Gift of the Women's Council in honor of Harris K. Prior
Research Curator Marjorie Searl speaks about this object.
This is Marjorie Searl speaking about Genesee Oaks by Asher B. Durand
If you drive south on Route 390 toward Geneseo, you can still see tall oak trees silhouetted against the sky. These oaks are a legacy of the Wadsworth family, early settlers in the Genesee River valley. The family owned so much acreage that it was a legend that the Wadsworths could ride nearly to Rochester from Geneseo, about 28 miles, and still be on their own land. In 1859, painter Asher B. Durand travelled north from New York City to the home of James Samuel Wadsworth to paint the view from Wadsworth’s grand country home in Geneseo, Hartford House, which still stands today. There, he drew a number of sketches that he would use within the next year to compose this masterful painting Genesee Oaks.
It was no accident that these trees came to define the region. Impressed by the beauty of trees in the English landscape, the two Wadsworth brothers who settled the region required their tenant farmers to leave a certain number of trees on the land, to provide shade for the cows and leafy beauty for the people. In the leases they wrote, “Tenants shall not destroy or suffer to be destroyed, any shade tree, to leave growing on such lands as are to be cleared off, at the rate of one shade tree to every two acres, and occasionally a clump of shade trees; and in case they shall destroy, or suffer to be destroyed, any shade trees, they shall pay…the sum of ten dollars for each and every shade tree so destroyed…”
Were the trees really as monumental as Durand depicted them, or was Durand trying to make a point about their massive splendor and the breathtaking view from the Wadsworth estate? In comparison, the cows and the figure of a man appear nearly microscopic in size. The trees reach up into the limitless sky that is continuous with the view across the valley…the river bends and meanders, belying the ferocious flooding that would occur periodically when it would overflow its banks down on the flats below.
The fierce pride that the Wadsworths took in their land and its trees meant that the landscape would remain fairly intact today. The Genesee Valley Conservancy continues the tradition of caring for the land and preserving its spectacular legacy, so that Genesee Oaks might continue to stand as tall as Durand painted them.
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