The Lyme Academy Story

by Elisabeth Gordon Chandler



In order to keep most of the curriculum going for the 1982-1983 school year, two classrooms were rented eight miles away in the town's Elementary school and a search for permanent head-quarters for the school began. The John Sill House, an 1817 landmark building well-suited to the needs of the Academy as an administration building, with ample space for classrooms, a small gallery, and student library on its four acres came on the market. Arrangements for its purchase were promptly made, and an active "Landmark Campaign" undertaken to raise funds to build north light studio classrooms. By the autumn of 1984 the school was able to open with a full curriculum once more, with painting, drawing and art history classes in the new studios and an enlarged sculpture department now using the entire lower floor of the art gallery. This brought the school closer together once more, but the gallery building and the John Sill House are divided by the Interstate Highway that bisects Old Lyme. The situation was not ideal but workable.

A series of excellent chairman and a supportive Board started the school back on its upward course. Soon students from nearly every state in the country were applying for admission; this new influx of out-of-state students made it obvious that student housing would be needed eventually. A small ad in the local paper about 13.8 acres being sold by the Town for back taxes caught the eye of a member of the Board. The land was ideal for student housing and was already zoned for multi-family use. In the ten short days before the tax sale a scenario worthy of Hollywood unfolded: The owner of the adjoining land with frontage on Lyme Street was a patron and member of the Board; a telephone call served to obtain agreement to a right of way for a driveway to the land. A Quit-Claim deed to the 13.8 acres was obtained and registered at the Town Hall and the back taxes paid the day before the Tax Auction, effectively removing the property from the sale. In those few days the Academy acquired clear title to property worth many times the $3,400 it cost. Next, it became apparent that the school must become a degree-granting institution to satisfy the needs of the talented young men and women who were leaving other schools in order to attend the Lyme Academy. No one realized this more than the Director, Nancy Hileman, so in 1991 she stepped down, and another president and an academic dean were engaged to move the school ahead with accreditation. Henry Putsch and Sharon Hunter worked diligently; by 1994 the Lyme Academy was not only accredited by NASAD (National Association of Schools of Art and Design) in the State of Connecticut but also handed out its first three-year Certificates. In the fall of 1995 a full, four-year program leading to a Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree began being offered.

Currently, during the Freshman year all students receive basic, fundamental training in drawing, painting and sculpture on which to build the four-year BFA program. Anatomy is a lecture course, one that can be awe-inspiring to a young student who, from birth, has taken the body for granted. Introduction to composition and design is also included in the Freshman year, and introductions to oil painting and sculpture, (as well as color theory) complete the studio classes.

The first-year sculpture course starts students looking at things in a new way, seeing them in depth (three dimensionally) often for the first time. Even a landscape painting begins to stand out to them as if viewed through a stereoscope. Students learn to use their hands and tools to create form, knowledge they will then translate into their drawings and paintings. Often students intent on becoming painters find themselves drawn to sculpture instead. A survey of art history over two semesters gives students a preview of the great world of art from early times to now, a world into which he or she is about to enter, carrying on fine traditions while moving ahead to the greater challenges of the future.

As important as it is for artists to be able to express themselves in their chosen discipline, it is also important for them to express their ideas clearly and literally in writing, so English composition in the first semester and Literature and Composition in the:second help students learn the necessary skills.

With the start of the Sophomore year the student must decide on a major. Although all sophomores take the same drawing, anatomy, and general studies, the painting and sculpture majors begin to follow different programs in their studio classes. Plus a full semester each of Elementary and Business Math prepares the Sophomore for this additional but necessary part of an artist's education, and a course in the Humanities provides the necessary studies and credits for a BFA degree. Anatomy is again a requirement of all sophomores. They will attend lectures geared to more advanced study of the subject, drawing themselves and learning to see them in action in various positions on live model.

Juniors continue their studio classes, developing progressively more advanced work and exploring all media of painting in portrait and figure as well as landscape and still life. The sculpture majors, having had a year studying the figure are now ready to enter the Creative Sculpture Class, where.they will be shown how to follow through on works of their own creation. During this year, too,. Juniors will complete their required academic classes by taking a semester each of General Psychology and an Introduction to Sociology. Art criticism will help them analyze and critique their own work, something every painter or sculptor must do throughout his career if he is to become a serious artist. The Business of Art, again, is important for the young artist. He may have learned to paint the most exquisite canvases or is able to create fine works of sculpture but unless he learns how to market them, they remain, unseen and unappreciated by the general public.


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