Summer is in full bloom with a masterfully selected 20th- and 21st-century exhibit at the Florence Griswold Museum and Café Flo on the unspoiled Lieutenant River. This sweeping landscape of first-rate art runs through September 22, 2013 in Old Lyme, Connecticut.
The thought-provoking title “Animal/Vegetable/Mineral: An Artist’s Guide to the World” includes some of the best-known works from the museum’s permanent collection of America’s finest Impressionist and notable contemporary art. The exhibition takes its name from a children’s game that suggests the whole world can be divided into three categories—animal, vegetable, and mineral.
The exhibition groups the 105 works according to the three themes, and highlights the different ways that American artists explored similar ideas as styles changed. With key works hanging alongside lesser-known gems, the exhibit encourages visitors to take a fresh look at familiar art. The addition of work by contemporary artists Sascha Braunig, Allison Maletz, and the trail-blazing team of Nicholas Kahn and Richard Selesnick demonstrates how fresh eyes perceive the world through art.
The earliest works in the exhibition are rural portraits by itinerant painters Ralph Earl, John Brewster, and Ammi Phillips. The iconic impressionist paintings of Childe Hassam and Willard Metcalf are seen next to earlier landscape paintings by Thomas Cole and Frederic Edwin Church to convey how stylistic changes led to very different paintings of similar settings. Where Church saw a landscape full of history and drama in his 1846 painting ‘The Charter Oak at Hartford,’ Metcalf used a modern style to capture a momentary impression of a light and color in his 1911 New Hampshire painting ‘Thawing Brook, Winter Shadows.’
‘Animal/Vegetable/Mineral’ includes recent work by contemporary artists offering a fresh perspective on these perennial themes. “From the days of the art colony in the early twentieth century, Old Lyme has a long tradition of cultivating new ideas in a historic setting,” writes exhibition curator Ben Colman, Assistant Curator of the Florence Griswold Museum. “We are thrilled to preserve that legacy (in the current exhibit) with an exciting group of recent works.”
Allison Maletz, based in New York, creates monumentally scaled watercolor paintings that use images found in family snapshots to study the history of her subjects. We spontaneously laughed on seeing her amusing picture “Another Monkey Climbing a Tree.”
Nicholas Kahn and Richard Selesnick, photographers and installation artists working as a team in New York’s Hudson Valley, recreate the mythical figure of the ‘Greenman’ to invoke ideas about the order of the natural world. These fun constructions, photos and painted images work beautifully – suggesting the world of nature as monsters, beasts, and whimsical characters. Think ‘Harry Potter’ lost in the woodlands of the Hudson River Valley.
Portland, Maine painter Sascha Braunig’s work meditates on the junction of abstract and representational painting by projecting crisp geometric patterns over figural still life.
Outside the museum, on the tree-lined bank of the Lieutenant River, is a sculpture, ‘Anticipator,’ by New York-based artist Matthew Geller. This fanciful and fascinating work combines a recycled tree trunk with three “bionic” limbs forged from steel. The perforated branches emit colored light and mist through fan-like blossoms.
The tree used for the installation, a Star Magnolia that died a year or more ago, has great significance since it is documented that Miss Florence Griswold had planted the tree in the 1920s. “It would have been hard to find a better tree than this,” stated Geller. “Anticipator continues the bond between this landscape and the creation of art begun by the renowned impressionist artists of the Lyme Art Colony.”
We took a lunch break out of doors on the handsome and elegant covered veranda to the Café Flo. It has an unobstructed view across a broad lawn, the Lieutenant River and the salt-water marshes that are framed by a line of trees to the horizon. It was the same vista that inspired the Connecticut Impressionists: no wonder they spent their summers at Miss Florence’s boarding house
Excellent table service is a hallmark of dining here or guests can picnic on the manicured lawn. The Café’s delicious and inventive dishes are prepared using only the freshest ingredients available from local sources. We had a lunch of a lobster BLT, a griddled corned beef sandwich with some unsweetened iced tea that is accompanied by a bottle of fresh simple syrup. There is a wine selection and Chef Connie Hotz prepares other luncheon goodies, including a tempting Waldorf Chicken Salad with Bibb lettuce. For dessert, Connie makes her version of chocolate bread pudding with crème Anglaise.
The Café Flo also caters special monthly dinners which can be found on the museum’s website as well as the Gourmet Galley of Stonington that operates the café under the direction of Chef Connie; they also cater weddings and other festive celebrations on the museum grounds.
If you’re free he last Saturday in July, the museum will host “Market En Plein Air” during the Old Lyme Midsummer Festival weekend.
The Café Flo is open Tuesdays through Saturdays from 11:30 a. m. to the last seating at 2:30 p. m., and on Sundays from 1 p. m. to the last seating at 3:30 p m. through October 27. Reservations are not necessary except for parties of six or more.
The Florence Griswold Museum (AKA ‘FloGris”), 96 Lyme Street, Old Lyme, CT 06371 is open Tuesday – Saturday 10 – 5; Sunday 1 – 5. Admission is $10. Seniors $9. Students $8. Visitors 12 and under are admitted free. 860-434-5542 www.flogris.org.
The museum and the café are close to the Old Lyme exits – south and north – off I-95, near the shoreline end of Rt. 9 and 395. We consider a day at the museum and the café as refreshing as a month in country. That sounds like hyperbole, but that’s our opinion and we’re sticking to it because we try to see each of its seasonal exhibitions each year.
Be sure to click on the video below this article to find out more about one of “Connecticut’s Cultural Treasures,” the Florence Griswold Museum.
Written by Don Church and Tony Schillaci, Out&Travelin’.