Published: July 17, 2018
Overlooking the Lieutenant River in Old Lyme, the Florence Griswold Museum – a birthplace of American Impressionism – is, as ever, a place for meditating on the rustic sublime. Much credit for the institution’s flowering goes to Jeffrey Andersen, who arrived at what was then a sleepy historical society in 1976. In nearly 42 years as director, Andersen refurbished the once threadbare boarding house frequented by Childe Hassam and his Lyme Colony colleagues, assembled a collection of national import and led the campaign to build the architecturally striking Krieble Gallery, home to four meticulously planned exhibitions each year.
Now director emeritus, Andersen in February passed shovel and shears, as it were, to the preternaturally accomplished Rebekah Beaulieu, formerly associate director of the Bowdoin College Museum of Art. Fascinated by museums from her earliest years, the new director seems well suited to the task of managing the fluid, ever-expanding Florence Griswold Museum portfolio. As detailed in this week’s cover story and here, an acute sense of the seasonal ebb and flow of American life is what defines this Connecticut gem, now and always.
Jeff, what’s next for you?
JA: I hope to be an ongoing resource here, but in a supportive, background way. I’m also chairing the executive committee for the Historic Artist’s Homes and Studios, a program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. I’m very interested in the idea of the power of the creative setting and have been working with our curator Amy Kurtz Lansing on a book project that tells the story of the Lyme Art Colony in the context of the art colony movement in America.
Becky, you have two master’s degrees and a doctorate, have worked in both art and history museum settings and are as comfortable with finance and fundraising as with curatorial matters. How unusual are you?
BB: I would say that what makes me a little unique is being really committed to a high standard of scholarship and to a high degree of oversight. I consider my role as director not to simply be an elevated curator, which happens at a lot of art museums, or simply a CEO. I find a lot of joy in what I do.
What strikes you most about the Florence Griswold Museum?
BB: The masterful way it pursues different currents of activity. That is something that very much appeals to me. I thought I would be an art historian until I discovered cultural history. I’m excited by looking at multifaceted points of interpretation, which is a feature of the Florence Griswold Museum.
Are there projects of special interest to you?
BB: I’m interested in an alliance of art colonies, from historic to contemporary. I see a lot of room for collaboration, particularly along the East Coast. I’m also interested in traveling our collections and exhibitions, something that serves an ambassadorial role.
Jeff and Becky, can you tell us about the museum master plan, of which the Artists’ Trail is one component?
JA: The landscape architects Stephen Stimson and Associates of Cambridge, Mass., were selected to help us take what is essentially a fractured suburban landscape and develop strategies to unify the property and bring back its agrarian spirit. In looking at hundreds of paintings, Stephen and Lauren Stimson found artists were inspired by local hedgerows, fences, stone walls and farm trails. We are reconstructing these and developing an accessible path system. A new half-mile loop called the Artists’ Trail marries different interests and provides stops along the way to think about art, history and ecology.
BB: This is a great opportunity for the museum, which has reassembled the original acreage. It’s a conjoined landscape and architecture plan that fully and comprehensively takes advantage of the site, embracing the landscape, historic buildings and the fine art in the galleries. We will choose a subcontractor this summer. Around November 1, we go forward with the site work. We expect the first phase to be completed midsummer 2019.
How are you funding this initial work?
JA: We are very fortunate to have received a million-dollar grant from the Robert F. Schumann Foundation specifically for the development of the Artists’ Trail and the landscape master plan. Schumann was someone I knew very well, a trustee here in the 1980s and a dedicated, conservation-minded donor. The family foundation is carrying on his stewardship.
Does the master plan include expanded gallery space?
JA: We envision two more galleries, for a total of five, containing a mix of temporary exhibitions and permanent collections. We traditionally collected Lyme school paintings and works on paper and told the story of the boarding house. We still do that in the Griswold House, but the expanding collection allows us to think more about Connecticut’s significance to the broader history of American art.
What fun exhibitions are coming up?
BB: The first one I am advising is “Fragile Earth: The Naturalist Impulse in Contemporary Art,” which opens in spring 2019 and is the brainchild of Jenny Parsons, our assistant curator. It will encourage people to think about landscape in a different way and is aligned with some of the work we are doing here on the grounds. I saw the work of one of the participating artists, Jennifer Angus, at Chipstone Foundation in Wisconsin, near where I grew up.
Becky, have you settled into life here?
BB: Yes, my husband, Patrick Ford, and I found a place to live just a few minutes away in Old Saybrook. He recently started his new position as special collections librarian at Mystic Seaport and is completely enamored with it.
Jeff, any parting words?
JA: I have a small, representative story. The man who hired me in 1976 – I was the only employee at the time – was Daniel Woodhead, Jr. Regrettably, he died two years later, but every spring thousands of daffodils bloom in the museum’s Woodhead Memorial Garden. His children, none of whom live in Connecticut, faithfully renew their museum memberships each year. Places such as this where art was created have an aura. It’s our role to burnish it.
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