October 21, 2022

11 Historic Artists' Homes & Studios to Enjoy the Changing Seasons

Artists have always drawn inspiration from the changing of the seasons, and fall is often the perfect time to visit historic artists’ homes and studios to see how the shifting landscapes provided creative influence for their works.

However, as colder temperatures gain traction and this year's leaf peeping season draws to a close, use these sites as inspiration to plan your travels for next year.

photo by: Sayward Schoonmaker

Red, orange, and green trees are in abundance at Stone Quarry Art Park in the fall.

Upstate New York is renowned for its beautiful fall foliage. A perfect place to explore the leaves changing is in the Stone Quarry Art Park (SQAP) in Cazenovia, New York. The art park is home to the Hilltop House and Studio, part of the Historic Artists' Homes and Studios program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The house was built by artist Dorothy Riester, a sculptor and mentor for artists.

Be inspired as you hike the four-mile trails throughout the SQAP. The trails are a mixture of earth, gravel, and mowed grass. The open fields and meadows invite wandering. As you meander, contemplate how the changing seasons impact the sculptures and art installations you discover.

“The natural spaces in the Art Park, with the changing light and seasons, are an artistic opportunity.”

Dorothy Riester
Olana surrounded by fall trees.

photo by: Peter Aaron

Olana surrounded by resplendent fall trees.

Olana State Historic Site in Hudson, New York, was the home, studio, and greatest masterwork of 19th century artist Frederic Edwin Church. The 250-acre artist-designed landscape features a 10-acre lake, native meadows and woodlands, miles of carriage roads, and a Persian-inspired house at its summit, with unrivaled views of the Hudson River and Catskill Mountains. Frederic Church designed Olana as a holistic environment integrating his advanced ideas about art, architecture, landscape design, and environmental conservation. In 1887, he wrote, “I am busy landscape architecturing.” Every room was designed to relate to the landscape and changing light, and Church prioritized creating a visionary landscape with breathtaking views.

“When the autumn fires light up the landscape you will see Nature’s palette set with her most precious and vivid colors.”

Frederic E. Church to fellow Hudson River School painter, Jervis McEntee, autumn 1874

Every October, hundreds descend to the Hudson Valley to enjoy the “autumn fires.” Today, swaths of orange, red, and gold paint the landscapes around Olana in the fall.

Across the Hudson River from Olana is the Thomas Cole House in Catskill, New York. The English-born artist is known as the founder of America’s first major art movement, the Hudson River School, and was Frederic Edwin Church’s mentor. The dense forests and clear light of the Catskills enchanted Thomas Cole, and they were often the focus of his landscapes.

The Federal-style main house, which stands today, is surrounded by approximately six acres of farmland and woodland that inspired many of Cole's paintings. Panoramic views were a hallmark of the Hudson River School; the Thomas Cole House offers sweeping views of the Catskill Mountains, including the Wall of Manitou, the dramatic easternmost ridge.

Exterior of Thomas Cole Historic Site with red fall leaves on the grass in the foreground

photo by: Thomas Cole National Historic Site

Stunning autumnal light at the Thomas Cole Historic Site.

Manitoga in the fall.

photo by: Rick Darke

Manitoga in the fall.

Explore one of few Midcentury Modern homes with original landscaping, Manitoga—Algonquin for “place of great spirit” in Garrison, New York. American industrial designer Russel Wright transformed an abandoned granite quarry into his home, studio, and 75-acre woodland garden. Today, visitors can experience Wright’s thoughtful interplay of nature and design. The woodland garden features a 30-foot waterfall and over four miles of walking trails with spectacular Hudson River autumnal views.

Please note: Manitoga closes for tours in November, but the grounds remain open year-round for hiking.

Views from Chesterwood in the fall.

photo by: Gregory Cherin

Views from Chesterwood in the fall.

A National Trust Historic Site, Chesterwood was the summer home, studio, and gardens of America’s most distinguished sculptor of public monuments, Daniel Chester French. Chesterwood is resplendent in the fall. The French family often remained at the home through to the end of October, so they did witness the full changing of summer into fall before heading back to New York City in early November. In mid-October 1914, French wrote to patron and close friend Katrina Trask, “We shall stay on here till about the first of November and so we shall witness the whole gorgeous procession of autumn . . .”

Located in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, the estate has splendid views of the Berkshire Hills, which put on a glorious color show in the autumn. French designed the garden himself as a series of outdoor rooms, using the adjacent woods to provide both a contrast and border. He also designed the woodland trails that lead to wonderful vistas of the surrounding Berkshires.

Please note: Chesterwood closes for the season in late October, check their website for details.

Augustus Saint-Gaudens National Historical Park was once home to one of America's greatest sculptors, in Cornish, New Hampshire. His home, studios, and gardens are now preserved by the National Park Service. Over 100 pieces of Saint-Gaudens’ sculpture are exhibited throughout the site’s galleries and on the park grounds. The natural beauty of the surrounding mountains and forest inspired Saint-Gaudens. Today, you can enjoy the serene beauty of the 195-acre park, which includes breathtaking views of Mount Ascutney and the Green Mountains, whose fall foliage is legendary.

Please note: The buildings close at the end of October, but the grounds remain open year-round. However, during winter, the grounds are not maintained for public use, so pathways may be snow-covered and slippery. Please take proper precautions if visiting during the offseason.

View of Aspet at Saint Gaudens on a bright fall day with a birch tree in the front

photo by: Don Freeman/NPS Photo

Aspet, August Saint-Gaudens's home, is home to the largest thornless honeylocust in New Hampshire.

Weir Farm in the fall.

photo by: Weir Farm/NPS Photo

Weir Farm in the fall.

At Weir Farms in Wilton, Connecticut, walk in the footsteps of America’s beloved Impressionist painter, J. Alden Weir, at his home and studio. As you wander the 60 acres of beautiful woods and fields, you’ll see why Weir called it the “Great Good Place.” Enjoy the crunching of leaves and bird songs as you walk through the forest and see the foliage that inspired thousands of artists.

Fonthill Castle surrounded by trees with orange leaves

photo by: Kevin Crawford Imagery

Fonthill Castle nestled in autumn trees.

Archaeologist, ceramist, and antiquarian Henry Chapman Mercer built Fonthill Castle in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, as his home and showcase for his handcrafted ceramic tilework and art collections. The castle is made with reinforced concrete and has over forty-four rooms. The estate sits on approximately 70 acres of land.

The London Plane trees that line the front drive are often the first to change colors to let us know that fall has arrived. The 15 ash trees in the arboretum often give a great show of colors in the autumn, and don’t miss the American Sweetgum, which turns beautiful shades of gold, orange, red, and even purple.

Impressionist painter Theodore Clement “T.C.” Steele and his wife moved to Indiana to establish a home, studio and gardens on 211 acres of wooded countryside. Today, the TC Steele House and Studio in Nashville, Indiana is largely unchanged from when Steele lived there. An avid landscape painter, the picturesque setting around the property is often featured in his artwork. Enjoy the rolling hills, majestic trees, and scenic vistas that inspired Steele as you explore the grounds on one of the five hiking trails or even try your hand at painting “en plein air” as Steele often did. Discover the beauty of the autumnal shift.

Pergola at TC Steele in the fall.

photo by: Indiana State Museum and Historic Sites

The gardens at TC Steele House and Studio in fall.

“I often speak of appreciation, both of nature and art, as the art of seeing beautifully.”

TC Steele
Bright orange leaves grace the trails around the Brandywine Museum of Art in fall.

photo by: Brandywine Museum of Art

Bright orange leaves grace the trails around the Brandywine Museum of Art in fall.

Andrew Wyeth, one of America’s best-known twentieth-century artists, painted many of his most important works of art in his Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, studio. The studio, a repurposed schoolhouse, was the birthplace of thousands of paintings and drawings, inspired by nearby landscapes. Today, visit the Brandywine Conservancy & Museum of Art to explore the area on the River Trail as it winds the banks of the Brandywine. The nearby trees come alive with oranges, reds, and yellows in the autumn.

“I prefer winter and fall, when you feel the bone structure of the landscape. Something waits beneath it; the whole story doesn't show.”

Andrew Wyeth

Traveling down to Falmouth, Virginia, you’ll find the home and studio of prominent portraitist and American Impressionist painter Gari Melchers. This 27-acre estate features a Georgian mansion, outbuildings, formal gardens, and several miles of walking trails. If you can’t make the trip in person, there is a virtual tour of the gardens and grounds. Trees on the grounds include ginkgo biloba, elm, white oaks, cedars, locust, and cherry.

The Melchers thought of their Virginia home as an escape from the demands of New York studio, but the beautiful surroundings were too evocative for too much rest. Gari Melchers painted several scenes at his estate having been inspired by the bucolic surroundings.

Bird enjoying a bird bath in the autumn at Gari Melchers.

A bird enjoying the fall foliage at a bird bath on the grounds of Gari Melchers' Home and Studio.

May the changing seasons prompt a new way to meditate on how light and the shifts in the natural landscape can provide a muse for your own creative endeavors.

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Haley Somolinos is the manager of email marketing at the National Trust. She has a passion for places and the stories that they hold.

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