Seven Miles to Farmington Video Introduction
Welcome to SEE/change, an online project that investigates the power of a single painting to teach about Connecticut history. Use this website to learn more about the artist, George H. Durrie, his life in New Haven, and his artistic career. For teachers and students, there’s a timeline, a visual glossary, and videos. And for everyone, there’s a fun section of games and activities.
This painting of sleighs arriving at a country inn was created by George Durrie around 1853. Its title, Seven Miles to Farmington, comes from the sign nailed to the oak tree. The other sign attached to the pole in front of the house tells us that this place is no longer a private home, but rather a public place offering lodging and food to travelers. Because the next potential stop is seven miles away, and a storm seems to be looming, these travelers have decided to shelter here for the night.
The house has two stories in the front, but only one in back. Houses like this are called “saltboxes” because the uneven roofline resembles the hinged wooden boxes used to keep salt dry in colonial kitchens. To Durrie, this house was old-fashioned.
The abundance of snow, and the nearly empty woodshed, suggest that we are nearing the end of a long winter. Durrie was one of the few artists who mastered the winter landscape, and he genuinely enjoyed winter weather. He often wrote about snow and sleigh riding in his diary. The artist became so good at making these inviting winter scenes that he was nicknamed “the snowman.”
At a time before hotels and restaurants were common, inns were friendly places where neighbors could catch up on the local news, and strangers could get to know one another over a mug of beer, or a game of checkers. They were noisy places, too. In the kitchen, the fire would be crackling, pots clanking, and dishes rattling. Just imagine the smell of bread baking in the oven, or a thick soup bubbling over a smoky fire in the open hearth.
Water for drinking, cooking, and bathing would come from the farm’s well, hidden from view by a fence. A device called a wellsweep shows us the well’s location. It’s a long pole balanced in a notch of a thicker taller pole, attached to a rope and bucket. This simple tool made pulling heavy buckets from the deep well easier.
The snowy farmyard is busy with a man bringing items from the barn and others negotiating the overnight care of their horses. Near the stable, the oxen lazily feed on the fallen hay. The dogs in the foreground look alert, with tails upright and gazes fixed on one another. Perhaps one of the dogs is new to the place, having jumped from a sleigh to inspect this new farm.
This farmstead appears to be the only one for miles around. Behind the house, snow-covered fields rise upward to a feature that looks very similar to West Rock, a large stone cliff near Durrie’s home in New Haven. Although it is many miles from Farmington, the artist would have been very familiar with the shape of the famous landmark.
The incoming storm clouds add drama to the scene as guests scurry to safety before the bad weather sets in. The moody sky highlights Durrie’s amazing tree on the right, its branches shooting out like lightning bolts from the massive trunk.
To sell his finished paintings, Durrie took out advertisements in local newspapers. It is interesting to note that some of these sales happened in May, when snow was a merely a memory, and not a nasty, slippery reality. Durrie’s pictures of the countryside were especially appealing to those who lived in cities. Over time, his paintings made their way into private collections.
Near the end of Durrie’s life, a printing company began to make inexpensive copies of his paintings, popularizing his images with the American public. They were often used on calendars and on greeting cards. As Durrie’s reputation grew, so did the value of his paintings, many of which are now in museums.
With the Museum’s SEE/change project, we look forward to introducing Durrie’s vision of Connecticut’s history with a new generation of fresh-eyed learners.
We hope you enjoy learning more about the painting using the resources on this website.