The Olana Partnership’s 2016 Frederic Church Award Gala was held on Thursday, October 13 at The Metropolitan Club in New York City.  Olana is celebrating its 50th anniversary (1966-2016) of the saving of America’s most intact and important artist’s home, studio and designed landscape.  The Frederic Church Award, named after Olana’s creator and the preeminent American artist of the mid-19th century, recognizes outstanding accomplishment in American art, culture, and landscape design and environmental conservation. More than 200 people attended the annual black tie fundraiser that raised over $500,000 for the non-profit organization.


This year’s awards honored Washburn and Susan Oberwager, forward-thinking philanthropists within the world of American art, and recognized the cultural legacy of Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller, particularly for his crucial role in saving Olana.


“We honor Governor Rockefeller and the Oberwagers in the context of our celebration of the 50th anniversary of the campaign to save Olana,” said The Olana Partnership President Sean Sawyer. “Tonight’s honorees embody the public-private partnership that saved Olana in 1966 and sustains it today.”


Barbara Haskell, Whitney Museum of American Art Curator, presented the award to the Oberwagers. Chairman of The Olana Partnership Board of Trustees David Redden presented the honor for Governor Rockefeller to his grandsons, Joseph Pierson, Stuart Rockefeller and Steven Rockefeller, Jr.


The evening’s program included a videotaped message from Ambassador Caroline Kennedy, whose mother was instrumental in the campaign to save Olana in 1964-1966. “On this 50th anniversary we honor the work and foresight of those who saved Olana for future generations,” said Ambassador Kennedy. “I’m proud to say that this effort included my mother Jacqueline Kennedy. She loved Olana and the Hudson River Valley and advocated for the creation of Olana State Historic Site. The work of New York State Parks and The Olana Partnership allows us all to better appreciate a place where art and environmental awareness intersect.”


Washburn and Susan Oberwager were honored as visionaries for Olana’s future. Washburn joined The Olana Partnership Board in 2000. He served for a decade, the last three years as Chairman, and he and Susan became advocates for an expansive vision for Olana as a national center for American art and landscape. As a businessman and American art collector, Burn understands that investment and long-term planning are fundamental to success, and he and Susan’s creation of the endowment for the President’s position which began in 2008 ensures that The Olana Partnership will continue to have strong leadership to realize the future they envision for Olana.


The 2016 Frederic Church Award Gala recognized Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller’s cultural legacy as champion of the arts and education and, particularly, his crucial role in saving Olana. As governor for 15 years he changed the face of New York State through substantial expansion of the SUNY system and the creation of the New York State Council on the Arts.  Under his leadership, Olana became a New York State Historic Site.


On the brink of destruction 50 years ago, Olana thrives today as a remarkable artistic composition of art, architecture and landscape. Proceeds from the 2016 Gala enable The Olana Partnership to further realize its vision for Olana as the most renowned artist’s home and studio in the world vibrant with the activity of students, visitors, artists, and scholars. In 2015, more than 170,000 visited Olana.


Notable attendees included: David Redden (Olana Chairman of the Board), Jeanette Redden, Stuart Rockefeller, Julia Rockefeller, Steven Rockefeller, Jr., Kimberly Rockefeller, Steven C. Rockefeller, Joseph Pierson, Anne Pierson, Mary Louise Pierson, Barbara Haskell (Curator, Whitney Museum of American Art), Phoebe Gubelmann, Tantivy Gubelmann, Kate Gubelmann, Lucy Rockefeller Waletzky,  Jim Hamilton, Kate Morris, Hans Morris, Chesley Welch, Lolita Roosevelt, Simon Roosevelt, Marife Hernandez, Joel Bell, Frederick Beinecke, Candace Beinecke, Stuart Thompson, Elizabeth Graziolo, Joe Baker, Dana Creel, Larry Creel, Sally Minard, Theodora Simons, Albert Simons, Sean Sawyer (Washburn and Susan Oberwager President, The Olana Partnership), Mark Prezorski (Landscape Curator, The Olana Partnership)




When Frederic Church died in 1900, Olana was willed to his youngest son Louis Palmer Church. The following year Louis married Sarah Baker Good (known as “Sally”) and the two of them lived together at Olana.  After Louis’s death in 1943, Sally stayed on at Olana until her death in 1964 at the age of 96.  She was the last Church family member to inhabit the estate, and she willed the property to her nephew, Charles Lark.   In the mid-1960s, the Hudson River School had not yet seen the revival of its popularity, and Olana was seen as a curious remnant of the Victorian era.  Lark planned to sell the land and auction off the contents of the house, including all of Frederic Church’s art.  The art historian David Huntington had for some years been researching Frederic Church’s art and had been visiting Olana. He learned of Mrs. Church’s death, and after ensuring that her nephew would give him a little time, began to contact individuals who might be able to assist.  Olana Preservation, Inc. was formed and began the two-year task of raising funds with which to purchase the property and contents of the house.

At the end of the two-year period, Olana Preservation, Inc. had raised over half the funds necessary to purchase the property, but was unable to raise the full amount.  Lark made arrangements to have the contents of the mansion put up for auction, and to sell the property to a developer. At that moment, in September of 1965, Life Magazine ran a story on Olana, with the title “Must this Mansion be Destroyed?” This galvanized local and national attention. By June, 1966 the New York State legislature under Governor Nelson Rockefeller had passed a bill authorizing the purchase of Olana, with Olana Preservation contributing the funds it had already raised. Olana opened as a New York State Historic Site in June, 1967.

Olana Preservation, Inc. disbanded, but several of its key members rejoined to start the non-profit Friends of Olana in 1971, which changed its name to The Olana Partnership in 2000. The Olana Partnership continues to play an integral part in supporting New York State Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation’s efforts at Olana.

Read more about David Huntington’s efforts in “The Campaign to Save Olana,” edited by Dorothy Heyl, which can be purchased in The Olana Mueseum Store.

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