The Day – Lyme Art Association celebrates 100 years Roaring ’20s style

Old Lyme — Dressed in top hats, flapper dresses and fascinators, members of the Lyme Art Association recreated the Roaring ’20s on Saturday afternoon to celebrate the association’s 100th anniversary.

In true 1920s fashion, the association hosted a family-friendly tea party, followed by an evening Centennial Frolic on its lawn, where artists and supporters of the association enjoyed refreshments while donning their costumes. Inside the gallery, exhibits included a centennial celebration and a gallery called “young impressions” meant to appeal to and highlight young artists.

The festivities kicked off early Saturday morning, when more than two dozen artists scattered throughout town, mostly on Lyme Street, to participate in an en plein air, or outdoor, painting exercise. The artists put up their easels and broke out their brushes to depict nearby landmarks including Town Hall, the Duck River Bridge and even the art association building itself.

By the afternoon, the artists had finished their pieces, framed them and placed them on display outside the gallery, where attendees were invited to purchase their favorite pieces.

Lynn Fairfield-Sonn of Old Lyme was the first to buy a painting that stood out to her right away: a portrait of her and her husband.

She said she was enjoying a cup of coffee on her porch on Saturday morning with her husband, Jim, when they spotted an artist propping up an easel on a nearby sidewalk.

The artist, Blanche Servan of Mansfield, had noticed the couple’s enjoying a quiet morning coffee together and decided to paint them. The Fairfield-Sonns have been married for 39 years and lived in the home shown in the painting for 37 years.

Fairfield-Sonn said she and her husband enjoyed watching the artist paint and even walked over a few times to meet her and see the work in progress. The couple decided to purchase the piece to hang in their hallway, alongside another painting of their home.

“We never expected to have a painting of us, and to watch her start painting it today and see it finished was lovely,” she said. “It really was a nice experience.”

All of the artists who participated in the “wet paint” exercise were entered into a contest in addition to having their work put up for sale, with a portion of the proceeds going to the art association.

Paul Loescher, 65, of Clinton won first place for his watercolor painting of a farm seen from Main Street. He said he was drawn to the scene because of the light. “I’m always looking for a sense of light more than anything else,” he said, “where the light is coming from, how it defines the environment and how it is hitting the objects.”

On Saturday, he spent about three hours on the painting and was proud to come in first place. After retiring as an architect a few years ago, he started painting regularly and has joined the Lyme Art Association for regular outdoor painting events in various locations around the region. During the COVID-19 pandemic, he said he’s been painting more than ever and “people were coming out in droves” to join weekly painting activities hosted along the shoreline.

Being awarded by the art association, he said, is just a sign his dedication is making him better at painting. “It feels good to get recognized.”

Maura Cochran, a member of the association’s board of directors, has been leading outdoor art experiences every Monday for three years. She brings artists of all ages and levels of experience to a variety of different spots around the region, from private gardens to public spaces including Rocky Neck State Park, and the group paints for three hours.

Though there’s a level of camaraderie, there are no directions and the artists have creative liberty — they choose what and how to create.

Celebrating that creativity is what the association strives to do, according to its leaders.

Development Director Elsbeth Dowd said the association chose to celebrate and fundraise by hosting events similar to what its founders hosted 100 years ago.

She said that in the early 1900s, artists were drawn to Old Lyme and were welcomed to the area by Florence Griswold, who ran a boarding house popular with painters. As the art community in the area became more and more well known, the artists formed an association in 1914. But still, “they were looking for a home of their own.”

“They wanted to provide classes and community, so they purchased this property from Florence Griswold, and to do so they sold their art and held tea days just like we are today,” Dowd said. The association’s gallery first opened its doors on Aug. 6, 1921, she said.

The association’s main goal this weekend, she said, was to honor the history of the building and celebrate the fact that — even through the pandemic — it has almost always been open with art on display for an entire century.

“Our primary purpose with this celebration was to honor the fact that this gallery space is unique in that we have this natural light, and that it has continued as a gallery space since its inception,” association president Harley Bartlett said.

The association has been working to restore the building, beginning with the exterior, which was recently finished. Now, the association is fundraising for a $400,000 project to replace the galleries’ skylights.

Bartlett said that historically, the community has always supported the association and he is confident donors will help make the next phase of restoration possible. A portion of skylight was removed in the gallery Saturday as a way to show attendees how the  natural light impacts the space.

“The skylights are one of the most significant features in our gallery because they bathe the artwork in natural light,” Dowd said. “But they’re 100 years old — they’re made from single panes and they’re leaking. And they’re not very efficient — in the summer, the galleries get very hot, and they’re very cold in the winter.”

“We want to fix the leaks,” she said, “but we also want to preserve the building and make the galleries sustainable for the next century of our artists and supporters.”

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