Editor's note: The following article was reprinted, without accompanying illustrations, in Resource Library on June 15, 2005 with the permission of American Renaissance for the Twenty-First Century, Inc. This text is excerpted from pages 10-11 of the Autumn 1995 issue of ART Ideas, a publication of American Renaissance for the Twenty-First Century, Inc.

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The Lyme Academy Story

by Elisabeth Gordon Chandler



Throughout the Ages, since the first artist ground his colors and painted on ceilings and walls of the caves in Spain and France some 30,000 years ago, art has always had deep meaning and has continued to represent the best of its era. To achieve this continuum students learned from the artists who went before them. In ancient Egypt stones have been found with student's first efforts at drawing, painting and carving, work that would prepare them for the tombs and temples along the Nile. The Greeks further perfected their art based on nature and the human figure. Medieval monks spent long hours copying manuscripts, adding small and exquisite miniature paintings to the parchment pages, all done with a sense of reverence and love. It was during the Middle Ages that the rediscovery of the art of Ancient Greece and Rome sparked a great movement that became the Italian Renaissance, spreading across all of Europe and eventually reaching the shores of the New World in the late seventeenth century.

During these many hundreds of years young artists learned from their predecessors, whether in the ateliers of their masters or at the academies of Europe and this country. Each age and each new movement in art followed its own mores but still represented the best of its time. Each age, that is, until the last half of the twentieth century when even the sacred halls of the National Academy of Design in New York City and the art departments of academia all over America broke up their casts of the Antique (from which generations of art students had learned to draw) or else left them to the dust and dampness of the cellar. Art schools relegated the study of anatomy to the medical profession and frowned on anything having to do with the human figure; plus, students were discouraged from drawing from life. To create, students were taught, one must be free of all past knowledge; one must become as a child again; learning from the past was to stifle creativity. Students were told to express themselves without being given the knowledge necessary to produce good art when they did.

Unsurprisingly, then, an entire generation of artists without technical knowledge became the "masters" of the second half of this century; they were touted by the critics and dependent upon the "Painted Word" in their critic's reviews to get their work into museums and private collections. Anything that was different or had a supposedly "hidden meaning" was suddenly called" art." This mistaken nomenclature has even been applied to temporary acts or actions: the wrapping of an island in plastic, lying down on the street with loaves of bread by each outstretched arm, and shooting a dog tied to a stake, to mention only a few. In this manner art, as such, reached the lowest and most decadent level in the history of the human race. The law of "Anything goes" became the norm, and the critic's word ruled the art scene.

It was into this void -- and to overcome this deficiency -- that The Lyme Academy of Fine Arts was founded, in 1976, in the small town of Old Lyme, Connecticut.

Since the late 1800's, the area around the towns of Lyme and Old Lyme had been known for the landscape painters who settled there around the turn of the century. First named the "Barbizon School" after the part of France where they had studied and painted, the group turned into a major art colony now known as the Early Lyme Impressionists. Artists such as Childe Hassam, Frank Vincent DuMond, Carlton Wiggins, and his son Guy, Henry Ward Ranger, Bruce Crane, Gregory Smith, William Chadwick, Ivan Olinsky and others first stayed in the boarding house of Miss Florence Griswold, now the Florence Griswold Museum on Lyme Street. Eventually the artists bought homes and built studios in the area, spending their summers painting and developing a camaraderie that helped them all perfect their art. In 1902 they formed the Lyme Art Association. Twenty years later they built a large art gallery on land donated by their, former boarding-house keeper whom they affectionately called Miss Florence. Architect Charles Platt provided designs for the new gallery building as a gift to his neighboring artists.

What more natural place to start a school that returned to the basic fundamentals of art in its teaching, those same fundamentals that had provided the training for all the great artist from time immemorial? It was in the unfinished basement of the Lyme Art Association's gallery building that the newly-formed Lyme Academy constructed a skylit classroom, a library, a commons room and office space. The Academy leased two of the upper galleries for use as classrooms during winter months when the gallery was closed. In these three classrooms the new school offered its first sequential program for the serious study of art in drawing, painting, sculpture, anatomy and art history.

In its debut year, eighteen students studied under a faculty of seven older artists who boasted among them four National Academicians and a Master of Fine Arts, all from the "old school" who had learned from the study of nature in the time-honored way. Included were Robert Brackman, newly retired from teaching at the Art Students League, and Tosca Olinsky, daughter-pupil of her father, Ivan Olinsky, one of the Early Lyme Impressionists. Harold Goodwin, a graduate of Tyler, became president of the new Academy and an instructor in life drawing and art history.

The enrollment quickly doubled, showing promise of future success. By the third year, however, the Lyme Art Association, (the school's landlord) decided not to renew the lease on the two upper galleries. With only the original skylit studio-classroom remaining the new Academy would not be able to offer its full program. A patron agreed to purchase a nearby garage building and remodel it to the Lyme Academy's classroom specifications, adding also a fully-equipped graphics room as that was the patron's major interest. In autumn of 1981 the school opened its new quarters with an enrollment of 180. In those early days of the Lyme Academy the administration consisted of retired executives assisted by one, paid employee and the faculty. Soon, with full-time enrollment increasing each year, a strong curriculum, active community support and a promising future, the Board moved forward to strengthen the administration by engaging a full-time, paid director. Students were applying from many states across the country, and the 1981-82 school year drew to a very successful close, with students, faculty and the Board enthusiastic about its future.

Then the patron raised the $200 monthly rent to $2,000 a month in the very same week that a 100-year record flood hit Connecticut, causing five and a half feet of water to surge through the entire lower floor of the Lyme Art Gallery building, washing out the school's small library, and leaving havoc in the rest of the Academy's original space. With the school unable to remain in the remodeled garage and the one remaining classroom plus the balance of the original school now filled with mud and debris, the Executive Committee seriously considered closing the Lyme Academy. But both faulty and students offered to go out and raise funds so their Academy could continue; that devotion, along with the deep need for this exceptional and unique school, convinced the Board to find some way to keep it going. There was, after all, still a fourteen-year lease on the original space in the gallery Building.

It became obvious, however, that the school could no longer rely on leased space and should acquire a permanent home. Dr. Wayne O. Southwick, .an orthopedic surgeon known for his tremendous drive and efforts on behalf of good causes, agreed to take over the chairmanship. He knew the school, having taken classes in sculpture there; he also knew how the students felt about the Academy and what its methods of teaching could mean to the future of art. He engaged Nancy Hileman as Director, and she took over the running of the school with enthusiasm. In this summer of hardship, there was to be one more tragedy. Robert Brackman, who had taught advanced figure and portrait painting from the very be ginning, died suddenly after a minor operation. Fortunately the son of Dean Keller of Yale joined the faculty; having good training from his father, young Deane was able to step in and take Brackman's place very ably.


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