Arts & Culture
Plan a tour of Connecticut’s indoor treasures this winter, whether it be world-class murals, Impressionist masterpieces, a regional theater production or a stroll through one of our great museums. As you learn and marvel and perhaps even see something amazing for the first time, you’ll realize there are getaways for the mind as well as the body.
The Walls Around Us
If winter drives you indoors, take advantage with a survey course on Connecticut’s murals. These large-size gems are well worth seeking out, and they represent a thrilling variety of styles and subject matter. Tackle them one at a time or make it a tour – but be assured there’s no such thing as cabin fever in these rooms.
Thomas Hart Benton’s “Arts of Life in America” was first unveiled in New York City in 1932, and later removed to New Britain in 1953, where, at the New Britain Museum of American Art, it has dazzled viewers ever since. Four huge wall panels and four more on the ceiling depict the “arts” of everyday life, including music, games, dance and sports, and other subjects as well. Together they make for a fascinating look at Benton’s unique style and life in America during the 1930s.
Work continues at Hartford’s Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art toward its spectacular 2015 completion, but in the meantime there’s plenty to see there, including Sol Lewitt’s brilliantly colored, wildly configured murals in the museum’s entrance gallery. The wall drawings measure 20 feet wide by 45 feet high and are almost certain to lift the mood on a dreary winter afternoon.
The murals of Rudolph F. Zallinger at New Haven’s Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History are known to millions because of their appearance in Life magazine and later in a popular Time-Life book called The World We Live In. Both “The Age of Reptiles” and “The Age of Mammals” will fascinate viewers of any age and bring many back to their own childhood when they first saw these creatures walking the earth.
Many of Connecticut’s public buildings served as canvases for mural painters during the Great Depression, and much of the work survives to this day. Some of the best murals have been catalogued here, and together they could make an interesting road trip. If you’d rather concentrate on one city, Norwalk looks like the best bet, with murals in five or six places around town. Include lunch in the deal and you’re one day closer to spring.
Making an Impression
Connecticut was an important creative seed bed of American Impressionism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. With colonies of talented painters taking up residence in Cos Cob and at Florence Griswold’s boarding house in Old Lyme, many of the great Impressionist scenes painted during those years are scenes of Connecticut. Because of this rich heritage, many museums in the state are home to Impressionist masterworks - in fact, there’s even a Connecticut Impressionist Art Trail that will take you to 17 museums and historic sites throughout the state. As you make your travel plans for this winter, here are a few key sites to put on your list:
The Florence Griswold Museum was the home of the woman who took in and encouraged painters in what was called the Lyme Art Colony. It’s now known as the home of American Impressionism, with one of the best collections of Impressionism in America. Here you’ll see major works by Childe Hassam, John Henry Twachtman and Willard Metcalf. Be sure to see the ongoing exhibition An American Place: The Art Colony at Old Lyme.
Bush-Holley House is the centerpiece of the Greenwich Historical Society's site on Cos Cob Harbor in Greenwich. Here, the historic buildings, landscape and gardens evoke the turn of the 20th century when Cos Cob became an art colony and cradle of American Impressionism. The Storehouse museum gallery features changing exhibitions such as this winter’s Greenwich Faces the Great War.
Weir Farm National Historic Site in Wilton was home to three generations of American artists after Julian Alden Weir, a leading figure in American art and the development of American Impressionism, acquired the farm in 1882. Today, the 60-acre farm, which includes the Weir House, Weir and Young Studios, barns, gardens, and Weir Pond, is one of the nation's finest remaining landscapes of American art.
The galleries at Waterbury’s Mattatuck Museum feature work by Connecticut artists from the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, including American Impressionists such as J. Alden Weir and Willard Metcalf.
Widely considered to be the first museum in the world dedicated solely to American art, the New Britain Museum of American Art is renowned for its preeminent collection spanning three centuries. The Chase Family Building features 15 spacious galleries that showcase the permanent collection and 15-20 special exhibitions annually. Works by American Impressionists at the museum include a pastel by Mary Cassatt and works by Theodore Robinson, John Henry Twachtman, J. Alden Weir, Willard Metcalf and 11 oil paintings by Childe Hassam.
Meanwhile, Impressionist Art by the French Masters can also be found in Connecticut, most notably at Hartford’s Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art - which houses masterpieces by Manet, Monet, Renoir, Pisarro and Cézanne - and the nearby Hill-Stead Museum in Farmington, whose collection includes works by Cassatt, Degas, Manet, Monet and Whistler.
On the Aisle: Regional Theater Round-Up for Winter
Connecticut has a long storied history as a center for regional theater. Going back to the days when New Haven served as a tryout city for Broadway-bound productions such as My Fair Lady and Oklahoma, the state has enjoyed a reputation as a great place to see great plays. For this winter, the lineups at these regional theaters will take you places you’ve never been before.
New Haven for decades was a key testing ground for Broadway-bound productions, and today it remains a vital center for regional theater. On stage this fall at Long Wharf Theatre are Steve Martin’s Picasso at the Lapin Agile (11/26 to 12/21), the World Premiere of Dael Orlandersmith’s Forever (1/2 to 2/1), and Bad Jews by Joshua Harmon (2/18 to 3/22).
Alternatively, Yale Rep, the training ground for the Yale School of Drama and its many future stars, will present the World Premiere of Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ War (11/21 to 12/13) followed by another World Premiere, Familiar by Danai Gurira (1/30 to 2/21).
Elsewhere, Hartford Stage chimes in with Noel Coward’s Private Lives (1/8 to 2/1) and then the World Premiere of Matthew Lopez’s Reverberation (2/19 to 3/15). At TheaterWorks, also in Hartford, Christmas on the Rocks (11/28 to 12/21) will be followed by Mark St. Germain’s Dancing Lessons (1/23 to 3/1).
In Waterbury, Seven Angels Theatre features The Wildest!!! Hip, Cool and Swingin’ – The Musical Sounds of Louis Prima & Keely Smith (2/12 to 3/8).
Finally, the renowned home of the American musical Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam presents a special mid-winter treat, its Festival of New Musicals (Jan. 16-18).
The Beverly Hills house tour has always been a staple of a visit to Southern California, and we’ve got one in Connecticut, too. Except that with ours, you can go inside the houses and take a look around, and learn about the famous residents, and maybe even something about culture, the arts, architecture and America, too. Here are several of the better-known houses that are open to you.
The Mark Twain House & Museum. The 19-room Victorian gem known by all as the Mark Twain House offers a wonderful look into the life of what many consider to be America’s greatest writer. Twain lived here from 1874 to 1891 and was at his most productive, writing The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and other timeless classics. Tour the house and visit the adjacent museum as well.
Harriet Beecher Stowe Center. Right next door to the Twain House is the house of writer Harriet Beecher Stowe, whose Uncle Tom’s Cabin took the nation by storm and was credited by no less than Abraham Lincoln as a factor in the fighting of the Civil War. You’ll learn much about a writer’s life at the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center, and also the Victorian grounds and gardens.
The stunning Lockwood-Mathews Mansion Museum in Norwalk is regarded as one of the earliest and most significant Second Empire Style country houses in the United States. Built between 1864 and 1868 by financier and railroad baron LeGrand Lockwood, the Gilded Age mansion combines jaw-dropping interiors and architectural flourishes with a suitably rocky domestic history through the economic ups and downs of the 1860s to 1960s century.
Gillette Castle. William Gillette was a famous actor, best known for his portrayals on stage of Sherlock Holmes. Once he became successful he built a wildly eccentric castle for himself on a bluff overlooking the Connecticut River - spectacular in fall. Gillette Castle State Park is today open for touring, picnicking or simply strolling the 184-acre park. The grounds are open through the winter.
If you can get to Ridgefield, be sure to see the Weir Farm National Historic Site. The 60-acre estate was home to three generations of artists, including Julian Alden Weir a leading figure in American Impressionism. You can visit his former home studio, barns, gardens and Weir Pond. Time your visit well and you can even try your hand at painting.
Litchfield County is where you’ll find Edith Chase’s summer estate, now known as Topsmead State Forest. Chase’s English Tudor cottage is the focal point, but her grounds spread out in all directions, encompassing more than 500 acres in all. Its great for a winter hike, too!
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.
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. The museum showcases the history of the Waterbury Clock Company, and (because the current Timex owners are Norwegian) there’s an exhibit of Thor Heyerdahl’s voyages across the Pacific and a replica Easter Island “head” that looms over I-84. Enjoy a variety of timepieces and memorabilia, hands-on exhibits, computer inter-activities and good deal on Timex watches in the 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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