Mystic Arts Center receives largest donation to date

Artist Harvey Fuller's house, which he has donated to the Mystic Arts Center.
Artist Harvey Fuller's house, which he has donated to the Mystic Arts Center.

The Mystic Arts Center, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, has received quite a gift as local artist Harvey Fuller has given his Mystic home to the center.

The MAC now plans to use the property for something it has long wanted to do: create an artists-in-residence program.

Fuller, 94, has been an elected artist of MAC (formerly known as the Mystic Art Association) since 1949.

Karen Barthelson, MAC executive director, said Fuller has talked for years about making this donation to the center, and he recently deeded over the property.

“We’re just so grateful to Harvey, who has been a longtime supporter and who has had the vision to think of us in his will and in terms of his legacy,” she said. “This is a wonderful, wonderful thing for the center, and we don’t take it lightly.”

Fuller will continue to reside at the house as long as he lives, with MAC taking care of the property.

“It just came to me, that it was a good thing to do with my house,” Fuller said. “It’s situated in a nice place overlooking the river. I thought it would be a nice place for young artists to come and work. ... It seemed like the best thing to do with it was give it to the arts center. I didn’t have anybody to leave it to, except my children, and they don’t really need it.”

Fuller started out as an illustrator and did a couple of children’s books that he both wrote and illustrated. Eventually, he moved into the sign business.

And, of course, he painted. His subject matter has ranged widely, but his style has remained realistic. A MAC bio of Fuller details how his paintings are influenced by such poets as Robert Frost and Dylan Thomas.

Back in the late 1930s, a young Fuller — in what was one of his first jobs — painted murals at the famed Cotton Club in New York City; he worked while the likes of Cab Calloway rehearsed.

“A lot of well-known people were there,” he said. “I enjoyed listening to the music. They were composing songs right while I worked.”

Fuller is a musician himself and often played the piano at receptions at the Mystic Art Association.

Barthelson said of Fuller, “He’s a very nice man. ... He’s a very private person. He’s not one to go out and seek a lot of attention.”

This is the largest donation — and only house — that MAC has ever received.

Fuller’s 1857 home, located on Bindloss Road, looks down the Mystic River toward Mystic Seaport.

“There’s a beautiful view from the porch. ... (The house) needs to be upgraded, but the bones are good. It’s a very cool old house,” Barthelson said.

In addition to the two-story home, the just-under-an-acre property has a detached studio space that MAC could, for instance, use for classes. The site is located 1.5 miles from the MAC’s Water Street location. There are no restrictions on the gift, but MAC has no plans to sell the property.

Instead, when MAC eventually does fully take over Fuller’s property, it plans to use the site as a place for artists to live and work.

“It’s very exciting for us — the artist-in-residence program has always been one of our goals as far as our mission,” Barthelson said.

The details have to be worked out, but, typically, those types of residencies involve artists living at a site and being given time to really focus on their work. They might receive a small stipend; often, they will teach classes in exchange for the residency. How long the artists stay — a week, a month — can vary.

“It gives emerging artists and professional artists a chance to have a block of time to just concentrate on their work. They go to a new location, maybe get new inspiration ...” Barthelson said.

She mentioned that the James Merrill House in Stonington borough has a similar program for writers.


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