Arts & Culture
What do a trash museum, handmade gifts, robots and portraits have in common? Well, for one thing they all contribute to Connecticut’s rich and diverse arts and cultural scene. Each offers refuge from the cold weather, as well as hours of entertainment this winter! Explore the state’s art centers, world-renowned professional theaters, offbeat museums and exciting new exhibits along the Connecticut Art Trail for a winter like no other.
A Taste of Ireland
It’s not clear exactly when the Irish took over the month of March, but now that ownership seems to be extending into the entirety of spring. And as it does, it makes sense to get out and celebrate what has become one of Connecticut’s dominant cultures. The centerpiece, of course, is St. Patrick’s Day, but that’s just for starters. A true Irish education includes a full slate of sights and sounds.
Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum. Before the celebrations begin, be sure to visit Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum in Hamden. The museum, a part of Quinnipiac University, is home to the world’s largest collection of visual art, artifacts and printed materials relating to the starvation and forced emigration that occurred in Ireland, mostly during the 1840s. Since most of those leaving Ireland at that time ended up in the United States, and brought their traditions with them, it is appropriate to learn the back story.
St. Patrick’s Day Parades. Here’s a tradition that remains vibrant in Connecticut, with many cities and towns observing the day with music and marching. Among the largest celebrations are held in Hartford, where 10 area towns will participate in the 43rd Annual Greater Hartford St. Patrick’s Day Parade on March 15; the granddaddy of them all in New Haven, where the Irish have been stepping out for the St. Patrick’s Day Parade since 1842 and some 300,000 spectators are expected this March 16; the Greater Bridgeport St. Patrick’s Day Celebration will have the advantage of being held on St. Patrick’s Day itself, March 17; and a relative newcomer, the Mystic Irish Parade, will step off for the 11th time on March 23.
Irish Dance. A Feis is a traditional Gaelic arts and culture festival, but in recent years it has come to mean an event mostly centered around Irish dancing, and competitive dancing at that. Connecticut is home to many such festivals during the year, most being put on by dance academies. If you’re in the mood for Irish costumes and step dancing, this spring offers several opportunities. The Lenihan Spring Feis will be held April 6 at Stratford High School, the Horgan Academy Spring Feis will take place April 12, and the Lynn Academy Spring Feis will be May 5 at Stamford High School.
Irish Pubs. An Irish pub can be great all the year ‘round, of course, but you might really feel the urge in springtime. You may already have a favorite, but if you don’t, or if you’re just visiting, here are few where the food is notably good: Try the clams Shannon at The Black Sheep in Niantic, the Dingle fish pie at O’Toole’s Irish Pub & Restaurant in New Haven, the big Irish breakfast at Tigin in Stamford, and the warm scallop salad at The Half-Door in Hartford.
I’ve Just Seen a Face . . .
Connecticut’s art galleries are filled with portraits of all kinds, painted or sculpted by an exceptional gallery of artists, both past and present. Here are some faces you might want to get to know this winter. And while you’re there, each museum has a world of other marvels ready for your viewing.
Andy Warhol’s Early Colored Jackie, 1964, at Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art in Hartford. It’s the pop artist’s famous silkscreen of the former First Lady.
John Singer Sargent’s Miss Cara Bunch, 1888, at the New Britain Museum of American Art. The artist is known for his exquisite portraits of the privileged. This is a wonderful example.
Mask Representing a Male Ancestor (Chihongo), artist unknown, at the Yale University Art Gallery in New Haven. Produced at about the same time of Singer’s painting mentioned above, this mask, a product of Angola, makes an interesting contrast.
Joshua Reynolds’ Mrs. Abington as Miss Prue in Love for Love by Congreve, 1771, at the Yale Center for British Art. Modern starts love the camera, 18th-century stars like Mrs. Abington loved the artist’s easel, as this portrait proves.
Abraham Archibold Anderson’s Miss Caroline Welton, 1873, at the Mattatuck Museum in Waterbury. She’s well known locally for the way she lived and died, and left her large fortune to the welfare of animals.
James Mollison’s The Disciples, contemporary, at The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum in Ridgefield. Photographer Mollison traveled the concert circuit and took stunning portraits of diehard fans of P. Diddy, The Casualties, Bob Dylan and more. The exhibit runs through March 9.
Gifts from the Heart (and Hand)
Whether you need to cross off names on your holiday shopping list or are seeking the perfect special occasion present, Connecticut’s arts centers provide plenty of original and unique works in a variety of mediums to meet your gift-giving needs.
The Shop at the Guilford Art Center features a distinctive selection of handmade items by artists across the country. Choose from jewelry, ceramics, glass, metal, basketry, wearable and decorative art, paper goods and cards, wood products and more. Through January 5, the center holds its annual holiday sale, featuring the work of hundreds of artists. The 32nd annual Artistry Sale of Fine Craft & Art includes ceramics, candles, glass, fine art, jewelry, ornaments, cards, toys and more to meet all budgets.
Recognized as one of the finest professional schools for creative study in America, the Brookfield Craft Center offers classes in traditional subjects, such as ceramics, weaving and stained glass, as well as unique topics like decorative arts techniques and design theory. The center’s shop features one-of-a-kind wares reflecting all these media and techniques. The 38th annual Holiday Exhibition & Sale runs through January 5 and offers unique, one-of-a-kind works, all made exclusively by American artists. Explore three floors of this charming Colonial-vintage restored grist mill.
In Middletown, Wesleyan Potters’ gallery/shop features an ever-changing display of juried crafts, including pottery, baskets and jewelry, produced by members of the Wesleyan Potters and other select artisans from across America. Purchase works created by Wesleyan Potters Craft School instructors, as well as more than 250 talented American artisans, at the 58th annual Exhibit and Sale held through December 15. This exhibit is one of the oldest juried craft show in the country.
For a truly artful shopping experience, visit the Farmington Valley Arts Center in Avon, where 20 resident studio artists create and sell their works on-site. In the center’s two galleries, you will find handcrafted jewelry, glass, ceramics, textiles, woodwork and wall art created by some of the region’s and North America’s most skilled artists.
This winter explore your creative side with visual arts classes or workshops at Creative Arts Workshop in New Haven. Shop for fine crafts and unique gifts at the 45th annual Celebration of American Crafts through December 24 featuring more than 300 artists from across the country.
From Black Box to Broadway
With more theaters per 1,000 people than any other state in the country, Connecticut is a prime destination for avid theater-goers, especially those anxious to see shows before they arrive on Broadway. Professional theaters throughout the state have a long history of world and United States premieres that have become drama phenomena on Broadway and in theaters throughout the country.
To preview Broadway-bound shows, head to New Haven, where the Long Wharf Theatre and Yale Repertory Theatre have been creating world and American premieres for more than 40 years. Since its opening in 1965, the Long Wharf Theatre’s professional theater company has produced more than 30 shows that have transferred to Broadway or off-Broadway, including Wit, American Buffalo starring Al Pacino, and Broken Glass. In addition to premieres, the theater produces fresh revivals of classics and modern plays, as well as rediscoveries of neglected works. The Theatre has just completed a $3.8 million renovation including new, roomier seating, a bigger lobby, a new bar and a facelift that embraces the unique industrial nature of the site. Experience the world premiere adaptation of Heidi Schreck’s The Consultant from January 8 to February 9, and Amy Herzog’s 4000 Miles from February 19 to March 16.
Founded in 1966, the Yale Repertory Theatre is also one of America’s leading professional theaters, introducing new plays and bold interpretations of the classics each season. It has produced more than 100 world and American premieres including two Pulitzer Prize winners, 11 of which have advanced to Broadway and won more than 40 Tony nominations and eight awards, including one for the Outstanding Regional Theatre. Stars such as Glenn Close, Danny Glover, Samuel L. Jackson, James Earl Jones, Laura Linney and Sam Waterston have graced the theater’s stage. Do not miss The Fairytale Lives of Russian Girls from January 31 to February 22 and These Paper Bullets March 14 to April 5.
For a small regional theater, the Seven Angels Theatre in Waterbury has made a huge theatrical impact. During its more than 20 years of operation, the theater has produced more than 80 Equity professional productions, including 18 world premieres. See The Crimson Thread by Mary Hanes February 20 to March 16 and Joe Godfrey’s Romance Language March 27 to April 27.
Hartford Stage’s 50th season includes Steve Martin’s The Underpants from January 9 to February 9, and A Song at Twilight from February 20 to March 16. The award-winning Hartford Stage is one of the leading resident theatres in the United States, known internationally for entertaining and enlightening audiences with a wide range of performances. The theatre has earned many of the nation’s most distinguished awards, including the Regional Theatre Tony Award, the Margo Jones Award for Development of New Works and OBIE and New York Critics Circle Awards.
This winter, warm your body and expand your mind on the Connecticut Art Trail, a network of 15 world-class museums and historic sites offering diverse collections and exhibitions of art and cultural artifacts. Download the Art Trail’s new smart phone app and gain access to interactive museum and exhibit guides, explore the trails’ offerings, and discover restaurants and accommodations nearby.
Open at the Florence Griswold Museum through January 5, is The Magic of Christmas: A Holiday Tradition, which features elaborate Fantasy Trees evoking the magic of the season. The current exhibitions also include Harry Holtzman and American Abstraction on view through January 26. Starting on February 7 through June 1 is Lyme Artists Abroad. In the historic rooms of the Griswold House visitors can see how families celebrated Christmas in 1910, as historically accurate decorations reveal homespun creativity.
See more new works of art at the Yale University Art Gallery’s newly renovated and expanded museum, increasing the space from one-and-a-half buildings to three. Running through March 30 are A Great Crowd Had Gathered: JFK in the 1960s and Red Grooms: Larger Than Life. Byobu: The Grandeur of Japanese Screens runs February 7 through July 6.
In Harford, the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, the nation’s oldest continuously public art museum, presents Weaving the Myth of Psyche, featuring rare tapestries, through February 16 and The Age of Pleasure and Enlightenment, spanning Europe’s 18th century, through February 24.
Through January 26, the Bruce Museum in Greenwich showcases one of America’s best-know contemporary artists in Closer: The Graphic Art of Chuck Close. Meanwhile, a multimedia exhibit, Oysters, Pearls of Long Island Sound, looks at one of Long Island Sound’s most famous denizens.
Museums of a Different Color
If you are looking for an off-the-beaten path attraction or perhaps travel with someone who thinks museums are not for them, explore Connecticut where one-of-a-kind museums display intriguing curios, reveal interesting histories and educate visitors on a variety of little-known topics.
The Gallery at Constitution Plaza in Hartford is dedicated to promoting cultural enrichment and visual understanding of the Connecticut Office of the Arts and its constituent organizations. The exhibit Now & Then: An Exhibition of Artist Fellowship Recipients, highlights contemporary artists who find inspiration in the past. The exhibit will be open through March 7.
Take a trip down memory lane at the Barker Character, Comic and Cartoon Museum in Cheshire, where comic strip, cartoon, western, television and advertising memorabilia transport visitors as far back as the 19th century. See 80,000 everyday items that children used or played with from 1873 to the present, such as the Lone Ranger gun, Ronald McDonald phone and Roy Rogers lunchbox. The museum also houses the only official Celebriduck Museum in the world. See more than 150 members of the celebrity bathtub duck line, featuring the likenesses of some of the greatest entertainment, athletics and history icons.
Take a journey through time in one of Waterbury’s old brass mill building at the Timexpo: Timex Group Museum, exploring exciting exhibits spanning in three floors. Museum showcases the history of the Waterbury Clock Company, experience ocean currents with Thor Heyerdahl’s past voyages, and continue into the future with the “2154” exhibit. Enjoy a variety of timepieces and memorabilia, hands-on exhibits, computer inter-activites and take your time while shopping in their gift shop.
In Bristol, see one of the largest collections of antique carousel pieces in the country at the New England Carousel Museum. Learn about the evolution of carousel animals, as well as their place in American folk art history, during a guided tour.
All the world’s a stage at the Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry in Storrs. Located on the University of Connecticut’s Depot campus, the museum exhibits puppets from around the world, as well as those created at the University of Connecticut, the only school in the United States to offer a Master’s degree in puppetry. Some puppets were designed by the famous puppeteer and UConn professor Frank Ballard, while others have been donated by his friends and world-famous puppeteers. The diverse collection includes puppets that date back hundreds of years. The museum also features rotating exhibits.
Want to know about a museum where it is okay to talk trash? The CRRA Trash Museum in Hartford features 6,500 square feet of educational exhibits that begin at the Temple of Trash. Visitors learn about the problems that come with old-fashioned methods of disposal, as well as the solutions, and can watch the on-site Container Processing Facility in operation. Follow recyclables from the tipping floor and through the processing equipment to the final crushing and baling before being shipped to markets or made into new products.
See giant dinosaur fossils, primate skeletons, Native American artifacts and Egyptian mummies at the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History in New Haven. Founded in 1866, this museum contains one of the great scientific collections in North America. Among them is the comprehensive mineralogical and ornithological collections, the second-largest repository of dinosaur artifacts in the United States, and the largest intact Apatosaurus (Brontosaurus) in the world.
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