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A Collective Endeavor: Three Decades of Acquisitions
September 16, 2006 - March 25, 2007
The Florence Griswold Museum in Old Lyme, Connecticut presents a new exhibition entitled A Collective Endeavor: Three Decades of Acquisitions, on view September 16, 2006 through March 25, 2007. Organized in conjunction with the thirtieth anniversary of Jeffrey Andersen's tenure as the Museum's director, the exhibition features forty-five carefully selected paintings and objects that educate visitors on what the Museum collects and the process it uses to acquire objects and works of art. From historical artifacts that tell the story of Lyme's past to treasured paintings of the Old Lyme School to the magnificent gift of the Hartford Steam Boiler Collection, this exhibition portrays the breadth and diversity of the Museum's holdings in an entirely new manner. The philosophy and reasoning behind some of the acquisitions may come as a surprise to visitors. A Collective Endeavor also highlights several examples of promising new directions of collecting at the Florence Griswold Museum. The exhibition is co-curated by trustees and longtime Collections Committee members Charles T. Clark and Hedy Korst. (left: Bessie Potter Vonnoh (1872-1955), Water Lilies, 1913, Bronze, 28 1/2 x 16 1/2 x 7 1/2 inches. Florence Griswold Museum; Gift of Mrs. Rhea Talley Stewart)
Thirty Years of Collecting
The process of acquiring works for a collection is a behind-the-scenes mystery to most museum visitors. Using the Florence Griswold Museum as a model, the items in A Collective Endeavor guide viewers though the process and pose questions for further thought. How is an artifact chosen for consideration? Who has a say? Does the Museum buy at auction, from dealers, or rely on gifts? Since the 1960s, the Florence Griswold Museum has distinguished itself as a museum dedicated to "promoting the understanding of Connecticut's contribution to American art, with emphasis on the art, history, and landscape of the Lyme region." Given this charge, the Museum actively collects art and artifacts that fulfill this mission.
Jeffrey Andersen began his tenure as director in 1976. Building upon an early 1970s campaign to recover art specific to the Lyme Art Colony, Andersen brought renewed focus to the Museum's collections. In doing so, he worked closely with the trustee-led Collections Committee and a series of talented curators on this "collective endeavor." Together, the Museum's director, curator, and Collections Committee carefully consider each work on its individual merits and relevance to the Museum's mission. "The Museum's focus may seem a bit narrow to some," Andersen notes, "but A Collective Endeavor seeks to demonstrate how the Museum has shaped a collection whose dimensions has surprising depth and diversity for our audiences." The exhibition engages the viewer in a dialogue about the Museum's integrated approach in which archival materials such as letters, photographs, and the like are collected to complement the art collections.
Collecting the Art of Lyme
Collecting work by the artists of the Lyme Art Colony, which was centered at the boardinghouse of Florence Griswold (now part of the Florence Griswold Museum), has, until recently, been the Museum's principal focus of collecting. Friends and patrons, including descendants of the colonists, have contributed hundreds of works of art by the nearly two hundred painters, sculptors, and printmakers associated with the colony. A Collective Endeavor includes major works by Childe Hassam, Willard Metcalf, Bessie Potter Vonnoh, Charles Ebert, and Ivan Olinsky. The Museum's current plan is to deepen the representation of certain artists and to acquire works by lesser known and later members of the colony who have not yet benefited from scholarship and attention in the art market. Works by artists such as Oliver Lay, who pre-date the colony, and contemporary artists such as Elizabeth Enders and Judy Cotton, capture the breadth of the collection and highlight the artistic traditions that still thrive in the area today.
Patronage and The Hartford Steam Boiler Collection
How do museums acquire work? Some come by way of careful research and successful bidding. Others happen through stewardship and grand acts of patronage. The 2001 gift of The Hartford Steam Boiler Inspection and Insurance Company's collection of Connecticut art transformed the Florence Griswold Museum from a regional museum to one with a national scope. Since the early 1980s Andersen had served in an advisory capacity to help the company build a collection to preserve Connecticut's artistic heritage for the public. When Hartford Steam Boiler was ready to make the collection more accessible to the public, the Florence Griswold Museum had the good fortune to be chosen to continue the company's commitment of sharing the 190 paintings, prints, and sculptures with new audiences. Several examples from this collection can be found in this exhibition.
Artifacts of Local History
In recent years, the Museum has taken a highly focused approach to acquiring archives, photographs, and ephemera, as well as decorative arts and textiles, that promote an understanding of the region's history and the people who shaped it. A Collective Endeavor will highlight several recent acquisitions in this area, including an autograph album of Old Lyme Congregationalist minister Reverend William B. Cary, acquired in 2005. Florence Griswold and her sisters inscribed the album in 1876. Florence's entry contains her signature and a drawing of her favorite instrument, the harp. Artifacts such as this enable the Museum, in its duel role as the Lyme Historical Society, to expand its archives in order to provide visitors and scholars a closer look into the region's heritage.
New Artistic Traditions
Just as Florence Griswold supported the work of living artists, the Museum is dedicated to presenting and collecting the work of modern and living artists who have made or are making significant contributions to the arts of Connecticut. Among others, photographs by Walker Evans, wood engravings by Thomas Nason, and a still life painting by ede-else are represented in this exhibition. Independent artists working in the region today, as well as those affiliated with the Lyme Art Association and the Lyme Academy College of Fine Arts, reflect the robust artistic community in the lower Connecticut River Valley.
(above: Robert Vonnoh (1858-1933), Portrait of Bessie Potter Vonnoh, 1907, Oil on canvas, 30 x 24 inches. Florence Griswold Museum; Acquisition Fund Purchase)
Wall texts from the exhibition:
Comments from the Director on A Collective Endeavor
Museums are special places with the power to inspire and even transform people's lives. A large measure of how this is done revolves around the breadth and quality of a museum's collection. Over the past thirty years I have had the privilege of working with teams of colleagues, trustees, collectors, and donors to strengthen the impact of this Museum's collection on the thousands who visit each year. Apart from the occasional heartbreak of a missed opportunity, the process is a joyous one. It is, truly, a collective endeavor that relies on many working toward common goals.
Much of what the Museum has achieved during this period stems from the dedication of its former curators, whose names and dates of service are listed: Bonnie MacAdam (1978-1983) , Debbie Fillos (1983-1996), Jack Becker (1996-2001), Amy Ellis (2002-2003), and Emily Florentino (2003-2004). Each contributed keen judgment and careful scholarship toward the growth of the collection. Many times a seed of a possible gift that is planted by one curator finds fruition under his or her successors. Our curators have always worked closely with the Museum's Collections Committee, a standing committee of the Board of Trustees that is charged with oversight of the collection. Its members are passionate and knowledgeable about the collection and eager to support the acquisition and interpretation of works of art and historical artifacts that will further the Museum's mission. For example, two of its members -- Charles Clark and Hedy Korst -- generously and skillfully curated this exhibition, with research assistance from volunteer Caroline Zinsser.
Until recently, the Museum had scant funds for acquisitions. As a result, it has relied almost entirely on the generosity of collectors, members, and an interested public in adding to its collection. Over the years the Museum has developed a close relationship with many of the descendants of the artists associated with the Lyme Art Colony. In addition to the pleasure of their friendship, descendants have made significant gifts of works of art and related archival materials. A Collective Endeavor includes important examples from each of these areas but by no means all of them. There are literally hundreds of worthy gifts that could not be included in this exhibition. The Museum is grateful to all of its donors for contributing to the richness of the collection.
I hope you enjoy this opportunity to explore what this Museum has collected over the past thirty years. The process is, of course, far from complete. As we look ahead with vigor to add depth and new dimensions to the collection, we intend to address our increasing responsibility to care for a growing collection. Like many museums, there are works of art here that languish in storage because of inadequate funds for conservation and framing. In response to this need, the Museum's Board of Trustees recently initiated the formation of the Wilson Wilde Art Conservation Fund. Named for a visionary leader who founded the Hartford Steam Boiler Collection, this fund will contribute to the stewardship of the Museum's art collection in perpetuity.
Collecting at the Florence Griswold Museum
The Florence Griswold Museum is dedicated to "promoting the understanding of Connecticut's contribution to American art, with emphasis on the art, history, and landscape of the Lyme region." Since the 1960s, the Florence Griswold Museum has distinguished itself as an active collecting institution as a means of fulfilling this mission. But what should the Museum collect? And how does it go about acquiring works for its permanent collection?
In addition to the professional knowledge and vision of the Museum's director and curator, we are fortunate to benefit from an active Collections Committee of trustees and advisors who have expertise and a particular interest in the collections. Their role in this "collective endeavor" is to review proposed acquisitions for the permanent collection, whether by gift or purchase. The committee is also responsible for the occasional deaccessioning of items within the collection, and for overseeing the management policies that pertain to the registration, care, and loan of the collection. At its quarterly meetings, the Collections Committee carefully considers each object or work of art on its individual merits and relevance to our collecting mission, guided by a set of written criteria and informed by background information provided by the professional staff. Lively discussions surround the following questions: is this object or work of art consistent with the Museum's goals? Is it of high quality? What is its condition? Is the object suitable for exhibition or more likely to serve principally for study and reference? Does it have educational value? How will it add depth to the Museum's collections? Decisions are based upon majority vote by those members present.
Since its founding, the Museum has had limited funds for the purchase of works for the permanent collection. As part of our recent capital campaign, Robert and Nancy Krieble gave $1 million to the Acquisitions Fund, greatly increasing the Museum's ability to pursue acquisitions in all areas as the market for American Impressionism continues to soar.
Gifts to a collection have the singular power to transform a museum. For a prime example, we need look no further than Hartford Steam Boiler's magnificent gift in 2001 of 190 paintings, prints, and sculptures by American artists associated with Connecticut from the 18th through the 20th centuries. With a heightened sense of responsibility, the Board of Trustees embraced this thrilling opportunity by devoting significant resources -- both financial and staff -- to the care and public access of this collection. A Collective Endeavor is a perfect illustration of how this new collection complements and enhances the Museum's earlier holdings.
Thanks to the extraordinary generosity of its donors, the Florence Griswold Museum can look to the future of its collections with optimism. But what will this institution collect in the years ahead? There are two directions currently being considered: one is to further enhance the Hartford Steam Boiler Collection by collecting additional works by those historical artists represented in this collection and by adding works by Connecticut artists not yet represented. Secondly, with the recognition that our collection is not strong in either modern or contemporary art, we have begun to look for opportunities to add the work of more recent artists who have made significant contributions to the arts in this state. A Collective Endeavor highlights several examples of these promising new directions in collecting.
The Art Colony at Old Lyme
The art colony that flourished in Old Lyme from 1899 until Miss Florence Griswold's death in 1937, and whose traditions continue today in the many artists who reside in the lower Connecticut River Valley, has been the Museum's principal focus of collecting. Over the past three decades, friends and patrons, including descendants of the Lyme colonists, have contributed hundreds of works of art by the nearly two hundred painters, sculptors, and printmakers associated with the colony. A Collective Endeavor offers a selection of some but not all of these acquisitions, and it includes major works by Childe Hassam (1859-1935), Willard Metcalf (1858-1925), Bessie Potter Vonnoh (1872-1955), Charles Ebert (1873-1959), and Ivan Olinsky (1878-1962).
The Museum's Lyme Art Colony Collection includes sculptures, prints, drawings, and oil paintings. Some depict the Florence Griswold House and grounds during the height of the art colony, others the charismatic scenery of the locale. The colony's evolution from one established on principles of American Barbizon landscape painting to one responding to the rising influence of Impressionism is captured in the paintings by William Henry Howe (1849-1929) and Wilson Irvine (1869-1936), but it is evident in other works as well. The Museum's current focus is to deepen the representation of certain artists and to acquire works by lesser-known and later members of the colony who have not yet benefited from recent scholarship and attention in the art market.
Patronage and The Hartford Steam Boiler Collection
The 2001 gift of The Hartford Steam Boiler Inspection and Insurance Company's collection of Connecticut art transformed the Florence Griswold Museum from a regional museum to one with a national scope. While the collection itself includes many important examples of the artists of Old Lyme, it also holds masterpieces by artists beyond this region, including Frederic Church (1826-1900), John F. Kensett (1816-1872), John Henry Twachtman (1853-1902), John Ferguson Weir (1841-1926), and his brother J. Alden Weir (1852-1919). By seeking to capture the breadth of Connecticut art, without necessarily being comprehensive, the collection complements that of the Florence Griswold Museum. It places the Lyme artists in a broader context of Connecticut's role in shaping American art, and has helped the Museum to become a museum of both Connecticut's art and the heritage of Lyme.
Hartford Steam Boiler's gift was, of course, a great act of patronage. But it is not an isolated one. The Museum has benefited from a number of important gifts over the last thirty years. Philanthropic individuals, including those whose gifts are included here as well as many others, have substantially expanded the Museum's collections of paintings, prints, and decorative arts. Indeed, the Museum has been blessed by patronage since its very beginning, a tradition begun by the artists who, expressing affection for Miss Florence Griswold, left behind paintings on the walls and doors of her house.
A Collective Endeavor presents a few new aspects of the Hartford Steam Boiler Collection while celebrating its transforming effect on the Museum. The collection continues to serve as a wellspring of ideas for future exhibitions, and the themes from the collection will inspire public programs for years to come.
Art, History, and the Lyme Historical Society
Old Lyme attracted artists in part because of the setting of the village, with its tree-lined main street and distinctive architecture, and because of the farms and farmhouses that dotted the landscape. This picturesque environment was the result of centuries of settlement and growth. Old Lyme was fortunate to sit at the confluence of Long Island Sound and the Connecticut River, which provided an ideal base for the shipping trade. It was also blessed with plenty of arable land, enabling farmers to prosper. For a small town, a rich culture ensued.
As the headquarters of the Lyme Historical Society, the Florence Griswold Museum is dedicated to collecting and interpreting the history of the region. Like many historical societies, it was in the past a repository for a kind of collective community attic. In recent years, under the leadership of the Collections Committee, the Museum has taken a more deliberate approach to acquiring the decorative arts, textiles, archives, photographs, and ephemera that improve our understanding of the region's history and of the people who shaped it. A Collective Endeavor presents several rarely seen objects, including a beautiful trapunto quilt from a member of a prominent Lyme family, and material related to the Congregational Church, a masterpiece of the architect Samuel Belcher (1779-1849), whose three prominent commissions so transformed the appearance of Lyme Street. From Childe Hassam's first effort to capture the church in oil in 1903, to today, the church has inspired countless artists and has served as an icon of the Colonial Revival movement that shaped countless towns in New England and beyond.
The Museum, in its role as the Lyme Historical Society, now seeks to expand its archives in order to provide visitors and scholars a closer look into the region's heritage. This nexus of art and history distinguishes the Florence Griswold Museum today, and poses a challenge: how best to support its collections with a comprehensive archive that serves the needs of its audiences in an era of rapidly evolving technology?
Florence Griswold and Her Family
The preservation of materials related to Florence Griswold and her family has been a long-term priority and, to this end, the Museum has acquired through gift and purchase numerous objects featured in this exhibition and in her recently restored house. Included here are a "portrait" of one of Robert Griswold's packet ships and the often moving correspondence between Griswold and his wife, Helen Powers, which bears witness to the hardships of Griswold's trade and sheds light on Florence's childhood. The neoclassical bust of their close relative George Griswold (1777-1859) by sculptor John Frazee (1790-1852), brings to life an extraordinary period in American history when important politicians and merchants were represented as Roman nobility by the first generation of American sculptors. These artifacts are significant as representations of the artists who created them, and as documentation of the Griswold family's contribution to the local economy through their robust participation in the transatlantic and China trade.
Future Directions in Collecting
Photographs by Walker Evans (1903-1975), wood engravings by Thomas Nason (1889-1971), and a still-life painting by ede-else (1894-1984) symbolize the Museum's commitment to increasing its collection of works of art that post-date the Lyme Art Colony. In this sense, the future is nearly limitless, since relatively little research has been done on artists who resided in or visited the region from the 1940s to the 1970s. With these and other artists, the Museum has the opportunity to investigate the increased complexity of American art in the 20th century.
A Collective Endeavor also includes works by contemporary Lyme artists with national reputations, Elizabeth Enders (b. 1939) and Judith Cotton (b. 1941). Other artists working in the region, together with the members of the Lyme Art Association and the students and faculty of the Lyme Academy College of Fine Arts, reflect the health of the creative community in the lower Connecticut River Valley. In recent years the Museum has become actively engaged with contemporary art in its exhibitions and in working with visual and performing artists on its educational programming. Just as Florence Griswold supported the work of living artists, the Florence Griswold Museum is committed to presenting and collecting the work of modern and living artists who have made or are making significant contributions to the arts of Connecticut.
A Collective Endeavor: Three Decades of Acquisitions
Over the past thirty years, the Florence Griswold Museum has been, consistent with its mission, tightly focused on the arts and heritage of Old Lyme and, more recently, the arts of Connecticut. While to many this might seem too narrowly prescribed, this exhibition is intended to show how the Museum has shaped a collection whose dimensions and strengths offer diverse surprises and delights to the viewer. It also seeks to demonstrate the merits of the Museum's integrated collecting approach in which archival materials such as letters, photographs, and the like complement and inform the art and historical collections.
The timeless setting that shelters the Florence Griswold House and the adjoining Krieble Gallery belies the fact that the Florence Griswold Museum is a relatively young institution, having its roots in a 1936 effort of friends of Florence Griswold, including many of the Lyme artists, to preserve the artistic legacy of the Lyme Art Colony. These visionary leaders laid the groundwork for the institution we know today. In 1955, the Florence Griswold Association, as it was then known, merged with the newly formed Lyme Historical Society. The resulting institution encompasses both the art and the history of the region. Over subsequent decades the Museum grew in ways its founders would not have dreamed, and its collections today include a breadth of objects that are represented in this exhibition.
A Collective Endeavor celebrates the period beginning in 1976 when the Museum's current director, Jeffrey Andersen, began his tenure. Building upon an early 1970s effort to recover art and artifacts specific to the colony, Andersen brought renewed focus to the Museum's collection and to its accompanying exhibition and publication programs. In doing so, he worked closely with trustees, especially the trustee-led Collections Committee, and a succession of talented curators to identify priorities and pursue important acquisitions. Despite limited funds, each year strategic acquisitions were made in the areas of local history and the Lyme Art Colony. In 2001, viewing the Florence Griswold Museum as an ideal steward, The Hartford Steam Boiler Inspection and Insurance Company gave the Museum its collection of 190 works by Connecticut artists spanning the eighteenth to the twentieth centuries. This magnificent gift convinced the Museum's leaders to enlarge an exhibition and storage facility already under construction, and to broaden the institution's scope from the Lyme Art Colony to the arts of Connecticut.
This exhibition presents a selection of works of art, artifacts, and archival materials that the Museum has collected over the past thirty years. A creative continuum is suggested by the inclusion of more recent works of art, a promising new collecting area for the Museum. A Collective Endeavor is a manifold celebration: of leadership, of generosity, of beautiful objects, but most of all, of a collective purpose that will leave for this and future generations an institution rooted in a universal language, the creative spirit.
This exhibition has been co-curated by trustees and collection committee members Charles Clark and Hedy Korst, with research assistance from Caroline Zinsser.
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