Last week I attended a webinar hosted by the Florence Griswold Museum in Old Lyme, CT. Carolyn Wakeman, historian, gave an interesting talk titled 'Reckoning with History: Reframing the Impressionist Landscape.' She discusses how the way in which we understand the past shapes how we view the scenic places celebrated by Lyme Colony artists after 1900. With new research insights she sheds fresh light on the lived history evoked in the painted settings. The untold stories of Native Americans, African Americans as slaves brought to Old Lyme and European immigrants suggest alternative ways of seeing and framing the Impressionist landscape.
The reason I attended was that I had the opportunity to visit the Museum a couple of times while doing artist residencies in NY in 2014, 2018 and 2019. The Museum is set around the home of Florence Griswold functioning as a board house since the late 1890s for artists of the Old Lyme Art Colony, and a centre of American Impressionism. I fell in love with that house the first time I set foot on the grounds. Parenthesis: My last visit was a disappointment because the house had been taken over by an artist in residence, Jennifer Angus, known as the Bug Lady, who filled the rooms with bugs in different settings and arrangements. Let's not discuss that further. I love the house as it is kept for the visitors to see how the artists in the colony lived and worked there. Their paintings decorate the walls, but the artists also painted on the door panels of their rooms. It inspired me to paint a cow on my studio door at home, after George Glenn Newell. What else? I got the book, I got the magnets, I follow the Museum on IG, I participated in a show of theirs ... Enough said. The place is lovely and it feels as if suspended in time ...
Almost at the end of the webinar, Carolyn Wakeman discusses a 1910 painting by Mary Bradish Titcomb, 'Morning at Boxwood'. In it, Titcomb portrays women in seclusion sitting on the veranda doing needle work and reading, one woman is reading the paper, connecting with events in the world around her. The artist thus seems to anticipate the change ahead for women, challenging traditional gender roles. And then, Wakeman says 'most artist wives AND Florence Griswold opposed women suffrage' and were members of the local Anti Suffrage Movement! In the after-discussion of the webinar, curator Amy Curtz Lansing coined the thought that though they might have opposed the vote for women, these women were not entirely against a more visible role for women in the public sphere; preferring women's influence therein to be exercised through culture rather than government or politics. Wakeman goes on to mention how Florence thought of her, mainly male, visiting artists as 'her (mischievous) boys,' .... And there it was, the damage done, my image of Florence as a progressive female force for artists shuttered. I may never see the house in the same light again. It all probably says more about my naive, anachronistic way of experiencing the site than anything else, being caught in a beautiful illusion. Or maybe it's just an expression of a deep-felt desire of mine that I might myself some day be matron, or member, of an artist colony or community, known for the equal representation of men, women and LGBTQ+ artists.
Here's the painting discussed in the webinar and my studio door panel painting: