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America's Home of Impressionism Restored to Period of Historic Significance

 

(above: Hot Air Club, c. 1903, Florence Griswold Museum. Hot Air Club (Artists on back porch): Many of the artists took their meals on the side porch in warm weather, calling themselves the "Hot Air Club.")

 

On July 1, 2006 the Florence Griswold House, the historic centerpiece of the Florence Griswold Museum in Old Lyme, Connecticut, will reopen to the public, having undergone extensive restoration since May 2005. This 1817 National Historic Landmark was the original boardinghouse for the Lyme Art Colony from 1899 to the 1930s. Open to the public since 1947, the Museum is named after Florence Griswold (1850-1937), the self-described "keeper of the artist colony," who transformed her family home into a country retreat for artists.

The $2.5 million project is intended to preserve this landmark for years to come and to allow visitors to fully immerse themselves in the culture and daily life of an American art colony unlike anywhere else in this country. After nearly a decade of fundraising, research, and planning, this cherished icon of American art, itself the subject of countless paintings, has been accurately furnished to its appearance circa 1910 when the colony was the center of Impressionism in America. The Florence Griswold House Restoration Project was made possible by the support of a partnership of funders led by the National Endowment for the Humanities and The State of Connecticut.

 

A Center of Artistic Significance

In the early years of the twentieth century, the Florence Griswold House and its surrounding landscape played home to a vibrant artist colony that attracted many of America's leading artists such as Childe Hassam and Willard Metcalf and public figures such as President Woodrow Wilson. Together they brought national and international acclaim to Old Lyme as a center for the arts. Today the Florence Griswold Museum, accredited by the American Association of Museums and a founding member of the Historic Artists' Homes and Studios program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, is devoted to telling the story of Florence Griswold and the Lyme Art Colony in the most imaginative ways possible. "Painting on the walls and doors inside the Griswold House by the artists who lived there are among the splendid expressions of the Lyme Art Colony's legacy to be found at the house and in the museum's adjacent gallery" notes Nancy Campbell, Chairman Emeritus of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and a longtime advisor to the Museum. "This project was crucial to preserving these and other irreplaceable artifacts housed within this National Historic Landmark." In addition to the painted panels, the Lyme Art Colony Collection contains nearly 4,000 artifacts and archival documents, and 489 paintings that represent the work by over 100 American artists associated with the colony. Rotating examples from this collection will be included throughout the Griswold House.

 

(above: Artists on front steps, c. 1903, Florence Griswold Museum. Artists on front porch: Bottom step, left to right: Frank DuMond, Clark Voorhees, Arthur Heming, Will Howe Foote and dog. Top Step, left to right: Gifford Beal, Harry Hoffman.)

 

The Scope of the Project

The scope of the Griswold House Restoration included stabilization of the exterior features of the house and upgrades to its climate controls, electrical, lighting, and fire protection systems. A new fireproof mechanical shed, built on the site of a historic carriage house, houses the environmental systems. The climate control systems employ "green" geothermal technology that draws energy for cooling and heating from a series of deep wells on the riverfront property. This system regulates temperature and relative humidity consistent with the preservation of the Museum's collections housed within.

The refurnished interiors capture the timeworn charm of a staid family home turned into a boisterous communal living space. Drawing upon varied sources that ranged from the memories of those who once stayed in the Griswold House to the scientific analysis of the building itself, researchers were able to accurately recreate the period paint colors and identify appropriate furnishings, including many pieces original to the House. Custom wallpapers, carpets, and lighting fixtures have been faithfully reproduced from originals. Particularly valuable to this process was visual evidence found in photographs and paintings by the artists who stayed there. Using current digital technology the Museum was able to draw out and discern details that have guided the refurnishing.

This project dramatically changes how the visitor interacts with the Griswold House and its surroundings. Visitors can imagine "Miss Florence's" gracious hospitality and the laughter and camaraderie of the artists in every room. For the first time, visitors will see the House as the artists did, view a typical boarder's accommodations, and be able to linger in the famous dining room, where the majority of the painted walls and doors are found. A variety of innovative learning tools -- from viewing an original film of the artists to adopting the role of a painter, boardinghouse proprietor, or domestic staff member -- will illuminate several themes and stories surrounding the colony. With the reopening of the Florence Griswold House, the Florence Griswold Museum captures the spirit of a country retreat for artists like never before. Visitors can walk in the actual landscapes that inspired the artists, view paintings of those landscapes, and experience first-hand the communal boardinghouse where the artists lived and worked.

 

(above: Dining Room, c. 1915, Florence Griswold Museum. Dining Room: A historic postcard of the Dining Room in the Griswold House. Two tables were set in the dining room, with mix-matched chairs. The painted panels in the room are original to the art colony period. Under the fireplace mantel, Henry Rankin Poore painted "The Fox Chase" a long painting of the artists running a fox chase through the town of Lyme.)

 

(above: Dining Room, Joe Standart, 2004. East Wall, Dining Room: The Dining Room of the Florence Griswold House is known around the world for its original collection of painted panels, done by the artists who stayed with Miss Florence. Over 40 painted panels stand as a legacy of the artists of the Lyme Art Colony. For the restoration, upgrades to lighting will greatly enhance the way the visitor experiences the Dining Room and Painted Panels.)

 

A National Partnership of Supporters

More than any other project in the Museum's history, the Florence Griswold House Restoration Project was made possible by a diverse consortium of funders. On the federal level, project support was provided by the National Endowment for the Humanities, National Endowment for the Arts, and Save America's Treasures (administered by the National Park Service). The State of Connecticut generously supported this project through the Department of Economic and Community Development. In addition, the Connecticut Humanities Council, Connecticut Historical Commission, and Connecticut Commission on Culture and Tourism awarded project grants. Grants were also received from the following foundations: The Homeland Foundation; The Henry Luce Foundation; The Chilton Foundation; The 1772 Foundation; and the Xerox Foundation. In addition, many individuals helped in the realization of this landmark project.

 

(above: Matilda Browne, Miss Florence's, c. 1910, Florence Griswold Museum. Browne, House: The façade of the Griswold House from the northeast side. This shows the original configuration of the steps, now restored, and the painted capitals, also replicated. Browne was one of the few female artists who established herself among the other Lyme Artist.)

 

(above: Harry Hoffman, View of the Griswold House, 1908, Florence Griswold Museum. Hoffman, House: A similar angle captured by Matilda Browne of the front of the Griswold House. Hoffman crops in tighter, filtering the view of the house with large bushes and trees. This painted has also helped to guide the restoration of the façade.)

 

(above: Ellen Axon Wilson, Untitled- View of the Griswold House Back Porch, n.d., F Florence Griswold Museum. Wilson, House: A view of the side porch of the Griswold House. Ellen Axon Wilson, the first wife of President Woodrow Wilson, was an artist who came to study and summer in Lyme, Connecticut. Woodrow accompanied her on numerous occasions and the Wilson's developed a strong friendship with Miss Florence.)

 

(above: Charles P. Gruppe, The Griswold House at Old Lyme, n.d., Florence Griswold Museum. Gruppe, House: The front door of the Griswold House is open and a warm glow emanates from the center hall. Paintings hang on the walls, with furniture placed beneath. The hall was the heart of the house, and a space that many artists painted.)

 

(above: Liz Farrow, Florence Griswold Museum. House (Façade), Oct. 2005: The front of the house shows many changes since the start of the project. The new steps have been built, replacing the old steps the cut off at the ends and numbered in five risers. The house has been freshly painted a deeper color, based on scientific paint analysis. The windows have been conserved and are being reinstalled, and a new copper drainage system in being put in. With the front lawn regarded and reseeded, the house is beginning to look like it did in 1910.).

 

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