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Gifford’s Grave

In 2010 I was walking with a friend through the wonderful old city cemetery in Hudson, NY, and happened to come across the family plot of the great Hudson River school artist Sanford Robinson Gifford (1823-1880.)  The site had been neglected for over a century; the marble stones were tipped over and some were broken. I stood there for quite awhile in disbelief, barely able to comprehend that I was at the resting place of one of America’s great landscape painters.

The following morning I placed a call to a long-time client and friend of the arts, and he immediately provided a significant sum of money to begin the restoration process. The capable young stone mason Aldo Lavaggi was engaged to take on the project, and he spent 4 months on the job. After consultation with the Gifford family and NY state cemetery authorities, a restoration plan was put in place. Each stone and its heavy marble base was removed and re-set, and the marble surfaces were cleaned with the appropriate solution.

Gifford was the most prominent artist to work in the ‘Luminist’ style. He was an accomplished painter of color and atmosphere, and was faithful to nature in his landscapes. He traveled extensively in Europe and North America, was a member of the National Academy of Design, was an original founding member of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, and was much beloved by his fellow artists. A major retrospective of his work was offered by the Met in 2003, and a more recent exhibition was presented at the home of Thomas Cole in Catskill.

Bringing the Gifford site back into good order has triggered some new interest in our local cemetery. Hudson does not have an abundance of green space, and the cemetery is our largest and finest park. It was designed according to the principles of the 19th-century Rural Cemetery Movement, which promoted the notion that a graveyard could be more than a repository for those who have passed. A cemetery can be a living civic space, where residents might take a walk or spend some contemplative time.

Here is a link to a website for the Gifford’s Grave project. Examples of his work are featured on the site, as well as a set of photos taken as restoration work was in progress.

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