Gardenfest blooms at Florence Griswold Museum

Miss Florence Griswold's restored flower garden will provide an appropriate backdrop to the upcoming Gardenfest events at the Florence Griswold Museum.
Miss Florence Griswold's restored flower garden will provide an appropriate backdrop to the upcoming Gardenfest events at the Florence Griswold Museum.

Gardenfest blooms at Florence Griswold Museum

June calls to gardeners and those who love flowers with fresh blooms, redolent fragrance and symphonies of full-color palettes.

It is the perfect month to showcase gardens, and it will be the fifth year that the Florence Griswold Museum in Old Lyme holds Gardenfest, a month-long celebration that features two exhibit openings, an outdoor sculpture installment and garden-related events.

Visitors are encouraged to explore the grounds of the museum and take in the views of the languid Lieutenant River, and meander through the gardens that have been historically recreated to reflect the types of flowers and shrubs Miss Florence Griswold maintained when American Impressionism was blossoming.

On June 8, the museum opens the exhibit "Animal/Vegetable/Mineral: An Artist's Guide to the World," which includes works from its collection as well as pieces from contemporary artists. Because the bulk of the work is from the museum's collection, presenting a new exhibit with pieces the community may have previously seen was a challenge, said exhibition curator Ben Colman, who has been assistant curator at the museum since August.

Colman chose about 80 works from the museum's collection and about 20 pieces of art from four contemporary artists.

"My thought was to draw out unexpected connections between works based on content or media instead of style, illustrating links across time," said Colman.

More connections will be made with flower arrangements during the three-day exhibit "Blooms with a View: A Display of Art & Flower" which will be on view June 14 and 15. The exhibit pairs floral designers with works of art from the exhibit "Animal/Vegetable/Mineral: An Artist's Guide to the World" so that visitors can experience the works of art with a fresh eye as they regard the pairing.

This is the third year the museum has presented this exhibit, which David Rau, director of education and outreach, says is extremely popular.

Rau compares the viewer's response to watching a tennis match.

"(The floral designers) create flower arrangements that make people go 'aha.' They go back and forth, and it's really great to watch," he said.

Sometimes aspects of a painting aren't obvious to a viewer when observed alone but become clearer when placed next to the arrangement, Rau noted.

"They may not notice all the sharp diagonals and shapes, and when they see the flower arrangement, they see the angularities and it now becomes obvious," said Rau.

Matt Greene, a floral designer from Lisbon, returns for his third year of the "Blooms with a View." AS his focus, he chose a painting by Edward Vokert titled "In the Shade." The painting depicts three cows clustered under two trees as they seek respite from a bright summer sun that is illuminating patches of color with jewel-like intensity.

"The scene was very idyllic, and it screamed summer to me. It's a wonderful summer image and is quintessential New England - what better way to represent summertime than with a wonderful farm scene?" said Greene, who himself grew up on a farm.

The designers create their floral displays in their own studios and bring them to the museum the day the exhibit opens. Greene said it makes for an exciting time, since they are installing their creations while looking at work by other designers.

One striking piece Greene recalled involved a designer using fabric to evoke the white gown the woman in the portrait was wearing.

"The designer used some fabric that was evocative, with a veil-like scarf and had it draped around the arrangement to give the illusion the dress was there, which was quite beautiful," Greene said.

Art lovers will enjoy the varied historical connections in the exhibition "Animal/Vegetable/Mineral," which offers perspective of how styles change through the years; viewers can see different approaches toward the same subject matter.

For example, one of the contemporary artists, Allison Maletz, works with watercolor for large paintings of family members and pets that are culled from photographs. Colman said the way Maletz uses photographs as source material is similar to the way in which artists from the 17th and 18th centuries took inspiration from early European paintings, prints and engravings.

"Her inspiration isn't engraving but is a family snapshot - a modern version. So, in essence, her family snapshot to her is akin to an image that carries a lot of meaning and stories she is re-interpreting for her painting," he observed.

Two artists paired up to provide what Colman describes as a "very different look at the New England landscape." Hailing from the famous Hudson River Valley in New York, artists Nicholas Kahn and Richard Selesnick have created paintings, photographs and sculpture to depict the forest deity known as "Greenman" in what Colman recognizes as an ambitious undertaking. The sculpture alone is life-sized and is constructed with materials such as moss, wood, leaves and natural vegetation. The paintings, too, promise to be dramatic.

Artist Sascha Braunig, from Maine, will have oil and gouache paintings that "deal with geometric abstractions and uses the trompe l'oeil technique to create figures out of abstract geometric patterns, using them to suggest three-dimensional forms so it almost appears to be sculpture wrapped in pattern textile. "There is incredible refinement and detail to her technique. Her works are precise; not a single brushstroke is out of place," said Colman.

The earliest work in "Animal/Vegetable/Mineral is more than 200 years old, Colman said. But the exhibit not only emphasizes art's continuum and the ways time changes styles, but it also underscores a viewpoint that challenges many people's perception of art from the past - that it is not frozen in time, or even frozen at all.

"I hope people will see them in a new light that is based upon what is around them," Colman said of the paintings. "They are living objects we can learn new things from every day."


Sarah B. Worm, a volunteer with the Florence Griswold Museum’s Garden Gang, interpreted Harry Holtzman’s painting “Red, Orange, Green, and Yellow” for the 2012 “Blooms with a View” exhibition.
Sarah B. Worm, a volunteer with the Florence Griswold Museum’s Garden Gang, interpreted Harry Holtzman’s painting “Red, Orange, Green, and Yellow” for the 2012 “Blooms with a View” exhibition.


What: "Blooms with a View: A Display Art & Flower," June 14-16; and "Animal/Vegetable/Mineral: An Artist's Guide to the World," June 8 to Sept. 22.

Where: Florence Griswold Museum, 96 Lyme St., Old Lyme

Hours: 10-5 p.m. Tues.-Sat. and 1-5 p.m. Sunday

Admission: $10 for adults, $9 for seniors, $8 students, free for children 12 and under

For more information: (860) 434-5542, ext. 111,


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