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.