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Envisioning New England: Treasures from Community Art Museums

June 19 - September 26, 2004


Community art museums play a unique and valuable role in the cultural landscape of New England. They bring art and history into their communities and enrich both residents and visitors through engaging exhibitions and programs. Envisioning New England: Treasures From Community Art Museums celebrates this role through an exhibition organized by fourteen art museums, in five New England states. These institutions are members of the Consortium of New England Community Art Museums, a group founded in 1993 to broaden and increase the impact of the individual organizations by sharing resources and inviting collaboration. The exhibition will be on view at the Florence Griswold Museum in Old Lyme from June 19 through September 26, 2004. Its presentation in Old Lyme is supported by a grant from Fleet Bank.

Envisioning New England presents a snapshot rather than a definitive view of New England as depicted by American artists from 1850 to 1950. Since the colonial era New England has been home to scores of artists whose work responds to its landscape and people. The exhibition showcases paintings by such leading American artists as Fitz Hugh Lane, George Bellows, Thomas Hart Benton, and Grandma Moses, as well as fine examples by lesser-known artists whose careers were important to their respective regions. These artists helped to create an enduring image of New England, which contributed greatly to how people viewed America. William Truettner, Senior Curator at Smithsonian's National Museum of America Art and author of an essay in the exhibition catalogue, explains that "for most of the years this exhibition covers, many of the attributes of New England culture were thought to be those of the nation."

This special exhibition reveals how the artists of New England drew inspiration from the area's diverse landscape, settled and unsettled. Several of the earliest works in the exhibition are panoramic views of a harmonious and prosperous countryside. Some painters turned to the region's rural villages and its agricultural traditions, and others looked to the picturesque coastline. At the close of the nineteenth century, artists gathered in coastal art colonies from Old Lyme to Provincetown. There, painters discovered ready subjects, inexpensive lodgings, the camaraderie of other artists, and a respite from city life. A later generation of artists, informed by modernism, turned to industrial and urban subjects. All of these subjects, as well as many of the major trends in American art from 1850 to 1950, are represented in this selection of over 40 works that have never been shown together as a group.

Envisioning New England is designed to introduce visitors to the New England Consortium museums and the gems of their collections. "It is a remarkable collaborative effort that gives a unique portrait of the region's creative history," notes Stephanie Upton, Executive Director of the Consortium. The exhibition was co-curated by Jack Becker, former curator of the Florence Griswold Museum, and Nancy Whipple Grinnell, curator of the Newport Art Museum. Together, they visited each of the member museums to select its "treasures" for inclusion in the show. They also contributed to the accompanying catalogue, published by the University Press of New England, which is available in the Museum's Shop.

The works are arranged by museum with information panels detailing each institution's history and the unique story behind its founding. "New England is a region rich in art museums, both large and small," remarked Jeffrey Andersen, Director of the Florence Griswold Museum. "This exhibition will not only highlight some great examples of American art, but encourage visitors to appreciate anew the museums that are in our midst."

Consortium members are: The Art Complex Museum, Duxbury MA; The Bennington Museum, Bennington, Vermont; Cape Museum of Fine Arts, Dennis, MA; Danforth Museum of Art, Framingham, MA; Farnsworth Museum and Library, Rockland, ME; Fitchburg Art Museum, Fitchburg, MA; Florence Griswold Museum, Old Lyme, CT; Fruitlands Museums, Harvard, MA; Fuller Museum of Art, Brockton MA; Lyman Allyn Art Museum, New London, CT; Mattatuck Museum, Waterbury, CT; New Britain Museum of American Art, New Britain, CT; Newport Art Museum, Newport, RI, Provincetown Art Association and Museum, Provincetown, MA. For further information about the Consortium and links to member museums, go to http://www.communityartmuseums.org.

The exhibition will also be on view at:

Cape Museum of Fine Arts, November 13-February 27, 2005
Farnsworth Art Museum, March 20- June 19, 2005
Newport Art Museum, July 9-October 2, 2005

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