Sunday, June 03, 2012

In Depth Isms 2

George M. Bruestle, Light and Shadows
While predominantly a painter of landscapes, George Bruestle could be more accurately described as a painter of sunlight.  The intensity with which he renders light as if falls on rocks, fields, and foliage makes his small and intimate landscapes radiate.  Light and Shadows is rare in Bruestle’s oeuvre for its large size, making his characteristic loose paint handling seem even more expressionistic by its scale.  Bruestle’s trademark juxtaposition of light and dark comes through in the contrast of sun bleached rocks and white fencing against the darker wooded recesses and cast shadows of the canvas.  The ripple and swell of the ground recalls the geological upheaval that took place as glaciers deposited these rocks across the region. 
Bruestle moved with his family to the village of Hamburg, just north of Old Lyme in 1905, after visiting the area year after year.  Although not directly involved with the group residing at Florence Griswold’s boarding house, many colony artists lived in the countryside outside of town, including Robert Vonnoh, Eugene Higgins, and Oscar Fehrer.  Bruestle was one of the earliest painters to come to the region and one of the first to introduce an Impressionist style to the colony there.  His son Bertram also trained as an artist and carried on a family tradition of painting the Connecticut landscape.

Friday, June 01, 2012

In Depth Isms

The current exhibition, ...isms: Unlocking Art's Mysteries, is drawing to a close. Assistant Curator Amanda Burdan, who left in April to take a position at the Brandywine River Museum, shared her thoughts about some of the paintings on view. Over the next week we will post her insightful articles.

Frederic E. Church, A Catskill Landsape, ca. 1858

Included in the current exhibition in a section entitled, “Romanticism,” the work of Frederic Church might be more readily associated with the term “Hudson River School.” Not a bricks-and-mortar school, but a style of painting, the Hudson River School artists were known for their great attention to detail, rendering minute details of grass, leaves, or rocks to advertise both their observational skills and their technical prowess. The “Romantic” aspect of this kind of painting can be found in the subject matter, usually a natural scene of great, awe-inspiring beauty that emphasized the sublime aspects of the world.

During a period when Church was sought out out exalted views of volcanoes, terrifying icebergs, and exotic rainforests for his paintings, A Catskill Landscape may seem a tame subject. When Church visited the Catskills with his new bride in 1860, the area was already a fashionable resort.  Sightseeing tourists enjoyed “sunrising,” gathering early in the morning to meditate on the panoramic view from hilltop vantage points   Church’s treatment of the scene accentuates the dramatic aspects of the wild foliage and distant mountains by lighting them with a blazing atmospheric effect.   His scientific study of nature helped Church achieve a likeness so convincing that viewers thrilled to be transported to his wild locales, even if they were as close to home as the Catskills.

Friday, May 04, 2012

A Star is Planted

On 01 May, 2012, Sheila Wertheimer, the Museum’s Garden Historian, planted a new tree on the grounds. It is called a Star Magnolia “Dr. Merrill”. It is a multi-stemmed cultivar, and appears quite different from the Star Magnolia that Miss Florence planted on the property back in the 1920’s. That tree had been located in the woods between the House and the Lyme Art Association until it succumbed to the elements two years ago. The new tree was planted near the west end of the Huntley Brown House gardens on the spot where the Black Scotch Pine once grew two years ago. Jeff, the Director, was very fond of that tree before it died, calling it his favorite tree on the property. We felt it was time to put another beautiful and distinctive tree in its place. Jerry LaFevre and Brian Renshaw, two of Sheila’s indispensible assistants, ably helped transport and plant the new magnolia.
Here’s to wishing it many long and happy years with us!

Friday, March 30, 2012

the Museum gets a New (for us) Truck!

Thanks to all the generous “Raise Your Bid” contributions from our 2011 Annual Fund-Raiser Auction, the Museum has managed to procure a new (for us) pick-up truck.  It is a 2004 Ranger Green F-250 Extended Cab Ford that we found at Saybrook Ford. We also bought a brand-new plow that we attached to the front-end in the event of snow. I daresay, we had only one opportunity this season to test it out before spring descended upon us.  Nonetheless, the truck will come in very handy this season for removing garden debris, as well as transporting near and sundry all year long as the  museum’ s busy calendar dictates; whether it is in support of  Faire Village projects, or moving pedestals and platforms for gallery exhibits, or hauling trash  after the Mid-summer  and Annual Auction Event.


Thank you all again for your generous support.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Historical Garden Gets Rejuvenated

This spring, 2012, Miss Florence’s Historical Garden received a new soaker hose irrigation system as well as a complete replacement of the board edging the flowerbeds.

Maxim Irrigation installed the New Soaker Hose System in December 2011. It replaces the older “pop-up” heads system with a much more efficient water–saving system that consists of a series of soaker hoses buried in parallel rows among the flora.

 The garden cedar board edging was in great need of replacement and Ted Gaffney, the Facilities Manager, found a ready source of sassafras boards from Michael Taylor of Clarkson Falls, CT.  Mr. Taylor felled, sawed and dried the timber in his curing shed.  Sassafras wood is known for its resistant properties to wood rot. The board edging was cut to size and installed by Randy Robinson of Total Landscape with the help of his assistant Pat Jones. Sheila Wertheimer, our Lead Gardener, recommended that we use metal corner devices with metal connectors to tie the boards together.  These were obtained from Gardener’s Supply Co. of Burlington, VT.

 Come see the Historic Garden! It only gets better with age!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

ism of the week - week 6

Each week during our current exhibition, ...isms: Unlocking Art's Mysteries, we will post deeper insight into one of the paintings on view. Past the credit line, past the exhibition label, Assistant Curator Amanda Burdan shares her thoughts:

This image of a laborer was one of several portraits of working class men and women Walker Evans made on a trip to Cuba in 1933. Commissioned to photograph Machado-era Cuba for Carleton Beals’ book The Crime of Cuba, Evans went about his assignment without a specific political agenda. In later years he insisted he had not read the manuscript for the book prior to his trip and went with an open mind to photograph Cuba and its people as he experienced them. A mix of tight portraits, like this one, and scenes capturing both the streets of Havana and the surrounding villages, the resulting portfolio of thirty-one images has since become more widely known than the book they illustrated.

This assignment predates Evans’ work for the Farm Security Administration, but also foreshadows the kind of imagery he, and other so-called “information specialists” working for the United States government, would gather throughout the Depression. Evans’ respectful approach to this coal dock worker trained him for documenting the impoverished conditions of sharecroppers and tenant farmers in this country only a few years later. Evans allows the man’s tanned and leathery skin and bristly beard to narrate the story of the long hours he spent toiling in the Cuban summer sun. In many ways, he does the same in his later photographs of sharecroppers who appear hard-working and noble despite their tattered clothing and dirty faces.

Walker Evans
Dockworker, Havana,

Gelatin silver print

Florence Griswold Museum

Friday, March 16, 2012

ism of the week - week 5

Each week during our current exhibition, ...isms: Unlocking Art's Mysteries, we will post deeper insight into one of the paintings on view. Past the credit line, past the exhibition label, Assistant Curator Amanda Burdan shares her thoughts:

Although Samuel F.B. Morse made a name for himself as the inventor of the telegraph, his early career as a painter and photographer is far less known. While studying art abroad in London, a remark in a letter to his parents in 1811 foreshadowed his future successes, as he wrote: “I wish that in an instant I could communicate the information, but three thousand miles are not passed over in an instant and we must wait four long weeks before we can hear from each other.”

His ambition to be a painter of great American historical subjects, or at least of landscape paintings, met with disappointment when he realized that it was portraiture which truly drove the American art market so early in the nineteenth century. In this respect his mother proved correct when she wrote to him in 1814 saying: “You must not expect to paint anything in this country for which you receive any money to support youself but portraits.” Even in what Morse thought of as the lowly realm of portraiture, he made a good living with commissions of the highest rank, including Presidents James Monroe and John Adams as well as John Hancock and General Lafayette.

The subject of this portrait is less stately and well known. Louisa Walter Bishop Hughes was a well-educated New Haven woman who attended Miss Pierce’s Litchfield Academy from 1818 to 1820. It is likely that this portrait was made around the time she attended the school, perhaps as part of her debut in society. She appears youthful in the portrait, lacking the elaborate fashions and hairstyles Morse often imaged for married women.

Late in her life Louisa recorded her thoughts and sorrows in journals, which have been preserved. After a particularly difficult period, she began a new journal, writing: “I can scarcely make up my mind to begin a new book—I look back upon the past and the eager hope with which I began the last—the change is great. I have drank deep of the bitter cup of Death. My treasures have been taken from me. The record of my life is a record of the graves’ solitary occupants—no, let me say of the inhabitants of heaven. Though I am even bereft of my first born, I will believe God has wounded me in love to them, and for myself, His will, not mine, be done.” Louisa’s mournful lament brings to mind Morse’s first message on his new telegraph in 1844: the fateful question, “What hath God Wrought?”

Samuel F. B. Morse (1791–1892)

Louisa W.B. Hughes

Oil on wood
Florence Griswold Museum

Gift of The Hartford Steam Boiler Inspection and Insurance Company

Friday, March 09, 2012

ism of the week - week 4

Each week during our current exhibition, ...isms: Unlocking Art's Mysteries, we will post deeper insight into one of the paintings on view. Past the credit line, past the exhibition label, Assistant Curator Amanda Burdan shares her thoughts:

Elmer MacRae’s Still Life with Magnolias is among the newest paintings in the Florence Griswold Museum’s collection. This modern looking painting may seem like a surprising choice for the collection given that MacRae is an important Impressionist from the Cos Cob art colony. He is, perhaps, even more important to the overall history of American art for the work he did as a member of the American Association of Painters and Sculptors, the group that organized and mounted the 1913 International Exhibition of Modern Art, better known as the Armory Show. That pivotal exhibition helped to introduce American audiences to a broad range of the modern styles coming out of Europe. MacRae submitted Impressionist styled works to that exhibition, but soon after came under the influence of the twentieth-century Europeans, updating his style.

This still life, painted two years after the Armory Show moves away from the sketch-like images of his Impressionist years, substituting in bold brush strokes to represent the vase, flowers, and especially the patterned background. MacRae takes a step toward Modernism with the abstract qualities of the worka radical move for a young American at the time, but he may appear to our eyes to remain conservative in his choice of subject matter. In fact, Modernists like Paul Cézanne and Pablo Picasso embraced the simple still life as a vehicle for their more groundbreaking experiments in style.

Elmer Livingston MacRae (1875–1953)

Still Life with Magnolias, 1915

Oil on canvas
Florence Griswold Museum

Museum purchase

Friday, March 02, 2012

ism of the week - week 3

Each week during our current exhibition, ...isms: Unlocking Art's Mysteries, we will post deeper insight into one of the paintings on view. Past the credit line, past the exhibition label, Assistant Curator Amanda Burdan shares her thoughts:

Instrumental in many ways to the establishment of abstract art in the United States, Harry Holtzman is best remembered today for his close friendship with and writing about Piet Mondrian. Holtzman’s colleague, the abstract artist Burgoyne Diller, proved pivotal to his future as an artist. Diller introduced Holtzman to the Gallatin Collection at New York University where Holtzman first encountered Mondrian’s work. Though he had not seen Mondrian’s paintings before, Holtzman had been working in a similar geometric style. Intrigued to the point of obsession, Holtzman traveled to Paris in 1934, intent on meeting Mondrian.

By 1934 Mondrian had firmly established his Neo-Plasticism, an entirely abstract style made upin its ultimate formstrictly of horizontal and vertical lines and primary colors. Mondrian was beginning to experiment with three-dimensional interpretations of his iconic style. The two men shared theories of art and parted as friends when Holtzman returned to the United States the following spring.

Holtzman continued to be active in the New York art world, teaching classes at European modernist Hans Hoffman’s school. He, along with other advanced artists of the period founded the American Abstract Artists group in 1937, to further the cause of abstraction in this country. During the Depression Holtzman also worked as an administrator for the mural painting division of the Federal Art Program, a branch of the Works Progress Administration. In 1940, Holtzman sponsored Mondrian’s immigration to the United States, supporting the artist through the last four years of his life. Mondrian passed away, naming Holtzman as the sole heir to his estate, the administration of which consumed much of his time. The lifelong project of publishing Mondrian’s complete writings only came to fruition months before Holtzman’s death in 1987.

A recent acquisition to the Museum's collection---
Harry Holtzman (1912–1987)

Red, Orange, Green and Yellow

Oil on canvas
Florence Griswold Museum

Museum purchase, Alice Talcott Enders Purchase Fund

Friday, February 24, 2012

ism of the Week - week 2

Each week during our current exhibition, ...isms: Unlocking Art's Mysteries, we will post deeper insight into one of the paintings on view. Past the credit line, past the exhibition label, Assistant Curator Amanda Burdan shares her thoughts:

In the first week of our Winter Studies class we talked about the peculiar case of “Luminism,” an “ism” that was invented a century after the Luminist painters worked. One of the paintings in the Luminist section of the current exhibition is John F. Kensett’s Fort Dumpling, although this particular work, like many others in the exhibition, might have been comfortably situated in other sections of the exhibition. Kensett is typically known as a Hudson River School painter, creating landscapes that romanticized American scenery. Hudson River School artists were highly skilled technicians who rendered their paintings with a high degree of finish and detail. Other Hudson River School paintings appear in the “Romanticism” section of the exhibition.

The Luminist painters were noted for their somewhat “quieter” scenes that lacked the drama and bravado of the Hudson River School works. Luminists also painted with virtuoso brushwork and crystalline details, but their compositions frequently felt simplified, or even empty. Fort Dumpling gives us a vast expanse of sky and sea along with the silhouette of the hilltop fort. Although the nominal subject is the fort, the glowing sunset helps us understand how the Luminist movement acquired its name.

Kensett’s Fort Dumpling would have been equally at home in the “Historicism” section of the exhibition. The fort itself is an interesting landmark that stands at the entrance to Narragansett Bay in Jamestown, Rhode Island. A strategic location for control of the Bay, the fort was occupied by American, French, and British troops during the American Revolution. By the time Kensett painted it, nearly a hundred years after the British evacuated Newport, the site was a romantic reminder of the bygone Revolutionary era.

John Frederick Kensett (1818–1872)

Fort Dumpling, ca. 1871

Oil on canvas
Florence Griswold Museum

Gift of The Hartford Steam Boiler Inspection and Insurance Company

Friday, February 17, 2012

ism of the Week - week 1

Each week during our current exhibition, ...isms: Unlocking Art's Mysteries, we will post deeper insight into one of the paintings on view. Past the credit line, past the exhibition label, Assistant Curator Amanda Burdan shares her thoughts:

Stephen Howard’s painting Judge Marvin’s Barn draws attention to an ancient building in Lyme. The Marvin homestead was the subject of a feature article in the New London Day in 1937, shortly before Howard moved to Lyme, celebrating the many generations of Marvins who had lived there since it was built in 1788. Located on Nickerson Hill, the highest elevation in all of New London County, the farm was said to have been visited by President Andrew Jackson, who stopped to water his horses after crossing the Connecticut River on Ely’s ferry.

Although this painting appears in the exhibition in a section on Regionalism, the attention to a local historic property also shares some of the sensibilities of Historicism. By looking back from his twentieth century point of view, Howard suggests a nostalgia for a New England of the past, of which the Marvin farm was emblematic. Rather than rendering the barn as it might have looked in a bygone era, Howard’s realism offers a dilapidated structure and an ominous sky. The implied elegy for colonial days and agrarian ways was not uncommon for artists during the Great Depression.

Stephen Howard (1912–2010)

Judge Marvin’s Barn

Oil on canvas
Florence Griswold Museum

Gift of Mrs. Janet C. Davis in honor of the Centennial

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Memories of a Memoir Class

This blog entry was written by Katherine Catalano of Old Lyme about her experience in the Memoir Class taught by Sue Levine and Lary Bloom last fall.

Read examples of students' work and learn about spring class at

The Florence Griswold Museum was full of surprises this fall. While a fantasy birdhouse exhibit was in place on the grounds, a memoir writing class taught by local professionals Lary Bloom and Suzanne Levine was underway in one of the gracious side rooms in the museum.

I had taken a six week memoir writing class with Lary and Suzanne last spring at R.J.Julia’s in Madison. Like most scribblers, I had been writing for pleasure since the Dear Diary days of adolescence. Now, my friends seemed to enjoy the book and movie reviews I email them when I think they would enjoy something I read or saw. I write poems and short essays about experiences with family and observations of Nature.
I told myself that I didn’t care if anything I wrote was ever published, but that wasn’t true.

I was simply unsure if I had any real talent, and knew I needed professional guidance to know if I should even attempt to submit a piece for publication in a magazine or literary review that I liked.

That first course in Madison with Lary and Suzanne was encouraging. Some of my pieces were just flat, and some were riddled with adjectives and clever sentences stuck in just because I liked them. “Darlings,” is what Lary and Suzanne called the latter, and they gotta go.

Some of my pieces were pretty well received, but I felt I was just warming up in those six weeks, so when I saw that Lary and Suzanne were teaching the memoir class at the Florence Griswold Museum, I called immediately to sign on. This time for eight weeks. The work was more demanding. My confidence grew, and I saw myself beginning to get control of my writing and to understand the discipline of the “craft.” I was better able to stay within the word limits of the assignments on scene setting, character description, dialogue—all the aspects of good prose.

Reading my pieces to the class was the first test. The comments by my fellows were honest, and even the criticism was kind. If there was a look of “huh?” on anyone’s face I knew I’d missed the mark. One piece had them laughing out loud, though. Heady stuff.

We handed in our assignments each week to Lary and Suzanne for their close reading and critique. The following week we got them back with their assessment of the piece in general, and detailed suggestions for revision. Suzanne put little check marks on paragraphs she liked. I looked for those first.

I wrote a practice query letter to a publication I hoped would be interested in my work based on my persuasive introduction. My letter lavishly praised the publication, leaving little room on one page for anything about my submission. I’ll have to work on that.

I’ll have to work on everything, (Lary says he goes back to an article eleven times to keep polishing it), but I move forward now with confidence that I can and will submit my work for publication. Even a rejection would mean that some editor actually read it.

The criticism, pro or con, by teachers and fellow students was invaluable to my development as a writer, and I was sorry to see the class end.

My writing craft moved up a notch or two, and because this was a memoir class, fourteen strangers got to know each other pretty well in a short time.

As I looked around the room the last day, remembering the tragic, dramatic, beloved, and hilarious contributions of my fellows, I realized that there is no such thing as an ordinary life, not even my own.