints and early books featuring Cole works, it does not include original paintings and sketches. These images appear as large-scale banner reproductions.

  • Duration

    7 Weeks

  • Rental Fee


  • Support

  • Shipping:

    The maximum out of pocket shipping expense is $1,000. Exhibitor will coordinate with the M-AAA registrar for all outgoing transportation arrangements.

  • Security


  • Square Feet


  • Number of Crates/Total Weight

    11 crates/3365 pounds

  • Insurance

    The exhibition is fully insured by M-AAA at no additional expense to you, both while installed and during transit.