September 30, 2017-January 28, 2018

Three exhibitions examine social
consciousness and community participation.

Childe Hassam, “To the 101st (Massachusetts) Infantry,” 1918. Oil on canvas, 25 x 30 inches, Collection of Jonathan L. Cohen


World War I and Connecticut Artists
illuminates the significant role played by artists with ties to Connecticut in mobilizing public sentiment for America’s entry into the war and in defining a new role for art in the field of modern warfare. In particular, members of the Lyme Art Colony pioneered designs for naval camouflage painted on the hulls of ships and created celebrated images such as Childe Hassam’s depictions of a flag-draped New York as the emblem of the nation that would tip the balance in favor of the Allies.

Oscar Fehrer, “Reflecting and Reflections,” 1918, Oil on canvas, 43 x 39 in., Florence Griswold Museum

 

Oscar Fehrer: Reflecting and Reflections

 

This exhibition takes Oscar Fehrer’s painting Reflecting and Reflections (1918) as a starting point for the investigation of the broad themes with which Fehrer’s varied oeuvre engages. Best known as a portrait painter, Fehrer arrived in Lyme in 1918 to establish a summer home for his family, the same year he completed Reflecting and Reflections. The painting’s broken brushwork and unusual color palette demonstrate a departure from the accomplished academic style of his early career and shows instead the influence of European modernism. This installation will present a selected retrospective of work from every period of Fehrer’s career—early charcoal drawings, portraits, and plein air landscapes—to reconsider Fehrer’s contribution to the art world on both a local and international level.

Born in New York to parents recently immigrated from Vienna, Fehrer studied art in New York, Munich, and Paris. In 1909 the artist moved to Munich with his young family and established himself with a convivial group of artists in Germany.

When war broke out in 1914, the Fehrers fled abruptly, leaving furniture and works of art. After setting up a studio in New York and gaining recognition as a portraitist, Fehrer began to look for a place to summer outside of the city, eventually following his friend, George Bruestle, to Lyme. Although he settled just a few miles from Florence Griswold’s boarding house, Fehrer’s relationship with the artists at the colony appears to have been remote. The reasons for his marginalization from the community have never been fully understood. A return to the artist’s vast archive yields new information about these questions and the diverse production of this understudied artist. The trajectory of Fehrer’s development will be considered against the social context of an anxious America during WWI, the reverberations of war and identity politics in a tight-knit community like Lyme, and the artist’s aesthetic reaction to the art world’s upheaval due to the rise of modernism.

The exhibition also acknowledges the fiercest advocates of Fehrer’s legacy, his daughters Catherine and Elizabeth. They preserved not only his work and archives, but made a significant and lasting impact on the town with their gift of land to the Pleasant Valley Preserve, managed by the Lyme Land Conservation Trust. At her death in 2001, Catherine Fehrer, a longtime trustee of the Florence Griswold Museum, left the museum a generous gift of the historic house where the family lived on Beaver Brook Road, including the adjoining five acres of land, and a number of his works of art. Works on view will be drawn from this extensive collection and will include archival material and books. The 2018 centennial of the artist’s arrival in Lyme represents an opportune moment for the museum to reflect on Fehrer’s work and the myriad ways it serves as a reflection of its contemporary moment.

This installation is curated by FGM’s Assistant Curator, Jenny Parsons, who lived with her husband in the Fehrer House in Lyme during 2016-2017.

Pola Esther, “A Room of Her Own (Ballad of Ruth Coxe)”

In, A Room of Her Own (Ballad of Ruth Coxe), contemporary photographer Pola Esther presents a portrait of Ruth Anne Brown Coxe of Old Lyme in an exhibition of photographs and installation elements. A complex and unconventional person, Coxe, who died at age 85 in 2015, was an embattled figure who clashed with others on politics, womanhood, and religion. Carrying hand-lettered signs or displaying them in her front yard, Coxe sought attention for her legal battle to retain the 18th-century homestead and farm she occupied with her two sons in Old Lyme following the death of her husband, Constitutional lawyer Samuel H. Coxe III, in 1981. Advocating for a return to America’s agricultural roots, she promoted organic farming and opposed government actions that would affect the town’s rural character. Her protests, as well as her homemade bread and produce, became fixtures of town life.

Beginning in 2013 Esther, Coxe’s neighbor, photographed her in the cluttered environment of her home, drawing visual parallels between the house and the personality of its occupant. In her portraits of the wizened but spry Coxe, Esther discerns her subject’s strong beliefs, ideas that drove Coxe to adopt natural foodways, start her own businesses, and travel to remote parts of the world with her family to study traditional agricultural practices. The photographer reveals Ruth’s transformation of the once-grand home, formerly occupied by Lyme Art Colony painter Edward Rook, into her own chaotic universe—set against the idyllic backdrop of Old Lyme, a town celebrated for its picturesque qualities since the days of the artist colony based at Florence Griswold’s boardinghouse. Following Coxe’s death, Esther revisited the home “with Ruth as its soul,” posing models wearing her fearlessly-chosen clothes or holding emblems of her beliefs, such as images of the Virgin and Child that reflect her esteem for motherhood. The resulting images offer the artist’s perception of her sitter as adventurous, nonconforming, opinionated, and full of life, and reflect on the expression of those traits in the space still charged with her presence even after her death.

Esther’s gallery installation will juxtapose her photographs with photo collages of Coxe’s memorabilia, protest signs, clothes, and even physical elements from the Coxe house. In recognition of Coxe’s disputed legacy, Esther plans to record locals’ recollections of her and her complex legacy in the community.

Born in Lodz, Poland, Esther studied and worked in theater before taking up photography as her primary means of artistic expression. Building on her background in theater, Esther infuses her images with drama and narrative tension, juxtaposing them in series to build stories, as in A Room of Her Own (Ballad of Ruth Coxe). Often in bold, sensuous color, Esther’s photos consider themes of intimacy, human connection, and the feminine, finding echoes between the body and the natural world. Her appreciation for female energy attracted her to Ruth Coxe when the photographer moved to Old Lyme. A newcomer to the area, Esther found in Coxe a muse who empowered the photographer’s own art making.

Based in Old Lyme and New York, Esther has exhibited her work internationally in Poland, France, Bulgaria, and Germany, where her installation Eye.Eat.You appeared in 2015-16 at Platform, a gallery in Berlin. Closer to home, she was artist-in-residence at the Hygienic Art Gallery in New London, Conn., in 2010-11, and has exhibited at the Diane Birdsall Gallery, Bee and Thistle Inn, and Westerly Land Trust. Her photographs have appeared in numerous publications.