Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Name the Princess Contest Results

Introducing Princess Wrenevere

Although not one of the names suggested, this avian version of King Arthur’s Queen Guinevere, was inspired by the many creative entries. Thanks for all the terrific ideas.

Come to the Museum to see the enchanted birdhouses inspired by fairy tales in “Of Feathers & Fairy Tales,” October 1-31, 2011. The winner of the $25 gift certificate for the Museum Shop was drawn from all the entries (including those submitted online).

Here’s the list of names submitted by Museum visitors.

* multiple entries for this name

Submitted Names:

  • Aethemannae
  • Agustina
  • Airspania
  • Azuli
  • Azur Bella
  • Azure
  • Barbara Rose
  • Bella
  • Bella Bleu
  • Belle
  • Birdella
  • Birdie
  • Blue Angel
  • Blue Jade
  • Blue Muse
  • Blue Velvet
  • Bonnie Blue Bonnet
  • Brina
  • Bubblegum
  • Butafle
  • Candy
  • Chandra
  • Chirperella
  • Darling
  • Dorothy
  • Elegance of the Skye
  • Esme Bleu
  • Feather
  • Feathers
  • Featherella
  • Fiona *
  • Fiona Feather Bottom
  • Firenze
  • Florabelle
  • Flo on the Go
  • FloMagical
  • Florence *
  • Florence G.
  • Florence of Arabia
  • Florentina
  • Gesele
  • Glitter
  • Gloriana
  • Gold Griswold
  • Golden
  • Graylight
  • Impressa
  • Indigo
  • Indigo Plume
  • Iyanna Jasmine
  • Jasmine
  • Jewel *
  • Julia
  • Kismet
  • Lady Sophie
  • Laia
  • LaMone
  • Layla
  • Lily
  • Lily Laurel
  • Lisianthus
  • Lula
  • Lulu
  • Madame Lilly
  • Manora
  • Marabelle Queeny
  • Matilda
  • Merry Feathers
  • Mia
  • Naomi
  • Of the Clouds
  • Ovidia
  • Pelagia
  • Persephone *
  • Phoenix Feathers
  • Philomena
  • Pressy
  • Princy
  • Priscilla
  • Ribbon
  • Roy Al
  • Ruby
  • Scarlet
  • Sea Mist
  • Sigelinde
  • Silver Lake
  • Silverwing Rubyheart
  • Sonnet
  • Sophia
  • Sophie Rose
  • Sparkle
  • Spritzy
  • Susan
  • Turandot
  • Vadalia
  • Victoria
  • Yodio-Gumball
  • Zanzibar

Thursday, August 18, 2011

New Arrival on Campus

On the morning of 21 June, 2011, Sheila Wertheimer, our Gardens Supervisor, arrived on campus with a beautiful Ginkgo tree to be planted in front of the Krieble Gallery.  It required the help of Randy Robinson, our Groundskeeper, and two landscapers from Wertheimer and Associates - Jerry LeFever and Brian Renshaw -to get this tree off the truck and properly planted. The ginkgo tree is replacing a Japanese Tree Lilac that had occupied that space previously -  but not altogether successfully.

A few months earlier it was noted by the Museum’s Buildings and Grounds Committee that the Japanese Tree Lilac tree in front of the Gallery was not doing well. It was decided to replace it with a species that would prove long-lived, durable and resistant to drought conditions.  After much discussion, over a period of a month or so, the Committee accepted Sheila’s recommended choice of species.


The Ginkgo, (Ginkgoaceae), the oldest tree in captivity, is often called the Maidenhair Tree.  Its native habitat is Eastern China where it was first introduced to the US in 1784.  One of the world’s oldest trees, it has no living relatives. It was native to North America at one time. Dendrologists and gardeners alike often refer to the ginkgo as “undoubtedly one of the most distinct and beautiful of all deciduous trees:” (W.J. Bean, Trees and Shrubs Hardy in the British Isles, variable dates).

It’s distinctive fan-like shaped leaves turn a stunning golden yellow in the autumn.


 (Excerpt from Wikipedia -  Ginkgo palaeontology)

The Ginkgo is a living fossil, with fossils recognizably related to modern Ginkgo from the Permian, dating back 270 million years. The most plausible ancestral group for the order Ginkgoales is the Pteridospermatophyta, also known as the ”seed ferns”; specifically the order Peltraspermales. The closest living relatives of the clade are the cycads, which share with the extant G. biloba the characteristic of motile sperm. Fossils attributable to the genus Ginkgo first appeared in the Early Jurassic and the genus diversified and spread throughout the Laurasia during the middle Jurassic and early Cretaceous. It declined in diversity as the Cretaceous progressed, and by the Paleocene, the Ginkgo adiantoides was the only Ginkgo species left in the Northern Hemisphere while a markedly different (and poorly documented) form persisted in the Southern Hemisphere. At the end of the Pliocene, Ginkgo fossils disappeared from the fossil record everywhere except in a small area of central China where the modern species survived. It is doubtful whether the Northern Hemisphere fossil species of Ginkgo can be reliably distinguished. Given the slow pace of evolution and morphological similarity between members of the genus, there may have been only one or two species existing in the Northern Hemisphere through the entirety of the Cenozoic:  present-day G. biloba (including G. adiantoides) and G. gardneri from the Paleocene of Scotland. 

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Metcalf Blooms Eternal

While our new exhibition In Bloom: Mountain Laurel and the Lyme Art Colony celebrates a flower that has yet to make an appearance in nature this season, Willard Metcalf's painting Dogwood Blossoms, seen in the detail above, captures a different fleeting springtime moment, one that is now gone for another season. The dogwood on the campus of the Florence Griswold Museum (below) was last week's outdoor "exhibition," so to speak.

The Boston Herald noted both the "fresh young blossoms" and the "fresh young girls" in a November 1906 review making mention of the dogwood painting. In this detail we see Metcalf's aspiring Impressionist brushwork as he reduces the delicate blossoms, as well as the face of the woman, to thinly applied smudges of color. Compared to other painted details we've examined in this series, Metcalf's handling is sparing and dry, with the weave of the canvas clearly visible.

Though Metcalf frequently dated his paintings, marking the year they were completed, we can actually construct an even more precise chronology of his work based on the blooming cycle of his subjects. Metcalf made his dogwood painting in the spring of 1906, the season after he painted the FGM's latest Metcalf acquisition Kalmia, a work featuring an explosion of mountain laurel blossoms along the marshy Lieutenant River. (You can read more about Kalmia here.) In 1905, he also painted The Poppy Garden while visiting in Old Lyme. If you stroll through our historic gardens behind the Griswold House this weekend you'll find the poppies haven't bloomed yet, but are not far off. With dogwood, mountain laurel, and poppies to occupy him, late May and early June must have been an incredibly busy time for Metcalf.

Friday, May 20, 2011

A Nineteenth Century Field Trip

The "phantom" woman I pointed out a couple of days ago is far from being the only thing mysterious about the Charter Oak. The legend of the tree and its place in Connecticut history has continued to grow over the centuries. When Frederic Church painted his version of the Charter Oak around 1846, the tree was still standing in Hartford. In his rendering, several figures can be seen visiting the tree, which was a historic landmark even then. This pair, a woman who appears to be writing and a young boy, may be on something like the equivalent of our educational field trips today.

Why take a field trip to see a tree, you wonder? The tree was the legendary hiding place for a very important colonial document, the Connecticut Charter. Granted by Charles II in 1662, this document ensured the inhabitants of Connecticut the right to a popularly elected governor who ruled in the king's stead. The charter also acted as a constitution for the colony, a service which it continued to perform into the nineteenth century. When King James II demanded the return of the Connecticut Charter in 1685 in order to create one giant royal colony in America the citizens of Connecticut took action.

The newly appointed governor arrived in Hartford (along with 60 armed men) to seize power in 1687, but the colonists resisted. In a move likely orchestrated to cause chaos and confusion, the candles of the meeting hall where the handover was to take place suddenly went out. When order was restored and the lights blazed again, the charter was gone and so was Captain Joseph Wadsworth.

Wadsworth spirited the document away and allegedly hid it in the hollow of a tree, now known as the Charter Oak, on the property of Samuel Wyllys in Hartford. There it stayed, secreted away for more than two years until William and Mary restored Connecticut's right to again rule itself under the original charter.

For its role in, literally, defending the constitution of the colony, the tree itself was honored for the rest of its days. When a storm brought the tree down in 1856, mourners gathered at the site, collecting souvenirs of the venerable oak. One of the "souvenirs," so to speak, exists to this day at the Florence Griswold Museum. Not the painting by Church, but an actual tree; a white oak on the grounds is a descendant of the original tree (at left). Acorns gathered from the Charter Oak have been planted, with ensuing generations of trees known as the "scions" of the Charter Oak.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Phantom of the Charter Oak

The Charter Oak was one very big tree (by some accounts it was 22 feet in circumference!), immortalized by one very big artist (Frederic Church). I promised to tell some of the secrets of our paintings in this series and Church's The Charter Oak is literally a painting about a secret.

I’ll tell you the legend of the Charter Oak in a few days, but right now I want to look closely at one small detail of the painting. Certainly Church intends for us to pay attention to the historic tree, but he learned from his teacher, Thomas Cole (who made a very famous painting of the Connecticut River), that including fine details can make his landscapes all the more grand. Look carefully to find a dog resting in the foreground, a cupola silhouetted in the distance, and bird perched on a branch of the tree on the right.

But it’s the woman under the tree you might find intriguing when stop to notice her. She’s not quite all there, is she? You can see the whitewashed fence in front of her right through her body. As fun as it would be to turn the tale of the Charter Oak into a ghost story, there’s actually a scientific explanation for what you see.

Oil paint is made up of pigment mixed with linseed oil. As the paint ages, the properties of the linseed oil change due to oxygen exposure. Light actually travels through the paint more easily now than it did 150 years ago. The result is that you and I can see “through” the woman standing under the tree. She would have looked completely solid to Church as he was painting it.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

A Barnyard by Another Name

The detail above is captured from John Twachtman's painting Barnyard, on view in our current exhibition. In the painting, dozens of impressionistic roosters, chickens, and doves gather around a small child. Barnyard entered The Hartford Steam Boiler Collection in 1992, but lately I've been tracking it's history, or provenance, further back.

In his lifetime, Twachtman exhibited the painting in Chicago, Cincinnati, and New York. A critic from the New York Tribune, writing in 1901, had mixed feelings about Twachtman's paintings. "The bright, almost staccato note of "The Barnyard" is wholly captivating. But if the collection embraces these lucky hits it also contains things that are amorphous and uninteresting." (You can read the full review here by zooming in.)

The critic from the New York Times agreed, writing about the same exhibition: "The point to be made is whether Mr. Twachtman's quality does not sometimes lead him too far." (See the article titled "A Trio of Painters" here.)

The painting has also been exhibited under the title Feeding the Chickens, a helpful fact to know when looking for it in archives and other records. Searching by this alternate title, I learned much more about the Florence Griswold Museum's painting.

After Twachtman's unexpected death in 1902, nearly 100 of his works were auctioned at the American Art Galleries in New York, among them Feeding the Chickens, which sold for $170. According to the New York Times, the sale, which netted $16,610, attracted many vociferous art students. "Long-haired men and short-haired women uttered exclamations of surprise when a picture brought a good price."

Feeding the Chickens was purchased that night by George DuPont Pratt, whose family held the painting for over forty years. Only ten years after buying the Twachtman, Pratt built his home, Killenworth, on Long Island for a reported $500,000. In 1946, the home was sold to the Soviet Union for a song at $120,000 and remains the retreat of the Russian delegation to the United Nations. Lucky for us the financially-strapped Pratts sold their Twachtman at auction in 1942, where it was once again titled Barnyard.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Hartford in a Dream

The mysterious doorway and narrow windows presented here are a small part of a 1975 pastel by Werner Groshans, an artist sometimes called a "magic realist" for his realistic, yet always somewhat strange style of painting. Not quite a Surrealist himself, Groshans shared some of the Surrealists' sensibilities, tending to take realistic scenes and transform them into the slightly off-kilter visions of a dream. The softness of the pastel, visible in this detail, literally blurs the image, contributing to the sensation that the scene is perhaps a hazy image in a fading memory.

The doorway Groshans captures is actually a part of a real building, the Connecticut State Armory in Hartford, built in 1911 and still in use today. This 1920s era postcard gives you an idea of the building itself and its fortress-like quality, an aesthetic shared by many armory buildings. The doorway above can be matched up to this vintage view, though Groshans takes some liberties with the rest of the architecture.
If we compare Groshans' finished work (seen below but also appearing in our current exhibition Inspiration & Impact) to the postcard view, the real-yet-unreal qualities of the pastel rendering become clearer. He's chosen a side-view of the building, emphasizing the large sky-lit drill shed, and has simplified the architectural details of the monumental building. It's the front of the building, though, that gets the greatest magic realist makeover.

In Groshans' version, the armory is partly buried under a hill that does not exist in reality. Out of Groshans' imagined hill grows a large tree, which amazingly dwarfs the 100 foot tall shed, an inconsistency of scale typical of dreams. The erie quality of the building, seemingly being swallowed by the ground and overshadowed by the (shadowless) tree beside it, can be felt even in the tiny detail of the doorway. The passageway does not open into the cavernous space of the building, nor is a real door depicted. Instead Groshans door is as solid and impenetrable as the roof above, providing no access at all, either for the viewer's eye or the imagined inhabitants of this dream version of Hartford.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Spring has Sprung at the Florence Griswold Museum

Spring has sprung at the Florence Griswold Museum

It took a while but spring has finally come to Old Lyme.

Do not miss an opportunity to visit the grounds of the Museum during the heady days of “First Greens”.   Myriad daffodils abound on the grounds; in particular just north of the Florence Griswold House. 

As you drive in through the main entrance to the Museum, don’t miss the beautiful old cherry tree on the left just past the tulip tree. It possesses such a sublime essence of pale pink beauty. It has only a few days of glory before it sheds its petals.

The trees and shrubberies are coming into their own.  We are well into the first blush of spring and the Pepperidge and Willow are harbingers of the early leafing of our Maples, Beeches, Oaks and Dogwoods.

The historical garden and Huntley Brown gardens are also displaying the first flowering of April and May flowers. The first tulip was seen yesterday.  Lilacs are just around the corner.

Come quick, come soon; spring is too quickly a fleeting memory of loveliness and aromatic smells.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Color of Snow

The Museum's recent acquisition The Broken Wall, a snowy landscape by Wilson Irvine, will soon be leaving the galleries, replaced by the spring scenes of our upcoming exhibition In Bloom. Before this painted snow melts away, let's take a closer look at one tiny section of the canvas depicting a snow-covered shrub at the base of an evergreen tree.

Though we often think of Impressionists as midsummer sun-seekers, the impression of a winter landscape was perhaps even more challenging to capture, with the sun glaring off a snow-covered scene. Courbet's snowy landscapes inspired Monet's early experiments in winterscapes. It's been said many times that the Impressionists banned black from their palettes with painters choosing instead to build their dark shades from colors such as Prussian Blue or mixed complementary colors. But what about "snow white"?

White is definitely in abundance in French and American Impressionist painting, but as Irvine shows us, white is almost never pure. The cool feeling of snow here is accomplished with a heavy dose of violet, lilac, and robin's egg blue. Irvine layers onto this icy base, adding a frosting of warmer white that tends toward a sun-faded pink. While he pushes the cool colors into the canvas, as evidenced by the individual bristle marks, he dabs on this warmer color, letting the paint be pulled from a loaded brush that barely touches the canvas.

Though in this detail The Broken Wall seems wildly painted, Irvine was no Abstract Expressionist. When viewed as a whole (see below), the painting distracts us with it's representational subject matter, concealing the multitude of abstract passages out of which it is created.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Reestablishing the Woodhead Memorial Garden

A handsome flat stone of Vermont Granite was installed on April 14, 2011 in a newly re-established memorial garden to the north of the Florence Griswold House. The garden honors the legacy of Daniel Woodhead, Jr.  Surrounded by thousands of yellow and white daffodils planted by Rob Wilbur of Wilbur and King, the stone is positioned in a stand amongst three maples. Designed by Mary Ann Besier and Ruth Baxter of Rumney and Associates, the slab was ordered, cut, scribed and delivered through the conscientious efforts of Joe Fulton of Shoreline Memorials.

Daniel Woodhead, Jr. (1911-1978), a retired business leader from Winnetka, Illinois whose family had roots in Old Lyme, guided the Florence Griswold Museum as its President from 1974 until 1978.  He hired Jeffrey Andersen as director in 1976 and shortly thereafter led the Museum in establishing its first Endowment Fund, which he generously supported.  His tenure as President was cut short by his unexpected death on June 18, 1978.  Many members admired his leadership and gave funds to establish the Woodhead Memorial Garden on the north side of the Florence Griswold House.  Designed by his successor, Dr. George B. Tatum, a distinguished architectural historian, the garden consisted of a rectangular space with a yew hedge that was intended to function as an out-of-door “room” for meetings during the summer.  Unfortunately, every winter deer ravaged the hedges and inadequate sunlight meant that they never matured satisfactorily.  In the 1990s the hedges were removed and, thanks to the acquisition of additional property between the Museum and the Bee and Thistle Inn, the area was opened up and returned to a more natural state.

Now, many years later, the Museum is re-designating this attractive open space as the Woodhead Memorial Garden. Thousands of daffodils bloom there each spring.  This highly visible area brings joy to visitors, residents, and even passers-by that drive by on a daily basis. 

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Secret Lives of Paintings

One of the great and unique pleasures of museums is the first hand interaction with works of art. There it is, right in front of you. You can read about art, go to lectures, browse collections on the internet, but those experiences never exactly replicate the understanding that comes from seeing for yourself.
When the Google Art Project launched a few months ago, the power of visiting international collections and the ability to "zoom in" to an image created an interesting buzz in art and technology circles. This website seemed to do something others didn't, or didn't do as well. People were impressed.
While the Google Art Project allows you to scan the surface of a painting in great detail. . . well, in fact, so does your eye when you're standing in the gallery. The new technology certainly still has its place, especially in bringing art from international collections right to our desktops. The great thrill of looking up close at any square inch of the canvas you find interesting, however, is available to you in any museum.
Over the next few weeks, I'll post some photos (taken with my phone, no zoom necessary!) of paintings currently in our galleries, like the one here of Willard Metcalf's Kalmia, a depiction of mountain laurel along the Lieutenant River. In this image you can get a sense of areas of thinly applied, dry brushwork (the branches of the laurel) as well as the thick and gooey pinks of the blossoms cooled with lilac shadows. The sheer number of strokes -- of different quality, direction, color, and texture -- that make up this tiny piece of real estate is impressive.
I think you'll be equally impressed with the images to come and the secret details hidden in plain view on the surfaces of the canvases in our galleries. Come and see for yourself.