Playing Detective: The Thomas Cole Jr. Story



January was a period of recovery from my Business class, 4 shows, and the holidays. February is a tough month; I have a new saying "every time the snow flies, a dollar dies" as students cancel, or I am unable to get to my very part time job. So when the going gets rough, I sell on eBay.

I have been selling on eBay for 16 years and have made around 3000 transactions. I have excellent ratings, and it has kept my studio heated and business bills paid when I needed money. I have joked that I would sell everything in the house if I had to.  For the most part I enjoy it - from the treasure hunt/junking to find things to sell, the research, and then the excitement of the auctions.  I have an entire education from it, and have become quite knowledgeable about many things, from illustrated books, ephemera, to photography and more.

The most recent exciting research came from photographs I started listing from an album that  I've had for a long time.  So long that I don't remember where I bought it. I broke the photos into subject matter and listed them. A lot of farm animals, a lot of people in theater costumes, lots of mines and rock formations.  I made a lot of images of Trinity Church in Saugerties, NY, and the surrounding homes. I was curious about whether the homes still stood, so I asked a friend on Facebook about them, who referred me to a local historian. We started piecing things together about this lot. Some of the photos were taken from the windows of the attic and office in the church's rectory. When the historian mentioned that the son of Thomas Cole, (the father of the Hudson River School of Art) was a minister in that church for 40 years, I began to wonder....were they his photos?  A photograph held a possible clue-the photographer had taken a photo of a women, down hill from him/her, and there were cast shadows. The photographer's shadow looked like the photographer had a dress on. Or, was it a cleric who wore robes? Then the other clue came up in my research- someone had a rock collection owned by Thomas Cole Jr., which would explain all of the photos of various rock embankments that were photographed in Saugerties, Glasco, Vermont and Massachusetts. I started piecing things together. The clues point to one of a two things: the photographs were either taken by Thomas Cole Jr., or someone who had similar interests and access to the rectory. I may never know. 

Thus far the auctions have bought me enough money to cover some of my business bills as some local collectors bid well on the lot. I still have some photographs left to sell, and I will keep a few; the photograph of the photographer's shadow, which is as close as I will get to having a portrait of the photographer,  a few snapshots of the Catskill Mountains and the creek, views which no longer exist due to overgrowth and construction. There's magic in those mountains.....which have inspired writers, photographers, artists....sculptors and historians like my new friend. Now off to research the little town of Eddyville, a place that I lived for a while...he sent me lots of interesting images and information. Ah, eBay--a lifetime learning online university!


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