When I first graduated from Connecticut College, I was a curatorial intern at the Florence Griswold Museum in Old Lyme. What started as the Griswold family home, built in 1817 and purchased by Captain Robert Griswold in 1841, evolved into a boarding house for artists, known as the Lyme Art Colony around the turn of the century, when Miss Florence Griswold had little other means for income and Henry Ward Ranger was looking to establish an American centre for painting. Now, due to Director Jeffrey Anderson’s phenomenal work, it is a thriving Museum : the home of American Impressionism, a campus along the Connecticut River of galleries, studios, gardens, meeting spaces and offices.
There was an archeological excavation going on when I was there; they were uprooting paint tubes that the artists dropped in the grass, and shards of glass from bottles. It didn’t dawn until much later, when I found myself immersed in my own community of artists, that the refinement the Museum presented, the impression (shall we say) of a gentler time, was nothing like my daily life. Stories I had read there, about gathering up Miss Florence’s feral cats and taking them away, understanding what the wiggle drawings must have really been about (having participated in quite a few drawing parties myself), their life must have been so much more bohemian and riotous than this ordered, gracious museum appears. They painted on the walls. The art life, glorified by art houses like the Florence Griswold Museum, is beautiful and creative, but even the imperfect stories seem charming with distance. In the moment, it must have been hard and messy and full of negotiations; and in the end, something extraordinary happened.
I am interested in the tipping points of these houses, in present reality and critical distance. This is why I began my study of infamous Canadian art houses with the Cardiff/Miller House, still living in Lethbridge, Alberta.