The latest exhibition at the Florence Griswold Museum not only features landscape paintings, but also looks at the ecological and historical aspects associated with the works. Viewers learn, for example, that the land in a relaxing beach scene has had a tumultuous history; that the vaporous haze depicted in another work of art could be attributed to decaying leaves giving off gases or to industrial pollution; and that Katharine Hepburn once made a rather sarcastic comment about the Connecticut River, a waterway featured in several paintings on display.
“Fresh Fields: American Impressionist Landscapes from the Florence Griswold Museum” brings together some of the most important paintings in the museum’s collection and places them in a new context.
“While these Impressionist paintings were created at a certain point in time, the landscapes they represent can nonetheless tell us about the events and attitudes that shaped the views composed by the artists and reveal the changes in the country between the era of the Lyme art colony and today, ”the exhibition text states. “… American Impressionism and the study of landscape in art are being reshaped by pressing concerns about the environment and the recognition of the importance of seeking diverse voices to fully describe meanings. of our Connecticut landscape. “
Outside experts came to provide insight into the ecology and history related to the topics of this work, including local ecologist Judy Preston, Central Connecticut State University history professor Matthew Warshauer and academic and editor Carolyn Wakeman. They wrote the exhibition text for a number of works of art.
Florence Griswold Museum Curator Amy Kurtz Lansing said: “I not only learned from other guest authors, but even picked up on these works that I know very well and asked new questions and new information … I felt like I learned more about an object.
One was Matilda Browne’s “Cornfield Point,” a painting done circa 1910 that depicts one of Browne’s favorite subjects, cattle; the cows are just visible in this gloomy, nocturnal room. Cornfield Point in Old Saybrook was a place where English settlers first cultivated and milled corn in the 1800s “under armed guard against the native peoples whose lands they occupied,” as the text notes. exhibition by Kurtz Lansing. Kurtz Lansing wonders if Browne could have sought the patronage of Elizabeth Colt Jarvis (of the Colt Ammunition family) and George Watson Beach, a wealthy married couple who owned Cornfield Point at the time and built a house there similar to a castle.
Fans of the Florence Griswold Museum might also see paintings they have seen before, but with the new information in “Fresh Fields” they gain a different perspective.
“We encounter this in all areas (of life now) – rethinking our conventional understandings of American history and so many subjects. Even though this is a show that we started planning last summer, the outcome, I think, was really influenced by this moment of contemporary reflection, ”said Kurtz Lansing.
“Fresh Fields” is partly inspired by the journey of artists Robert F. Schumann of the museum. With the creation of the trail, unveiled last year, museum staff have given much thought to the history and environmental aspects of the site beyond its role of inspiration for artists.
“So it was that natural moment last summer to say, how can all of this work be something that we use to reflect on our collection in different ways? Said Kurtz Lansing.
And with the Flo Gris 2019 exhibition “Fragile Earth,” she says, “There has been a great awareness that we have developed through this about humans, the environment and the landscape, and therefore (we have decided) to take a lot of those ideas and then bring them back to those familiar things.
It is also the museum’s first exhibit since the Flo Gris reopened earlier this month, following the mandatory COVID shutdown.
What Katharine Hepburn Said
Two recent additions to the collection on display are untitled paintings by J. Alden Weir of mills in Connecticut. Environmentalist Judy Preston wrote of one that it was a “reminder that the revolution that fueled the economy of the Northeast was the result, in large part, of access to abundant running water. What began as individual mills where streams and small rivers fed waterwheels, gradually spread to industrial landscapes that developed around rivers that could provide significant power but also readily available conduit for the disposal of manufacturing waste.
Preston referred to a quote attributed to actress Katharine Hepburn, who had a house in Old Saybrook; in 1965, Hepburn called the Connecticut River “the most beautifully constructed sump in the world.”
Ecology and history are also explored in the accompanying text “Apple Trees in Bloom, Old Lyme” by Childe Hassam. He explains that the artist admired the apple blossoms so much on Florence Griswold’s property that he scheduled his visits at the same time that the first buds were expected each spring. “While Hassam was not the only one among the Impressionists to glorify apple blossoms as the essence of ‘old’ New England, the fruit was not native but rather transplanted from Eurasia and cultivated by settlers. as a staple.… Despite the rustic appearance (of Griswold’s orchard) on Hassam’s canvas, Florence embraced farm management and offered the orchard as a site for spraying and pruning demonstrations by government officials. the State ”, according to the exhibition.
“Bathers at Griswold Beach” by William Chadwick, circa 1915, and “Nude Overlooking White’s Point from Millstone” by Will Howe Foote, circa 1920, depict visions of relaxation on the shore, but the accompanying text gives some insight into it. complicated history of the regions. .
For Millstone’s article, the text notes how “Before the arrival of Europeans, this shore was used as a seasonal residence for the Nehantics … In 1651, John Winthrop, Jr., received from the Massachusetts authorities hundreds of acres of their land. at Millstone Point. Bay Colony. “Millstone,” identified in the painting’s title, reflects the settlers’ use of local rocks, extracting them to make tools for grinding grain into flour. Of course, a nuclear power plant now exists on the site.
“Looking at those beach scenes in particular, which I had really thought about in terms of recreation – people escaping from city life – I felt I understood better their larger, more multidimensional history because of this. project, ”says Kurtz Lansing.
Le Flo Gris has worked with Native American tribes, including officials from the Museum and Mashantucket Pequot Research Center, “to develop conversation and understanding of the land where the museum is located… We will continue our dialogue and reach out to others. groups in the hope of forming a lasting relationship around our mutual respect for the land and for each other, ”according to the exhibit. “… Their research and contributions reveal new areas of study, with an interest in inclusiveness. “