Thomas Cole Site Announces Essay Contest for Publication

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Thomas Cole Site Announces Essay Contest for Publication

Judges Include Leading Scholars & Curators and Land Conservationists

We are excited to announce that the Thomas Cole National Historic Site is now accepting submissions for the first Essay on American Scenery Essay Contest. Many are familiar with Thomas Cole’s majestic landscape paintings, but the artist was also a prolific writer and published author. We invite audiences to draw inspiration from Cole’s Essay on American Scenery, 1836, and share their own views on how the American landscape is changing today.

Frederic Edwin Church (1826–1900), Portrait of Thomas Cole, c. 1845, pencil on paper, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., John Wilmerding Collection

This is an open call to writers of all ages and backgrounds and an opportunity to become a published author or add to your oeuvre. Submissions will be judged by an expert panel consisting of leading scholars & curators and land conservationists. The panel includes J. Jeffrey Anzevino, Land Use Advocacy Director, Scenic Hudson; W. Douglas McCombs, Chief Curator, Albany Institute of History and Art; Nancy Siegel, Professor of Art History, Towson University; and Allan Wallach, Ralph H. Wark Professor of Art and Art History and Professor of American Studies Emeritus, Professorial Lecturer in Art History, George Washington University. Submissions are due by Saturday, February 24 and the winning entries will be announced on Monday, March 26 and will be published by The Thomas Cole National Historic Site.

Guidelines and Background:
Thomas Cole (1801-1848) was an English-born painter who founded America’s first major art movement, the Hudson River School —a group of artists whose paintings paid homage to American wilderness even as it was being dramatically altered by industrialization. Cole wrote about both his appreciation of but also his worry for the American landscape in an essay called Essay on American Scenery, published in American Monthly Magazine 1 in January 1836. At a time when American natural scenery was commonly thought of as inferior to the beauty of European landscapes, Cole argued that the wilds of America were just as, if not more, beautiful than any other place in the world. Moreover, in the face of mounting industrialization, he pleaded readers to value and preserve its quickly disappearing wilderness.

Thomas Cole, View from Mount Holyoke, Northampton, Massachusetts, After A Thunderstorm (The Oxbow), 1836, oil on canvas, 51 ½ x 76 in. Metropolitan Museum of Art. Gift of Mrs. Russell Sage, 1908, 8.228.

At the time of his writing, the American landscape was changing rapidly. The advent of railroads, factories, mills, and steamships brought dramatic change to Catskill, New York, where Cole made his home, as well as to much of the Hudson River Valley and later to the United States as a whole. As he observed his beloved town of Catskill and its surrounding environs transformed by industry, Cole wrote, “I cannot but express my sorrow that the beauty of such landscapes is quickly passing away… another generation will behold spots now rife with beauty desecrated by what is called ‘improvement.’”

Today, the American landscape, both physical and cultural, is changing too. We invite writers to reflect on these changes in our ‘Essay on American Scenery’ Contest. Writers may respond, as Cole did, to a changing climate or physical landscape, the changing social and political landscape, or, simply, to changes to their hometowns, neighborhood, block, a single building or natural feature. Essay on American Scenery was a piece of persuasive nonfiction writing, but Thomas Cole, in addition to being an essayist, produced poetry, fiction, and creative work of all kinds in his lifetime. In that spirit, we welcome nonfiction writing, fiction, and poetry in response to this prompt. Standout entries will be selected by a group of judges made up of writers, art historians, poets, and staff from the Thomas Cole National Historic Site. Best submissions will be published on our website and the top three essays will be printed in a limited-edition publication.

The prompt
How is the American landscape changing? How do you feel about it? Is there something you see, do, or experience now that you hope will be around for future generations?

To read Thomas Cole’s Essay on American Scenery visit our website.


• Essays should be between 1,500-5,000 words. Exceptions to word minimum will be made for poetry.
• Submissions may be nonfiction, fiction, or poetry. While the prompt can be interpreted broadly, essays must address in some way a change to the American landscape (environmental, physical, societal, cultural) and how the author feels about it.
• Eligibility: Open to all.

Questions? Call Madeline Conley at 518.943.7465 xt 108

Email submissions to:
Or mail to:
Madeline Conley
c/o Thomas Cole National Historic Site
218 Spring Street
Catskill, NY  12414

About the Thomas Cole National Historic Site
Thomas Cole National Historic Site preserves and interprets the home and studios of Thomas Cole, the founder of the Hudson River School of painting, the nation’s first major art movement.  Located on 6 acres in the Hudson Valley, the site includes the 1815 Main House, 1839 Old Studio, the newly reconstructed 1846 New Studio, and several other buildings. It is a National Historic Landmark and an affiliated area of the National Park System. Following a restoration of the Main House, the Cole Site opened to the public in 2001. The site’s activities include guided tours, exhibitions, printed publications, extensive online programs, activities for school groups, free community events, lectures, and innovative public programs such as the Hudson River School Art Trail—a map and website that enables visitors to see the nearby views that Cole painted. Each year, the Cole Site organizes a loan exhibition of Hudson River School paintings, providing a first-hand experience with the art movement that Cole founded. The goal of all programs at the Cole Site is to enable visitors to find meaning and inspiration in Thomas Cole’s life and work. The themes that Cole explored in his art and writings—such as landscape preservation and our conception of nature as a restorative power—are both historic and timely, providing the opportunity to connect to audiences with insights that are highly relevant to their own lives.

Visit the Thomas Cole National Historic Site
The hours for Thomas Cole’s home, studios, special exhibitions, and grounds vary by month. For details visit: and follow us on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

Educational programs supported by New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the New York State Legislature.

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