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Florence Griswold Museum

While working at Goodspeed, I had a three day weekend for Memorial Day. With a little more time to sight-see, I decided to take that Sunday, drive down to Old Lyme and visit the Florence Griswold Museum. The museum is on the site of the Old Lyme Artist's Colony that was operating in the early 20th century. An artist, Henry Ward Ranger, came back from Europe, where artist's colonies were much more popular, and wanted to establish one on this side of the Atlantic. He fell in love with Old Lyme, it's picturesque views and close proximity to New York. Florence Griswold was the daughter of a sailing captain, who inherited her family's house but little else as the dawn of the steam ship ruined her father's career and took the family fortune along with it. She turned the home into a boarding house, which was conveniently one of the few socially acceptable careers a single woman could have at the time. When Ranged stayed at the boarding house in 1899, he asked Florence to save some rooms for him and some friends in the following year, and the artist's colony was born. It became a place where the early American Impressionists could come and escape the city life, paint plein air, and trade ideas and information. (Boarding house seen below)

Originally, the town of Old Lyme was less than thrilled that artists (who are all clearly bohemian and loose of morals, not respectable in the least!) had begun to inhabit the area. Slowly the artists won them over, not only by having art shows that made Old Lyme quite the destination for art collectors from the whole North East (bringing a lot of business to a town that needed it, since the sailing business had all dried up), but also by using the front porch as a stage to put on theatrical productions for the town's residents. One of the two docents told me that after I mentioned I work in theatre (I inquired if the faux wood grain on some of the doors and paneling was part of the restoration or original to the time of the artist's colony...this is apparently an unusual question).

Over time, it became a tradition for artists who were truly accepted into the colony to be asked to paint on door panels and paneling in the dining room. As a result, the boarding house is decorated in a really unique way, making it a perfect site to be turned into a museum. In 1947 the museum was opened to the public for the first time, and has grown to include several out buildings (my personal favorite was one set up as a period-appropriate art studio....the museum shows materials they'd have been using at the time and I definitely geeked out!) as well as a modern building housing additional collections. The bulk of their permanent collection was acquired about fifteen years ago from the president of a steam boiler company in Hartford. He happened to be a collector of early American Impressionists and several pieces in the collection were either painted on the premises of the Art Colony or by artists who frequented it. He wanted to donate them to a museum or organization, so he requested "bids" from interested parties, outlining why they should get the collection. He chose the Florence Griswold Museum! The docent (and I) appreciated the coincidence that Old Lyme had fallen on hard times due to the invention of the steam ship, and was rejuvenated by this artist's colony, which then was able to receive art that had been bought with a fortune made in a company that was founded to supply the very steam technology to ships that put sailors out of business in the first place!

The museum had been recommended by a friend, and I brought my sketching materials because I loved the idea of sketching out on the same land that so many artist's have already worked on. Even though I had come prepared, I loved that when I bought my ticket they mentioned that anyone who wants to sketch can get supplies in the education building (including stools!). So, when I finished looking around and wanted to sketch, I was in good company! Below are my two additional sketches from the day, one of the Lieutenant River the museum is situated on, another of flowers from Florence's gardens (and I want a second crack at it; so hard to get the light just right!). I had a wonderful visit, and would recommend the trip to artists and "muggles" alike. A bonus: it's only ten minutes from the Book Barn in Lyme, which is also very much worth the trip.




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