In Retrospect: Selected Works by Lyme Art Association Members

by Michael Lloyd



Childe Hassam was attracted to the town's New England architecture. He was especially fond of the First Congregational Church on Lyme Street, which he painted on more than one occasion. The scene became somewhat of an icon, as teachers used his paintings to demonstrate a quintessential example of American art. Hassam made an etching of the church in 1907, the year it was destroyed by fire.

Fortunately, with the help of Lyme artists, the structure was rebuilt along its original colonial lines. Perhaps it was this joint effort that evoked the colony artists to unite and give back to the community that so inspired them.

By 1913, the library could no longer adequately host the growing exhibitions. A meeting was held at Miss Florence's to discuss the ways and means of forming a permanent organization. The Lyme Art Association was established in 1914 with a long-term goal to build its own gallery.

Miss Florence Griswold deeded a parcel of land to the cause for $1, and Charles A. Platt, the renowned architect of the Freer Art Gallery in Washington, DC, donated his design expertise. Many colony members were acquainted with Platt through membership in the National Academy of Design, and other art organizations in New York, where they wintered.

However, a number of artists wanted to help formulate the plans. During a series of formal and informal meetings, the group -- consisting mainly of George M. Bruestle, William Chadwick, Will Howe Foote, Harry Hoffman, Wilson Irvine, Lawton Parker, William Robinson, Edward Rook and Gregory Smith -- wrestled with the plans. In a revealing letter to Bruestle, who was ill and unable to attend a meeting, Irvine described the tribulations of gaining a consensus among the diverse group:

Probably some of the bunch have told you there was an informal meeting a week ago and that at it we went back, practically on the action we had taken previously and voted for a change of plans. Foote not having been at the previous meetings put up a kick for a much larger room in the center to make it the principal room. Robinson has always wanted one larger room, so they were together.
It was voted to ask Platt to come here and look at the site before he did anything more and to make changes on the front of the building! If it was changed inside to one large room, practically, then the roofing problem would be simpler and wouldn't need the break in the center of the facade, the peak. Hope Platt won't tell us we are good architects, 'Go ahead, you don't need me.'
Robinson had tried to resign from the building Com. [Committee] and hadn't said a word up to the meeting, or showed any interest. Now he seems to be interested, which is a good thing, for he really does some thinking about such things.
Nothing of course is determined about cost and the boys generally realize it will be impossible to build it for this year's show.[8]

Edward Rook, one of the colony's most highly respected painters, was in charged of collecting money from all of the artist members. In a letter to George M. Bruestle, he wrote:

Please accept my congratulations on the sale of your $1,000 picture at the Library, and hoping that this in consequence will be a propitious time for you to send me your gift from the Artists to the Memorial Building, which you have reference to in your letter to me on Dec. 15th, 1919, and which as you know the Regular Meeting instructed me to collect from all the Artist Members.[9]

On August 6, 1921, the Lyme Art Association Gallery opened its doors. Despite its planning difficulties, the finished structure was magnificent. In a review of the event, the New York Times described the gallery as, "the ideal gallery.... Greater appropriateness, beauty of proportions and refinement of taste hardly could be found.... Truly an artist's gallery, built for and by and with artists." [10]

The colony, however, was still centered at the house of Miss Florence, adjacent to the gallery. Upon a visit in 1921, Hamilton Easter Field, editor and publisher of THE ARTS proclaimed, "These twenty years have sanctified Griswold House as an art center." [11] Seduced by the overall environment, he wrote, "At Lyme, and especially at Miss Griswold's, there is the atmosphere one finds in the haunts of painters in Europe."[12]

In time, the Impressionist movement that had been so popular gave way to new directions in art, which increasingly took on an urban focus. The serene landscapes and placid ideals that characterized the work of Lyme artists became passe in New York. But many colony painters remained in Lyme, content in their Impressionist tradition.

Throughout the decades, the Lyme Art Association has kept its tradition alive, providing "a showcase for some of the region's finest and newest contemporary representational artists."[13] The annual exhibitions still continue; the association is anticipating its ninety-sixth consecutive show next summer.

Florence Griswold's house has been preserved as a museum, recently achieving National Historic Landmark status. The paintings that lined her dining room and the door panels throughout the home's first floor remain in place, offering a glimpse into the colony's heyday.

Today, the Lyme Art Association hosts exhibits year round, with shows ranging from children's works to those of its esteemed members. Retrospective shows of the founding artists are held periodically, drawn from letters, books, photos, and association archives. As the resurgence of interest in turn-of-the-century American art continues, the association's fine art exhibits and educational events distinguish Lyme as a special place in the history of American art.


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