Art in Conversation: Nancy Miwa on Kaaterskill Falls by William Guy Wall

Arminda Gandara, HoMA Public Programs Manager:

Welcome to Art in Conversation. Nancy Miwa is part of the HoMA docent program and has let a range of student and adult tours at the museum. Nancy historically contextualizes the painting the Kaaterskill Falls by William Guy Wall located in the American Art Gallery.


Nancy Miwa, HoMA Docent:

Aloha, my name is Nancy Miwa and I’m a docent here at the Honolulu Museum of Art. Today I want to show you a landscape painting that is a celebration of America’s new frontier.


In this painting from 1827 William Guy Wall interprets the magnificent beauty of a popular tourist destination called Kaaterskill Falls in Catskills State Park New York. Today, just a few hours drive North of New York City. The color of fall dominates the vistas, the running water coming off the rocks is turbulent, the clouds are particularly billowy. The fact that the hikers appear so small, only adds to the grandeur and power of the natural world.


Depictions of American landscapes began in earnest in the early to mid 1800’s when America was coming into its own. They were a celebration of national pride to showcase the new world’s bounty and beauty and to encourage people to explore all that it had to offer.


Irish born, William Guy Wall was an early member of the Hudson River School, a fraternity of New York City based landscape painters who not only explored these vast and virgin lands but found new ways of representing them. Because it was an easy trip from New York City, many of their works showcased the surrounding Hudson River Valley.


This new breed of landscape painters documented what they saw. But they did more than that. Their interpretations were romantic, optimistic, and celebratory. Their glossy accounts enhanced the real with the ideal. They took artistic license to edit nature in order to heighten its appeal.


Artists typically infused the light and shadow to move the senses and to heighten its emotional effects. They added sunshine, sunsets, clouds and storms to impart atmosphere and natural drama. Breathtaking vistas added grandeur to the scene. It was America’s paradise.
America’s promise where rugged individualism, independence and destiny was on vivid display. Visitors would probably venture up to Kaaterskill for respite from their jobs in industrial city. Go for a hike, stay in one of the lovely lodges that were popping up around here, bird watch, swim, read and relax, do whatever leisure activities the countryside may offer. And paintings such as Walls would exploit it by an emerging travel industry.


I visited this lovely park a few years ago during the Spring time. It is still the largest two tiered waterfall in New York State. But no longer can one hike into the cavern behind the falls or even walk near the water. There is a platform for viewing near the top to look out onto the falls and distant hills. And the view is still awesome.


How does a painting like this inspire you to travel there?