Published: June 14, 2016
DARIEN, CONN. — “Darien 1925–1950 — Golden Age of Art and Design” is on view at the Darien Historical Society through September 11.
This exhibit begins with Darien’s Guild of the Seven Arts, formed a couple of years after the founding of the Silvermine Guild, and tells the story of how New York’s new media of radios, slick magazines and Victrolas created a huge demand for artists and how many of these artists flocked to live and work in Darien and how they changed the town.
Darien was a smaller town, then; only about a third of its present population. But every Darien neighborhood seemed to have its resident art director, illustrator, designer, musician, painter, writer, singer or some other follower of an artistic profession. And it sometimes seemed as though every other household had at least one amateur artist in residence, women and men in all walks of life, who painted, sang, drew, acted, wrote or even threw pots. Many of the most accomplished artists taught classes at the recently established Darien Guild of the Seven Arts (architecture, crafts, dancing, drama, fine arts, literature and music), while their neighbors went there to learn how they did it; or just to enjoy, appreciate and talk about art.
Once upon a time, art was big business in Darien, as it was in neighboring towns. Thanks to a social media explosion and developments in other technologies, by the 1920s, New York City had become the world’s most robust market for art. High-speed color printing and an explosion of branded packaged-goods created modern magazine publishing and its advertising agency partners on Madison Avenue. The new broadcast medium of radio was just cutting its teeth, and phonographs had become a staple of home entertainment. Aluminum, Bakelite and other modern materials were helping to incorporate streamlined Art Deco designs into everyday household products.
It took a lot of artists to make this new world go ‘round, and many — perhaps most — of them lived and worked “in the country,” in Westport, Norwalk, Wilton, North Stamford, Cos Cob and, of course, Darien. Thanks to telephones, more affordable automobiles and modern trains (technology again), those artists could satisfy New York’s appetite for art with occasional visits to a client in the city, or to an uptown gallery, or, in some cases, even a daily commute to a midtown office.
They were an interesting and colorful bunch, and their enthusiasm for the arts — and for “creativity” — was infectious. Darien’s rich heritage profiled in this exhibit includes a world famous photojournalist, a three-time America’s Cup winning yacht designer, a futurist architect/designer, a renowned muralist, designers of the Electrolux canister vacuum, Macy’s holiday decorations and America’s best basic wooden boats. It also includes cartoonists, a Mount Rushmore visionary and sculptor, a nationally known watercolorist, illustrator, portraitist, stained glass designer and Art Deco painter, one of America’s greatest pianists and composers, a Metropolitan Opera star and a Broadway writer and producer.
They all are gone now but at least some of their work lives on.
The Darien Historical Society is at 45 Old Kings Highway North. For more information, www.darienhistorical.org or 203-655-9233.
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