The Thomas Cole National Historic Site Transforms Customer Experience with Immersive Displays


Art-loving visitors to the Thomas Cole National Historic Site in Catskill, NY, expect to learn about Cole the artist, but they might not expect to learn about Cole the man. To bring to life the person behind the paintings, Publicis Sapient/Second Story created a pair of unique digital activations for the house’s parlors.

Nominating Company: Publicis Sapient/Second Story, Miami, Florida
Venue: Thomas Cole National Historic Site/The Parlors, Catskill, New York
Project: Thomas Cole National Historic Site/The Parlors
Category: Entertainment & Recreation

The Thomas Cole National Historic Site wanted to introduce its visitors to the extraordinary man behind the masterpieces of the Hudson River School.

Art-lovers visiting the Thomas Cole National Historic Site expect to learn about Thomas Cole the artist but may not expect to learn about the man behind the artwork. Publicis Sapient/Second Story set out to bring to life the person behind the paintings with an immersive and interactive experience.

In the East Parlor, a large-scale media presentation combines Cole’s own words about nature, preservation, progress, and family with his awe-inspiring works. Publicis Sapient/Second Story leveraged the layout of the room, wrapping the walls with framed canvases that, at first glance, look like traditional paintings. When the lights darken, however, camouflaged displays come to life to tell the story of Cole’s time in Catskill, his career as a painter, and his complex relationship with the changing American landscape. The audience listens to Cole’s innermost thoughts—drawn from his journals, letters, and essays.

Thomas Cole Historic Site pic

In the West Parlor, hidden stories offer a window into Cole’s relationship with the business of art. Inspired by the room’s initial purpose—hosting meetings between the artist and his patrons—Publics Sapient activated its period furnishings to allow the audience to “eavesdrop” on those conversations. As visitors wander around the West Parlor, their presence prompts seemingly ordinary furniture to magically spring to life.

The Parlors’ installations beautifully illustrate how story and technology can combine to make history feel resonant and relevant to a modern audience. Warner Shook, trustee at the Thomas Cole National Historic Site, said of the experiences that, “I think one would be hard pressed to find somebody who isn’t swept up into the world of Thomas Cole.” The public agrees: Since the opening of The Parlors, attendance at the historic house has increased by 25 percent.

Laura Allcorn: Creative Lead
Don Davies: Technical Lead
Heather Daniel: Production Lead
Matt Arnold: Senior Engineering Specialist
Jennifer Dolan: Studio Manager
Jinha Kim: Designer
Swanny Mouton: Art Director
Vanessa Patchett: Filmmaker
Jeremy Rotsztain: Senior Technologist
Mimi Schuy: Motion Designer
Kelsey Snook: Creative Director
Jordan Tull: Senior Environmental Designer
Jinu Yang: Senior Art Director
Supporting Company:
Hudson Valley Audio Visual

Thomas Cole National Historic Site/The Parlors won a DSE 2019 APEX Award in the Entertainment & Recreation category.


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