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Valley of the Rich and Famous

Along the Hudson River, Blazing Autumn Colors Saturate a Countryside Dotted by Mansions Once Owned by Vanderbilts, Rockefellers and Roosevelts.

September 13, 1998|COLMAN ANDREWS | Colman Andrews is the editor of Saveur magazine and co-author of "Saveur Cooks Authentic American," to be published in November by Chronicle Books

Poughkeepsie itself boasts some admirable 19th century architecture in its several historic districts, but much of the town is depressed and dreary. One thing not to miss, however, is the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center at nearby Vassar College. When English-born brewery heir Matthew Vassar founded what was then called the Vassar Female College in 1865, he endowed it with more than 400 works of art from his personal collection. Today, in a sleek Cesar Pelli-designed complex opened in 1993, the Vassar treasure trove of art has grown to 14,000 items, many of them gifts from alumnae. Like one of those small private or municipal collections one sometimes finds in Europe, this one is eclectic in the true sense of the word--a selection of the finest examples of assorted genres.

Four perfect tabletop-size sculptures in Plexiglas cases in the entry hall--one each by Lynn Chadwick, Walter de Maria, Nancy Graves and Barbara Hepworth--set the tone. Like so much else in this collection, they are small but superb--intelligently chosen and attractively displayed. Elsewhere in the gallery are works ranging in period and origin from ancient Egypt to '90s New York City. Tiepolo, Brueghel the Younger, Cezanne, Alexander Calder, Francis Bacon, Georgia O'Keeffe, Picasso and Mira, and contemporary-trendy Ross Bleckner are among the many names represented.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday October 4, 1998 Home Edition Los Angeles Times Magazine Page 8 Times Magazine Desk 1 inches; 23 words Type of Material: Correction
An incorrect phone number was given for the New York state fall foliage hotline ("Valley of the Rich and Famous," Sept. 13). The correct number is (800) 225-5697.


The Hudson River Valley's other unexpected art collection is that at Kykuit, the Rockefeller family estate in the town of Sleepy Hollow, close to New York City at the southern end of the valley.

John D. Rockefeller was chairman of Standard Oil--and as such the owner of about 95% of all U.S. oil refineries--in 1893 when he bought Kykuit (it is pronounced KI-kit, and it means "lookout" in Dutch). He and his son, John Jr., eventually built a 50-room neoclassical-style mansion, a private nine-hole golf course and a playhouse that conceals two tennis courts, two swimming pools, a bowling alley and a billiard room behind an English country facade.

The last Rockefeller to live here was John Jr.'s son Nelson, onetime governor of New York and vice president of the United States, and an enthusiastic and generous patron of the arts. Both the house and grounds are filled with showpieces from his collections. Unfortunately, I had to return here on a separate Hudson River Valley visit without Maddy and Isabelle, as it is not recommended that children under 12 join the tour.

On the road leading up to the house and in various surrounding gardens and park-like expanses are 120 or so pieces of sculpture, many monumental in scale. Calder, Maillol, Marini, Arp, Lipchitz and others are represented outside. Inside, in rooms designed and furnished mostly in various 17th and 18th century English styles, are many more sculptures (Giacometti, Brancusi, Rodin, a 7th century Chinese bodhisattva figure), Chinese ceramics from several dynasties, rare porcelain and paintings of all kinds.

The majority of Rockefeller's modern and contemporary pieces, however, are downstairs in a network of converted tunnels under the house. The art-savvy visitor may be forgiven for gaping--at the Picassos next to the Motherwell not far from the Larry Bell; at the Calder tapestries, the Lautrec lithographs, the George Segal figures, the Warhol portraits of Rockefeller and his wife, Happy. One whole room is filled with tapestries based on famous Picasso paintings that Rockefeller commissioned, with the artist's blessing, from Provenal weaver Jacqueline Durrbach.

Perhaps the most impressive piece of art on the estate, though, is a living one: At the request of John D. Rockefeller Jr., one whole portion of the property, below the west-facing terrace, was planted to resemble a Hudson River School landscape that might have been painted by Thomas Cole or Frederick Church. The view is so perfect, so visually satisfying, that the effect is almost eerie.


One day, during the trip with my daughters, we visited one of the Hudson River Valley's most pleasant places: the 19th century village of Cold Spring. It sits between Sleepy Hollow and Hyde Park and is easily accessible--just an hour and a quarter by train from Manhattan. Cold Spring's most beautiful building is the elegantly simple little Chapel of Our Lady, which appears in many paintings by the 19th century Hudson River School of artists.

The town's more secular attractions include a main street lined with antique and gift shops, several delightful little inns and a handful of good restaurants. Down a red-brick garden path from the street, for instance, past a cigar shop that seems somehow incongruous here, is the fresh little Dolcigno Tuscan Grill and a serious antique shop called Country Mouse, which offers reasonably priced American antique furniture and a good collection of opulently floral Limoges ceramics, among other items. At Once Upon a Time, dolls and toys are a specialty.

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