Celebrated German textile artist and printmaker Anni Albers (who, as it happens, lived out her later years here in Connecticut) once described “art” as “something that makes you breathe with a different kind of happiness.” If this sounds like the kind of happiness you intend for your wedding day, then you, dear brides-to-be, are very much in luck: Connecticut, you see, is all about the arts. World-class museums, gilded theaters, cultural landmarks that span the centuries … we’ve got ’em all. Read on for some of our favorites, and begin planning your wedding masterpiece.
Waterbury’s Mattatuck Museum (203-753-0381) began life as the Waterbury Historical Society in 1877, opened its first display hall in 1912 and has been collecting and exhibiting American art and cultural history — with a focus on the history of the Naugatuck Valley and Connecticut-related Americans masters — ever since. It also boasts a courtyard garden for ceremonies, a 5,050-square-foot history exhibit for cocktails and a handsome performing arts center on its third floor that can seat up to 175 guests for a wedding and includes a stage that makes a stellar dance floor.
As for brides (and their guests) drawn to the idea of being surrounded by artwork on the big day, The Matt presents more than 25 changing exhibitions each year in classically detailed spaces such as its Early American and Modern Art galleries. All, according to Stephanie Harris, director of museum operations & marketing, “are kept open for the duration of each event.”
Art history 101
The Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art (860-838-4077) in Hartford, founded in 1842 by Daniel Wadsworth, is the country’s oldest public art museum in continuous existence — and as such is the place to start when considering an artistic venue for your wedding.
Morgan Great Hall, the museum’s soaring centerpiece gallery that can host seated receptions for up to 100 guests, features a floor-to-ceiling, salon-style hanging of 95 works from the European art collection that guests are consistently “wowed by,” says development events associate Jessica Martel. The fountain sculpture Venus with Nymph and Satyr, created in 1600 for a garden in Florence by the Mannerist sculptor Pietro Francavilla, is the star of light and bright Avery Court, where up to 220 guests can also dine in the presence of art by European Modern masters such as Salvador Dalí, Piet Mondrian, Pablo Picasso and Edvard Munch.
Self-guided tours of the museum can be arranged, but with so much to see (the Wadsworth’s collection includes nearly 50,000 works of art that span 5,000 years) docent-led tours that can be “tailored to a couple’s artistic preferences” are also an option, Martel says.
Art as life
The Hill-Stead Museum (860-677-4787) in Farmington is not a former Colonial revival-style country home filled with art; it’s a former Colonial revival-style country home built for art.
Cleveland iron industrialist Alfred A. Pope was among the first American collectors of Impressionism. In 1901 when his daughter, pioneering female architect Theodate Pope Riddle, designed Hill-Stead on 152 hilltop acres in Farmington, it was “literally designed around her father’s art collection,” says Sarah Wadsworth, manager of private rentals and corporate functions. The mantle in the dining room was built to specifically display Jockeys, the 1886 pastel on paper by Edgar Degas, and 1889 oil on canvas Grainstacks, White Frost Effect by Claude Monet is in the drawing room, where it could be shown to its best advantage.
Options for grand present-day Hill-Stead receptions include the West Lawn adjacent to the Mount Vernon-style portico for tented receptions of up to 400 seated guests, the Grass Court (once the Pope family’s tennis court) for tented receptions of up to 175 seated guests and the rustic arts and crafts-style Makeshift Theater, set in a barn from the early 1900s, for up to 100 seated guests.
An octagonal, one-acre sunken garden designed by celebrated landscape architect Beatrix Farrand circa 1920 may be used for ceremonies. Set in a natural depression and surrounded by stone walls, its ever-changing colors reflect the palette of the Impressionists found within Hill-Stead itself.
Cocktail hour, suggests Wadsworth, is the ideal time to treat guests to a peek of those masterpieces by Monet, Degas, Édouard Manet, Mary Cassatt, James McNeill Whistler and others.
The way we were
In 1638, English Puritans established the New Haven Colony, which soon included what are now the towns of New Haven, Branford, Guilford, Milford and Stamford. The mission of the New Haven Museum (203-562-4183), founded in 1862 as the New Haven Colony Historical Society, has long been to collect and preserve materials that document 375-plus years of life in Greater New Haven. The museum’s polished headquarters, designed by noted Colonial-revival architect J. Frederick Kelly in 1930 and located in a National Register Historic District three blocks from the Green, does that to distinguished effect via manuscripts and maps, photographs and paintings, textiles and tableware, furniture, industrial and marine artifacts — and more.
Ceremonies, and later dancing, are often held in the museum’s lower rotunda, according to Donna Wardle, business manager for the museum, before proceeding to a stunning upper rotunda and elegant light-filled ballroom that can seat up to 100 guests. Galleries on both floors may remain open for guests interested in life once upon a colony.
Mansion, my mansion
The Lockwood-Mathews Mansion Museum (203-838-9799) in Norwalk is regarded as one of the earliest and most significant Second Empire-style country houses in the country. Built by banking magnate/railroad tycoon LeGrand Lockwood between 1864 and 1868, the lavish 62-room summer château reflects the grandeur and elegance of the Victorian Era, but, because Mr. Lockwood was “passionate about both the arts and technology,” says Executive Director Susan Gilgore, it was also considered a technological marvel of its time. Think indoor plumbing (both hot and cold), gas lighting, an alarm system, a ventilation system that was a precursor of air conditioning, and a central-heating system that burned a ton of coal a day. Even President Lincoln’s place on Pennsylvania Avenue was not as advanced — cha-ching!
So, if you were not to your own mansion born (sigh), the entire magnificently restored first floor of this one can be licensed for weddings. Prosecco may be sipped outdoors on the veranda (not a strong enough word to convey its splendor) or inside the marble grand entrance, while the stately Billiards Room and knock-your-socks off Grand Rotunda with a soaring 42-foot cove ceiling and imperial black walnut staircase can seat up to 160 guests.
Trust Gilgore when she says, “you’ll be enchanted by what you see.”
To infinity and beyond
Originally constructed in 1883 as a combination opera house, saloon and, um, barber shop (go figure), the Infinity Music Hall & Bistro (Norfolk, 860-542-5531; Hartford, 860-560-7757) in Norfolk has a long and decidedly colorful history in the entertainment biz. It retains its original proscenium stage, the stained-glass that gives it a cathedral-esque feel and what General Manager Patty Christinat calls its “gorgeous, intricate woodwork” that lends an overall “warm and rustic” feel. Yet it was outfitted with a world-class sound system before opening in 2008, resulting in a setting that is acoustically pristine. Like the Norfolk location after which it is modeled, Infinity Music Hall & Bistro in Hartford, which opened in the heart of the state capital in 2014, offers an intimate music and entertainment experience, with more than 200 shows featuring national and regional artists each year.
Weddings are held at orchestra level, where seats can be removed to accommodate 100 guests in Norfolk (with another 46 available in the mezzanine) and 150 guests in Hartford (with an additional 100 in the mezzanine). Stages at both are used for ceremonies and, later, music, while in-house catering is provided by hip-and-happening Infinity Bistro.
The best part? The way-cool “green room” at each venue (typically reserved for artists to use before and after performances) can be used for bridal-party prep! “Brides love this angle,” says Janelle Jenkins, director of special events in Hartford. It makes them the “true star of the show.”
Your palace, my lady
The film shown on the Sept. 22, 1926, opening day of New London’s Garde Theatre (860-444-6766) was the silent film The Marriage Clause, starring matinee idols Francis X. Bushman and Billie Dove — rather appropriate, wouldn’t you say?
The Garde, one of the few remaining historic movie palaces in Connecticut, was built during the golden era of motion pictures and vaudeville theaters, when variety acts featuring everything from music and comedy to acrobats and magic were interspersed between the showing of feature films, comedy shorts and newsreels. In other words, these walls have seen it all.
Today, this ornate Moroccan-inspired centerpiece of the nonprofit performing-arts organization known as the Garde Arts Center presents everything from Broadway musicals to regional opera, film festivals and, well, weddings.
Indeed, Executive Director Steve Sigel describes a Garde wedding as a “theatrical experience” that “incites the imagination in many ways.” Ceremonies can be held center stage, cocktail and seated receptions for up to 250 spread between exotic lobbies, mezzanine and the swanky Oasis Room and, yes, you can even have your name in lights put on the theater marquee — hello!
Go ahead, impress me
When Henry Ward Ranger arrived on the doorstep of Florence Griswold’s Old Lyme boarding house in 1899, he described the surrounding countryside as a landscape “waiting to be painted” — and promptly began to do just that. Fellow artists such as Childe Hassam, Willard Metcalf, William Chadwick and Matilda Browne soon followed, and spent much of the early 1900s bunked at Miss Florence’s, now recognized as the Home of American Impressionism and centerpiece of the Florence Griswold Museum (860-434-5542).
Weddings at the revered museum, set upon 11 acres along the Lieutenant River, take full advantage of the same pastoral landscape the artists interpreted with color and light: Miss Florence’s restored “Grandmother’s garden,” (an ideal spot for a “first look,” suggests Melissa Díaz, who coordinates museum weddings), a marshland seemingly composed of 1,000 shades of green, the serenity of a sunset ceremony held along the river’s edge.
Tented, en plein air receptions for up to 150 seated guests take place on the Adrian P. Moore Garden Terrace, while the veranda of the Colonial Revival-style Marshfield house may be used for cocktails and tours of exhibits in the Krieble Gallery may also be arranged.
Affairs of state
If you consider a wedding a momentous occasion, consider the significance of a wedding at Connecticut’s Old State House (860-240-1388), where the very foundation of democracy in Connecticut was born. Oh, the pomp! Oh, the circumstance!
This 1796 centerpiece of Connecticut history, reputed to have been designed by iconic American architect Charles Bulfinch, is in fact one of the oldest state houses in the nation. Weddings here are centered on the first floor of the federally designated National Historic Landmark, whether for mingling with cocktails in the office of the governor, posing for a photo op on the foyer’s grand staircase or for a reception of up to 110 guests seated among the Doric columns of the Colonial-Revival Courtroom, the same courtroom where the ground-breaking trial concerning the slave ship La Amistad began in 1839.
It’s living, breathing history such as this that “lends character” to an Old State House wedding, says Eric Connery, facilities administrator. The second-floor Senate and House chambers, where noted legislators such as P.T. Barnum, Noah Webster and Gideon Wells have served, may also be opened for tours during receptions. Echoes of the past to begin your future.
Send ’em packing
The Packing House (518-791-9474) in Willington, operated by the Eastern Connecticut Center for History, Art, and Performance, is currently offering its third season of programs in acoustic music, dance, film, literature and the visual arts. Its legacy of innovation and creativity, however, goes back just a bit further — like, oh, 140 years or so.
This historic performance venue and event space, listed on the Connecticut State Register of Historic Places in 2014, was constructed in 1870 as the packing and shipping building for the Gardiner Hall Jr. Co., the first spooled-thread production facility in the U.S., which operated here through 1954.
Tom Buccino, whose hard-working parents later operated Andover Tool & Die in the facility, describes the Packing House as a “blank canvas” for couples looking to “take ownership” of their wedding. Highlights of the 3,500-square-foot span, which can seat up to 100 wedding guests, include a wood-planked gable ceiling, hefty hand-hewn chestnut beams, original wood floors, brick construction and plenty of windows to let in the light — let’s call it “industrial-chic.”
Interestingly enough, documentation confirms that in 1906 Hall began providing free movies to its employees as a form of entertainment. Though records are not definitive, the belief is that The Packing House also served as a theater for those early films. Full circle is a good thing.