Paper Trail: American Prints, Drawings, and Watercolors at the Florence Griswold Museum

Thomas Nason,  The Cider Mill  (final state), 1944, Chiaroscuro wood engraving with olive, black, and gray blocks, 7 x 10 in. Florence Griswold Museum, Purchase

Thomas Nason, The Cider Mill (final state), 1944, Chiaroscuro wood engraving with olive, black, and gray blocks, 7 x 10 in. Florence Griswold Museum, Purchase

Mary Way,  Portrait of Peter Richards , 1785–1795. Watercolor on paper affixed to silk, 2 3/4 in. x 2 1/2 in. Florence Griswold Museum, Gift of The Hartford Steam Boiler Inspection and Insurance Company

Mary Way, Portrait of Peter Richards, 1785–1795. Watercolor on paper affixed to silk, 2 3/4 in. x 2 1/2 in. Florence Griswold Museum, Gift of The Hartford Steam Boiler Inspection and Insurance Company

Paper Trail: American Prints, Drawings, and Watercolors at the Florence Griswold Museum in Old Lyme, Connecticut.

Paper Trail: American Prints, Drawings, and Watercolors     
Florence Griswold Museum

Sol LeWitt,  Wavy Vertical Brushstrokes (Multicolor),  1994. Gouache on paper, 15 x 11 1/3 in. Florence Griswold Museum, Purchase with a gift from Alva Greenberg

Sol LeWitt, Wavy Vertical Brushstrokes (Multicolor), 1994. Gouache on paper, 15 x 11 1/3 in. Florence Griswold Museum, Purchase with a gift from Alva Greenberg

September 29, 2018–January 27, 2019  

OLD LYME, CT  – Works on paper have represented a key component of the Florence Griswold Museum’s collection since the Lyme Art Colony’s heyday when artists gathered in the parlor of Florence Griswold’s boardinghouse to play the “Wiggle Game,” drawing spirited caricatures that became the “founding documents” of the future Museum’s holdings. Paper Trail: American Prints, Drawings, and Watercolors, organized by Assistant Curator Jennifer Stettler Parsons, Ph.D., follows the “paper trail” of acquisitions and gifts of works on paper made to the institution over its history. The exhibition is on view September 29, 2018 through January 27, 2019. The collection has grown in scope to include works created with ink, graphite, watercolor, and pastel on paper from the 18th century to the present. The exhibition features several of the Museum’s capsule collections by artists including Fidelia Bridges, Chauncey F. Ryder, and Thomas Nason. “Paper Trail celebrates collection highlights and presents hidden gems rarely displayed because of the fragility of works on paper,” notes Parsons. “The works on view reflect how the achievements of Connecticut’s artists on paper align with the history of American art. At the same time, sketches and other works on paper are foundations of the creative process, often the first step on the “trail” that leads to a finished artwork.” The show opens with a display of more than twenty “Wiggle Drawings,” chosen from a collection of over one hundred and fifty. Many examples are humorous, while others reflect historical trends and social interests, such as Arthur Heming’s lassoing cowboy or Allen Butler Talcott’s buffalo hunter, which thematize the American West. The exhibition has been made possible with the generous support of the State of Connecticut through the Consortium of Connecticut Art Museums, and the Rudolph and John Dirks Fund. Additional support has been generously provided by a group of donors to the Exhibition Fund.

Painting on Paper

While watercolor painting was a pastime popular with children and amateurs, it was long disregarded by fine artists. At the annual exhibitions of American academies, modestly scaled watercolors were outshone by monumental oils and sculptures. Yet the medium of watercolor was utilized daily by illustrators, architects, and designers, and provided fine artists with an inexpensive and portable medium. In 1866 the founding of the American Society of Painters in Water Colors (later the American Watercolor Society) initiated exhibitions that provided more ideal viewing conditions. They welcomed a remarkable breadth of styles—from academic art, to nature-based Pre-Raphaelitism, Impressionism, and commercial works. Among the earliest works in the exhibition are two miniature watercolor portraits by New London native Mary Way. Portrait of Peter Richards and Portrait of Nathaniel Richards were painted between 1785 and 1795. Portraits were highly valued in post-Revolutionary America and those produced on paper using watercolor or pastel crayon could be executed more expediently, dry quickly, and would have been more affordable than their counterparts painted in oil. Way specialized in miniature watercolor portraits, which she “dressed” with cloth or painted paper, a collage technique called habille. Way’s works demonstrate a Connecticut portraitist whose achievements on paper rival oil painting. Two works by Sol LeWitt offer contemporary examples of watercolor painting. LeWitt used gouche, opaque watercolors prepared with a binding agent, to create Wavy Horizontal Brushstrokes (Multicolor), 1996 and Wavy Vertical Brushstrokes (Multicolor), 1994.  Deceptively simple, the conceptual artist carefully considered the palette, even placement, and application of each color. Further, to avoid muddying the paints the disciplined artist needed to wait until each brushstroke had dried before applying the next layer.

Printmaking in America

In the early 19th century, American printmakers focused their skills on creating illustrations for books and magazines, or reproduced history paintings. Prints gained importance as an art form in the final decades of the century, when they were promoted as fine art, as opposed to images made merely for mass distribution. Clubs and societies developed to support exhibition venues and sales, including the New York Etching Club, founded in 1877. Etching was especially popular with American Impressionists, who could draw on their copper etching plates en plein air. The medium provided the opportunity to capture the effects of light and atmosphere in black and white, while maintaining the strong linear quality that characterized the broken brushwork in their paintings. By mid-20th century, printmaking had evolved with the changing climate of modern art and well-suited artists’ exploration into abstraction, non-objectivity, and conceptual art.

Acknowledging the myriad and often overlapping printmaking terms, definition labels are interspersed throughout the exhibition beside examples of the techniques and media. Visitors will discover that drypoint and aquatint are kinds of intaglio printmaking, those made by engraving an image into a hard surface so that an impression of the design yields the image in reverse. Examples such as Gabor Peterdi’s Red, Red Eclipse, 1967 demonstrates how a work can be a color etching as well an aquatint.

Collecting In Depth

Paper Trail offers a chance to showcase the Museum’s significant collections by artists Fidelia Bridges, Chauncey F. Ryder, and Thomas Nason.

This Museum is the recipient of two of Fidelia Bridges’ rare portfolios. The first collection arrived through the family of her close friend, the portraitist Oliver Ingraham Lay. The second portfolio is a recent donation making its museum debut. The seashore scenes and floral nature studies included here come from a trove of more than 60 works that were preserved by descendants of the Bridges family. This tremendous gift newly inaugurates the Florence Griswold Museum as a center for the study of Fidelia Bridges’s art.

Trailblazer Fidelia Bridges forged a professional career as a watercolorist. Rare for a woman, she achieved commercial success as an illustrator for the prominent Boston lithography firm of Louis Prang. Beginning in 1871 Bridges summered in Stratford, Connecticut. She made at least three trips to Old Lyme, and in the 1892 settled permanently in Canaan, Connecticut. Her undated watercolor study, Clam Shells on the Shore may have been painted during a visit to Old Lyme.

Although best known for his oil paintings, Chauncey F. Ryder was a proficient draftsman, printmaker, and watercolorist. The Museum’s collection of more than 250 sketches by Ryder serves as a literal “paper trail” of his process. First drawing a frame on a standard sheet of notebook paper, the artist documented place, date, color, and texture. In addition to sketches, the Museum’s Ryder collection includes his ledgers. Ryder assigned each of his works inventory numbers and meticulously tracked their titles, sizes, and exhibition histories. This resource, donated in 2013 by the artist’s descendants, enabled curators to learn more about the watercolor, The Side Porch, that had been in the Museum’s collection since 1975. Ryder painted a smaller version with the same title, and exhibited both at the Grand Central Art Galleries in New York in the 1940s.

One of America’s foremost 20th-century printmakers, Thomas Nason found his ideal subject matter in rural New England, discovering beauty and melancholy in aging vernacular architecture and abandoned farms. The Museum’s relationship with the artist’s family has made it a major repository for Nason’s work, second only in size to the holdings of the Boston Public Library. Paper Trail includes a selection of Nason’s printing blocks, tools, and printing press. The depth of the Museum’s collection enables it to showcase Nason’s range, which is exemplified in his unfinished Cider Mill (ca. 1944) series, and reveals his compulsive devotion to process. 

Florence Griswold Museum

The consistent recipient of a Trip Advisor Certificate of Excellence, the Florence Griswold Museum has been called a “Giverny in Connecticut” by the Wall Street Journal, and a “must-see” by the Boston Globe. In addition to the restored Florence Griswold House, the Museum features a gallery for changing art exhibitions, education and landscape centers, a restored artist’s studio, thirteen acres along the Lieutenant River, and extensive gardens. Its seasonal Café Flo was recognized as “best hidden gem” and “best outdoor dining” by Connecticut Magazine. The Museum is located at 96 Lyme Street, Old Lyme, CT. Visit for more information.

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