Published: October 9, 2012
A large crowd of artists’ relatives, collectors, art professionals and neighbors jammed the historic Solon Borglum studio in Wilton on September 14 for the opening of an exhibition showcasing the work of The Knockers Club, the original Silvermine Group of Artists. Organized by the Norwalk Association of Silvermine Homeowners and the Silvermine Community Association, the recreated salon show offered an unprecedented and likely once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to recall the achievements of this gifted but often overlooked art group.
The informal art colony had its beginnings in the early 1900s when gifted sculptor Borglum †brother of Gutzon of Mount Rushmore fame †visited the Silvermine area, which includes parts of New Canaan, Norwalk and Wilton, and eventually settled in Wilton. Other sculptors and painters soon followed. For a number of years they met on Sundays in Borglum’s studio/barn to socialize, exchange ideas and critique †or “knock”†each other’s work; thus the group’s name. For more than a decade, starting in 1907, The Knockers annually exhibited their work in the Borglum studio, attracting hundreds of viewers from near and far.
This year, a Knockers Club committee, headed by art professional/historic preservationist Leigh Grant, asked relatives of the artists, collectors and institutions to loan period art by The Knockers. The result was a floor-to-ceiling display of about 100 works: sculpture by Borglum and paintings by such leading figures as Edmund M. Ashe, D. Putnam Brinley, Dorothy Byard, Bernhard Gutmann, Hamilton Hamilton, Helen Hamilton, Henry Salem Hubbell, Frank Hutchens, Charles Reiffel and Carl Schmitt.
Among the standout canvases exhibited were a broadly brushed Brinley snowscape; Helen Hamilton’s strong snow scene (“The Mill In Winter”) and a seascape featuring crashing waves; several colorful landscapes and an evocative portrait of a female violinist (“Love Songs”) by Hutchens; Hubbell’s bravura portrait of Reiffel; several vivid biblical canvases by Schmitt and Murray Mackay’s imposing “Lady with Big Hat.”
Also of special note were a graceful Borglum bronze, “The Waters,” and several animated western figures and Indians in bronze, and Reiffel’s beautifully painted, newly conserved “Logging in the Wilton Hills” from the Norwalk Museum †a reminder of the importance of continuing efforts to save that significant community institution that the city has closed.
Highlighting the preview party was the presentation by Grant of a replica of the historic wrought iron sign that once graced the Borglum studio to David Borglum, Solon Borglum’s grandson, a beloved figure in the area.
The Silvermine Group flourished until 1922, when Solon Borglum’s death left them anchorless without their charismatic leader. The group gradually disbanded, most joining what has become the Silvermine Arts Center (SAC), founded that same year.
Celebrating its 90th anniversary, SAC is hosting “The Knockers Club: A Silvermine Beginning,” on view through November 3. It features a dozen works by the Silvermine Group, most of which were displayed in the Borglum studio exhibition.
The exhibition is consistent with the multifaceted mission of SAC, which includes an art school, the Silvermine Guild of Artists, five galleries presenting contemporary exhibitions and regional and national competitions and community programs that encompass lectures, movies, multidisciplinary performances and art classes in neighboring Norwalk and Stamford schools.
As gallery director Jeffrey Mueller puts it, SAC offers the Silvermine community at large “an ongoing cultural and educational experience †an exposure to what is happening in the world of contemporary art” †and this fall, a reminder of the proud heritage of The Knockers who began it all nearly a century ago.
Silvermine Arts Center is at 1037 Silvermine Road in New Canaan. For information, www.silvermineart.org or 203-966-9700.
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