Thornton Academy News

Home Is Where Your Art Is: Alden Cole ‘62

Take a walk down the main hallway on the first floor of Thornton Academy’s Alumni House, and you’ll likely catch a glimpse of a wide green field with a red-roofed farmhouse nestled in an expanse of trees. This painted landscape includes three farmers, surrounded by the vehicles of haying season, who have stopped to chat in a field across from the farmhouse. The image is titled "Cole Farm, Summer of 1955," and it captures a glimpse of Cole Farm Dairy, a childhood recollection of the painting’s creator, Alden Cole ‘62, who was raised as a farm boy on River Road in Dayton just over the Biddeford line. The piece is based on a black and white snapshot taken by Cole’s older brother, Wallace ‘57, and is the result of a painting series devoted to the landscape of Cole’s childhood and teens in Maine. “I came across this snapshot, and was moved to turn the artful composition into a full-color painting,” Cole says. 

painting of bucolic farmland

Cole found his love of art and first nurtured his creative passion as a student at Thornton Academy. Harriet Patrick, Latin teacher extraordinaire, was Cole’s first mentor. He was fortunate to be included in Junto—an extracurricular group that Harriet and Bob Stanton sponsored in the early 60s. Through that group, Cole experienced several defining moments that gradually led him to art, via exposure to a larger world. However, the truly defining moment occurred during his senior year when he was interviewed by Joe McCarthy, TA's guidance counselor. Cole remembers, “his first question to me was ‘have you ever considered going to an art school? You scored very high in the arts, as indicated by those aptitude tests you took last year.’ I responded that I was planning to go to the University of Maine, or Bowdoin College if I got a scholarship, to study Mathematics, since that was my field of excellence. He next questioned if I would be interested in taking a look at a few art school catalogs nevertheless. And I then made a life altering decision: instead of saying ‘Nah, I've already made my decisions about the future!’ I said ‘Sure, why not?’ Which has become the story of my life; always open for trying something new and unexpected.”

That decision to try something new put Cole on a path to creating a beautifully unconventional life. He spent a decade in NYC making a living as a fashion designer and illustrator, then graphic designer before moving to Philadelphia in 1986. Eventually he spent six years in Portsmouth, NH working for Samuel Weiser Inc, a New York book publisher. Though he has been “away” from home for many years, his experiences at Thornton Academy and his upbringing in Dayton, Maine played a significant role in his evolving awareness as a creative human being, and the life he built for himself.

His life may be best represented by his ultimate art project—his Philadelphia home, which is often described by visitors as “spectacular.” As a lifelong professional artist, Cole’s home became a natural extension of his creative work. All four floors, including an abundantly decorated basement, have been transformed into a museum dedicated to his life's work. “I've created and sold a lot of 'product' in my years as an artist, but my creativity has always outpaced my marketing skills. Therefore, I still live with a lot of art—my own—on the walls…[it] is an experience; a feast for the eye and soul.” 

In a stroke of luck, and as a result of an alumni reconnection, one of Cole’s artistic experiences found its home on an Alumni House wall due to the generosity of Judy Hargreaves Fichtenbaum ‘62, a classmate of Coles, who reconnected with him at their 50th class reunion in 2012. The event brought them back together, and since then they have stayed connected by email. “Several years ago Judy visited me while in Philadelphia visiting her daughter who was in school at Swarthmore. We had a great chance to catch up on our lives, and while here she purchased one of my landscapes,” explained Cole. With the help of TA Alumni Board Member and fellow classmate, Roberta Sargent Gallant ‘62, Fichtenbaum then donated the piece to Thornton Academy. 

Although he still draws and/or paints recognizable landscapes, human figures in mythic settings, and the occasionally commissioned portraits, his favorite type of work to create these days are his luminaries, which he refers to as “New Age Bordello lighting.” He describes his greatest pleasure as “configuring and wiring my evening lamps illuminated with color changing light.” He appreciates one of his pieces finding its own home on the campus that played such a big role in his development and growth. “I'm honored to be represented there, right in plain sight in the Alumni House, giving good vibes. How nice to be represented in the place where so much started that prepared me for a very interesting life.”

luminaries, creative lighting