Florence Griswold Museum appoints first new director in four decades

Rebekah (Becky) Beaulieu has been named director of the Florence Griswold Museum in Old Lyme, becoming the institution’s first new director in more than 40 years. Photo submitted
Rebekah (Becky) Beaulieu has been named director of the Florence Griswold Museum in Old Lyme, becoming the institution’s first new director in more than 40 years. Photo submitted

Rebekah (Becky) Beaulieu has been named director of the Florence Griswold Museum in Old Lyme, becoming the institution’s first new director in more than 40 years.

Beaulieu, who has been the associate director of the Bowdoin College Museum of Art in Brunswick, Maine, since 2014, will take over from Jeffrey Andersen. Andersen, who is retiring, has headed up the Flo Gris for 41 years and has helped transform it from a historic house into a major regional art museum. 

Beaulieu, 35 and a native of Milwaukee, Wis., said of her new job, "I'm excited. This is a great place with great people. I think they are so ready to work toward their next chapter, and I'm just happy to contribute to that."

"There are so many benefits to coming in after a director has gotten so many wonderful things started. I will say that I think his shoes are impossible to fill. So I'll just create some new footprints, we'll look at it that way," she said with a laugh.

Ted Hamilton, president of the Florence Griswold Museum’s Board of Trustees, noted that this is the first time the museum has had to look for a director in four decades and it was important to get it right.

He spoke about Beaulieu’s outstanding record and recommendations and said she “has an incredible background, not only academically, but she’s shown that she is able to run organizations not only as a leader but financially and in a creative way that has led to a lot of success in the various places that she’s worked. We also think she is extremely organized and can continue with what Jeff Andersen has done. I mean, Jeff has done a fabulous job over the last 40 years. He’s going to be impossible to replace, but the best person that we found was Becky, and she’ll do a terrific job.”

Hamilton added, “I think that what really struck us was her enthusiasm and her command of the topics that we were going to discuss, and just some of the ideas she had about where we go from here. That’s what, I think, above and beyond what we saw on paper, made us decide on Becky.”

One of those ideas she spoke about is focusing on Connecticut art and contemporary art as well as Old Lyme impressionists, he said. She wants to create exhibitions that are going to be interesting to younger people, to get more of them involved in the museum.

Beaulieu first became acquainted with the Flo Gris when she came to Mystic for the 2016 New England Museum Association conference. She remembered so many people describing the museum as magical. That says a lot about Andersen and the museum’s impact on and relationship with the community, she said.

“There’s a very personal bond there. This is a truly cherished institution in the total sense of the word,” she said.

A committee of Flo Gris trustees led a national search for Andersen’s replacement and started with 70 people to consider, eventually interviewing about 10 of them in depth. The search process was coordinated by Naree Viner of the executive search firm Korn Ferry.

Beaulieu will start her new job on Feb. 19, and she and Andersen will work together briefly that month. Hamilton declined to say what Beaulieu’s salary will be.

Beaulieu’s responsibilities at Bowdoin College Museum of Art included managing administrative activities ranging from staffing to finances to visitors’ experience.

She has managed historic sites as well and was the first executive director of the Winchester Historical Society in Massachusetts; she managed operations for the society and its cultural site, the Sanborn House Historical and Cultural Center.

Officials point to Beaulieu’s combination of art and historical experience as part of what made her such a good candidate to lead the Florence Griswold Museum. The Old Lyme site began as a historic house museum and has grown into a “place-based” art museum of great renown. It now boasts a modern gallery featuring rotating exhibitions, as well as education and landscape centers. It still, of course, also features the house that started it all, the Florence Griswold boarding house where, starting in 1899, members of what became known as the Lyme Art Colony gathered. That house is now a National Historic Landmark.

Beaulieu developed an interest in museums early and did first internship at age 16. She went on to earn her bachelor of arts degree in American studies from George Washington University. She also received two master's degrees — one in art history and museum studies from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and one in arts administration from Columbia University — as well as a Ph.D. in American and New England studies from Boston University.

Beaulieu is a board member of the New England Museum Association. She is working as an editor on a book about that association’s centennial with Mark S. Gold and Dawn Salerno, who is the Mystic Museum of Art’s deputy director for public engagement and operations and the NEMA board president.

Salerno met Beaulieu about two years ago at the American Alliance of Museums’ annual conference. She remembers that Beaulieu was then working full-time and working on her Ph.D., and she had an impressive resume of things she had already done.

“I was just like, ‘Holy smokes, where did you come from?’ You know, bright, smiling, energetic,” Salerno said, mentioning her charisma as well.

She remembered thinking that Beaulieu was one to watch. Hearing that Beaulieu was chosen to take over at Flo Gris, Salerno said, “I thought if anyone could follow Jeff, this is the person to do it. Knowing her, I thought she’s the perfect response. I think the search committee must have realized that as well. It’s not just looking at the resume, it’s the personality, it’s the background. I think inevitably people make comparisons, but there’s no one like Becky. I think when they meet Becky, they’ll be just as happy to have her at the helm as they were to have Jeff at the helm.”

Co-directors of the Bowdoin College Museum of Art Anne Collins Goodyear and Frank H. Goodyear described Beaulieu in a written statement as “a consummate museum professional who understands well the value of cultural institutions in our communities.” They praised her role in expanding the number of exhibitions and programs, among other efforts.

In addition to her work at Bowdoin, Beaulieu serves as trustee for the Pejepscot Historical Society in Brunswick, Maine, and was appointed to the Public Arts Commission and Historical Commission Review Board there.

She was managing editor for “Modern Intellectual History,” an academic journal published by Cambridge University Press, and she wrote “Financial Fundamentals for Historic House Museums,” which outlines the basic tenets of organization and financial management for small museums.

She and her husband, Patrick Ford, will relocate to the area. He is archivist at the Maine Historical Society and had worked in MIT’s special collections.

“I think she will not only be a great director of the museum but she will also contribute a lot to the community,” Hamilton said.

And he said, “I think it’s great that we have a woman coming in as the director for a museum that is actually named after a woman, Florence Griswold.”

k.dorsey@theday.com 

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