Florence Griswold Museum
Old Lyme, CT
Painter's Paradise: A Land Distinctly Lyme
January 20 - November 25, 2001
That cherished land where all is peace and beauty. We all seem to yearn for it and that, I suppose, is a very good reason for painting it. Artist Frank Vincent DuMond, 1909
The Florence Griswold Museum announces Painter's Paradise: A Land Distinctly Lyme, a 10-month (January 26 through November 25, 2001) exhibition that explores the region's unique qualities that captured the attention of artists over a hundred years ago and continues to captivate visitors today.
Each summer between 1900 and 1930s, scores of American painters flocked to Miss Florence Griswold's boarding house in Old Lyme, Connecticut (now the Florence Griswold Museum). Artists like Childe Hassam, William Chadwick, Matilda Browne, and Frank Vincent DuMond sought a retreat from the heat and anxieties of urban life in an area that would provide them with a variety of subject matter as well as inexpensive lodging and the camaraderie of other painters. The artists, who became know collectively as the Lyme Art Colony, found such a place in the gentle countryside, picturesque shoreline and quintessential New England villages of the Lower Connecticut River Valley. (left: The Chadwick School, located on the grounds of the Museum, is one of six homes/studios on a Artist Home and Studio Tour to be held in May, 2001)
The paintings left behind by these artists helped to define the unique and appealing qualities of the town and region that resonates today. Painter's Paradise uses paintings, sketches, maps, photographs and other archival material to explore Southern New England's distinct "sense of place." The exhibition is divided into themes that examine the physical geography of the region, how the landscape has been altered by human activity, what its built environment reveals about the area and its residents, and the effect the Lyme Art Colony played in establishing the region1s identity.
To examine the ever-evolving character of the area each section also explores a contemporary issue relating to its theme.
The Physical Landscape
The Connecticut River shaped the landscape as well as the lives of the area1s inhabitants. Situated on the east side of the River where it meets Long Island Sound, Old Lyme has been characterized by geographers as a unique coastal environment. Along the river one finds stretches of tidal marshes with coves and rocky headlands, on the Long Island Sound there are narrow beach strands interspersed with rocky bluffs and small rivers, and inland one discovers a variety of landscape features including meadows, forest, river, and marsh. A wealth of flora and fauna inhabit this region as well. The Lyme Art Colony artists turned their attention to capturing the wealth of subjects found in the natural world. (left: Edward Rook, Swirling Waters, Florence Griswold Museum)
In his painting The Ledges, October in Old Lyme, Childe Hassam depicts the region1s rocky outcrops against fall foliage. Other paintings in the exhibition chronicle the changing economics of the region. Ellen Noyes Chadwick's painting View of Ferry Point documents the bustling activity of an active commercial port in the mid-19th century. Fifty years later Wilson Irvine depicts a very different view in his work Saybrook Light. The river is seen without a trace of any activity. The area had reverted to its agricultural roots, becoming a quiet village untouched by the industrial revolution.
The contemporary issue dealt with in this section is that of the future of the Connecticut River. The tidelands of the Connecticut River have been identified by The Nature Conservancy as one of the 40 Last Great Places in the hemisphere. In 1991, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service singled out the region as one of 40 vital ecological systems in the Northeast targeted for special attention. Visitors are asked to reflect on what these recognitions mean for future conservation, preservation and land development endeavors?
A Landscape Shaped by Man
Painter's Paradise explores how different the landscape encountered by the artists of the Lyme Art Colony is from the one we see today. Certain features in the landscape such as old stone walls, open meadows, country roads, orchards, and stands of old trees are recurring themes in their work. For the artists in Lyme the cultivated landscape of southern New England implied a connection with the past, expressing generations of human interaction and settlement. In Winter Harvest Winfield Scott Clime depicts workers cutting ice blocks on a frozen pond to be stored in straw for use during the summer.
The images in this section of the exhibition not only document ways of life and activities that no longer exist but reveal the fascination and regard that artists had for these practices. The exhibition invites visitors to consider what impact our current uses of the land may have in years to come and poses the question: what will future generations think about the choices we made concerning our environment?
The Built Environment
The unique qualities of an area are not limited to the landscape, but can also be suggested by the structures built upon it. In Old Lyme, the colonial and 19th century homes, the wide, tree-lined street, and Congregational church epitomize the quaint New England Village. A series of images connected with the church, including a recent Museum acquisition, an early 20th century painting by the American Impressionist Everett Longley Warner, reveal the powerful iconic presence of this structure. For many the image of its white steeple dominating the horizon against blue sky and autumn foliage conveyed a sense of stability and national history.
Even the more functional or vernacular structures such as mills, barns and bridges captured the attention of the Lyme artists. These painters produced a body of images based on traditional architecture that mirrored how Americans romanticized the villages and history of the New England region. (left: Matilda Browne, Clarke Voorhees House, oil on panel, Florence Griswold Museum)
Underlying this section of Painter's Paradise is the question: why do the depictions of quaint homes and lovely gardens created by American Impressionists still fascinate us today? Reflecting upon these images allows audiences to consider the role the built environment plays in their own lives.
A Center for the Arts
In addition to the landscape and architecture, the identity of an area is closely tied to its inhabitants. The exhibition examines the influence the Lyme Art Colony artists had on the character of the region. Images of annual teas at the Lyme Art Association, parades through town, and the homes and gardens of the artists reveal how these early 20th century painters left a lasting legacy on the region.
Today, visitors to the region are greeted by the same rolling pastures and picturesque shoreline that intrigued the artists over a hundred years ago. At the center is the town of Old Lyme. In addition to the Florence Griswold Museum, Old Lyme is home of the Lyme Art Association, an organization founded by the colony artists in 1914 and today is an active association of artist members from the around the region. The Lyme Academy of Fine Arts, a four-year accredited art school, has grown remarkably since its founding in 1976 and attracts students from across the US and abroad. There are also several well-known art galleries in the area. Each year the artistic traditions initiated by the Lyme Art Colony are enjoyed by visitors from near and far.
See AskART.com's data on 60 Old Lyme Colony painters. Other early Connecticut art colonies were at Cos Cob and Mystic.
Read more on the Florence Griswold Museum.in Resource Library Magazine
Please click on thumbnail images bordered by a red line to see enlargements.
For further biographical information on selected artists cited above please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.
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This page was originally published in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information. rev. 5/23/11
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