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Warm Winds: Connecticut Artists in the Tropics

August 2 - October 5, 2008


The Florence Griswold Museum in Old Lyme, Connecticut presents Warm Winds: Connecticut Artists in the Tropics, on view August 2 through October 5, 2008. Drawn from private lenders, the Museum's permanent collection and the works of two contemporary artists, Warm Winds examines the appeal of year round painting, varied and plentiful subject matter and simpler way of life offered by warmer climes. The over 60 paintings and works on paper chronicle Connecticut artists' longstanding love of the tropics, which continues to this day. (right: Chet Reneson, Rachel and Friends, 2005, Collection of Chet and Penny Reneson)

American artists have been lured south since the nineteenth century. Among the best known are Connecticut native Frederic Edwin Church and the master watercolorist Winslow Homer. Both traveled in search of unusual scenery, which they found in Jamaica, the Bahamas, Florida, and Bermuda. Inspired by the renderings of lush vegetation and ravishing colors recorded by their predecessors, the artists of the Lyme Art Colony, headed for the same locales in the early twentieth century. They too were in search of new painting subjects and the ability to paint "en plein air," in the open air, year round. From the 'teens to the 1940s, Harry Hoffman, Charles and Mary Ebert, Will Howe Foote, Clark Voorhees, Edward Rook, and Abram Poole all ventured to warmer locations in the winter. The brilliant sunlight, fresh colors, and tropical way of life they encountered prompted these artists to re-calibrate the Impressionist palette. They also began to experiment with greater use of the white surfaces of their canvas or paper as seen in Mary Ebert's watercolor painting, Pink House, Bermuda. Here, painting from the shade of a sidewalk, Ebert allows the white of the bare paper to suggest the corner of a neighboring candy-colored house. Watercolor proved to be a favorite medium of artists painting in the tropics. The portability of the paints and the brilliance of their colors against a white background made watercolor ideal for capturing the quality of tropical light while working outdoors.

For artists from North America, the tropics offered a simpler way of life unburdened by the stresses of modern urban life. They recorded the distinctive places and people they met as tourists, soaking up the local culture. Over time, enjoyment of the tropical climate deepened into appreciation of the region's people. Will Howe Foote and Abram Poole composed powerful portraits of island residents in Jamaica and Dominica. In Reynolds Beal's etching, Sponge Fishing, Florida, men fish for natural sponges, once a major industry in the northern Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico. Through the energy of his etched lines, Beal captures the rapid pace and challenges of such work as each man strives to locate and remove the sponges from beneath the roiling  waters.

The works of two contemporary Connecticut artists in the exhibition prove that these warm, tropical waters have not lost their appeal. Chet Reneson continues the tradition of seeking subject material in warmer climes by portraying the more rigorous activities associated with island life. Working in the Bahamas, Reneson concentrates on activities such as fishing and on the daily life of island residents, which he renders in watercolors that recall the spirit of Winslow Homer.

Judy Cotton's tropical works provide a narrative of her existence. Motifs, such as swimming, plant life, or stingrays document her experiences-each one is a memento of an encounter with nature, a souvenir of a sight or sensation. The Australian-born Cotton, who now lives in Connecticut, has visited Virgin Gorda, the Cayman Islands, Nevis, and other tropical locales over many years, leading to a series of works featuring swimmers and sea creatures. One of Cotton's favorite media, encaustic, or warm wax mixed with resin and pigment, allows her to achieve the vibrant colors of the tropics and to suggest textures, as in her transfer print of a stingray. 


Special Events and Programming

A variety of special events, lectures, and presentations developed in conjunction with the exhibitions will be posted on the Museum's web site, http://www.florencegriswoldmuseum.org


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