An extra twist of the eccentric

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WE OFTEN LEARN about ourselves by looking at how others have put their lives together.

It’s the stuff of basic cable and great literature. We can watch it, read about it or sometimes actually visit a place to get that aha moment that helps us wake up and tone up. Artists’ homes seem to have an extra twist of the eccentric that makes them especially interesting. Within a few hours of here are several such places. Many are open during these winter months.

Olana, near Hudson, NY, is one of the crown jewels of the region. A visit is an immersion in nature, art and history. Beyond the primal, exhilarating hilltop experience of the Hudson River, there are 250-acres of parkland and the rich, obsessively appointed house built and furnished in the 1870s and lived in by the family ‘til the 1960s. It was the home of successful, prolific landscape painter Frederick Church, whose massive 10-foot work, the Heart of the Andes, hangs in the Met. He was part of that Hudson River School and at the center of it, becoming a major presence and foothold for Americans in art.

The docent on my recent visit was part historian, part spell-caster, creating the feeling that the Church family was just in the next room. The original rooms are packed with furniture and mementoes of world travel highlighting that fine edge between tourism, inspiration and cultural appropriation.

Olana is also important as a complex success story of rescuing and developing a property on the edge of becoming just another piece of real estate. Olana is a core member of the Historic Artists’ Homes and Studios, a national organization of more than 30 locations (; It helps local groups secure public awareness and access to the homes of their noted hometown artists. The Thomas Cole House in Catskill is on that list. The Edward Hopper House in Nyack, the Henry Varnum Poor House in New City and the Kurt Seligmann House in Sugar Loaf are in the process of developing a more secure and public presence. A visit to Olana is inspiring encouragement. DANIEL MACK

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