From a group of artists who gathered at Florence Griswold’s boarding house in Old Lyme circa 1900, the Lyme Art Colony evolved into one of America’s most famous centers for art. The colony gave birth to both the Florence Griswold Museum and the Lyme Art Association. Now, the two artistic institutions separated by less than 500 feet celebrate the centennial of the association’s noted gallery. The museum’s exhibition, Centennial of the Lyme Art Association Gallery, continues through May.
While the museum remains focused on Impressionism, the association is devoted to representational art. “We have different missions but it’s really nice to have this handshake that we can work together on something like this,” says Laurie Pavlos, executive director of the Lyme Art Association. “The museum has a lot of the archival material from the Lyme Art Association. We are not a museum, so we are not set to either interpret that kind of material or display it or store it.”
While separate institutions, the legacy of both the museum and the association are interwoven in their history and owe much to Griswold’s boarding house, which attracted famous artists. The museum’s exhibition celebrating the 100th anniversary of the association’s gallery is a reflection of both the gallery’s past and the legacy of the Lyme Art Colony painters. “Revisiting the origin of the LAA gallery on its centennial allows us to examine the economics of art and tourism, local history, the consequences of World War I, reactions to modernism, and even censorship, as the artists chose what and who should be represented in their bespoke exhibition space,” according to the museum’s description.
The association’s gallery manager, Jocelyn Zallinger, notes that the artists ended up at “Miss Florence’s” by chance, but could not have found a better patron. “She was such a hospitable hostess who really cared about their artwork and who they were. They just kept coming back and inviting their friends,” she says. “They started having a summer exhibition at the library and the exhibitions became so popular that they thought, ‘Well, we need our own gallery.’ ”
Member artist and architect Charles A. Platt designed the new gallery, which after being delayed by World War I, opened in August 1921. On Aug. 14, 1921, The New York Times Book Review writer called it the ideal gallery. “Greater appropriateness, beauty of proportions and refinement of taste hardly could be found … Truly an artist’s gallery, built for and by and with artists.”
Designed to be a world-class gallery, Platt set out each gallery room to have large skylights that flood in natural light. “It is a really beautiful space to exhibit art and we are incredibly lucky to have that as the home of the art association,” Pavlos says.
As a group devoted to supporting its member artists, the Lyme Art Association has had as its mission to support representational art. While Impressionism was big here in the early 1900s, other art styles were taking hold and the LAA artists decided to put their stake down for representational art. “And that’s been true for over a hundred years that we’ve been in existence,” Pavlos adds.
Unlike common art terms like Impressionism or abstract expressionism, representational art is a non-academic blanket term to describe art in which objects or landscapes are presented realistically. “It’s not a specific style or anything like that, and in fact we do allow small amounts of purely abstract work, but it is just a smattering,” Pavlos says. “The vast majority of the work that is in our gallery is representational.”
The association is planning a centennial event for August, details to come, but Zallinger says their summer exhibition will be called Century of Inspiration. “We are asking our artists to look back at work by the original art colony for inspiration and the kind of scenes they painted: bucolic landscapes, agrarian scenes, woodland interiors, gardens, porch scenes and moonlight nocturnes, but we are not looking for them to copy them. We just want our artists to be inspired by that and they can come up with their own interpretations of the subject matter.”
The association’s drive to bring together art lovers and buyers, which propelled it to build its own gallery, continues today, ensuring the legacy of the original art colony.
Florence Griswold Museum, 96 Lyme St., Old Lyme
On display through May 23