Lyme Art Association undergoes restoration project

Old Lyme — For nearly 100 years, the cedar-shingled and white-trimmed building with blue doors on the corner of Lyme Street and Halls Road has been a hub for artists to showcase their work.

Now, a restoration project for the exterior of the Lyme Art Association gallery is underway to preserve the historic building for yet another century, according to the art association.

The project, begun in the fall and slated to be completed this spring or summer, entails renovating the historic building's exterior and replacing shingles, millwork, some doors, windows and vents, the back balcony and the front walkway, among other improvements.

The restoration work — done in a manner to replicate the building's original design — will ensure the building lasts into the future, so its member artists can continue to paint, said Carrie Walters, a board member and the chair of the association's Second Century Capital Campaign, which was started to fundraise for the project.

Beyond the value to its member artists, the gallery — located within Old Lyme's historic district — is significant to the cultural fabric of the community and Connecticut and to the history of American art, said Katherine Simmons, board president of the Lyme Art Association.

"It's one of the central institutions celebrating the Connecticut impressionists who came here," Simmons said. 

Impressionist artists, who flocked to the area to paint during the summer and stayed at the Florence Griswold House — or Miss Florence's, as they called it — formed the Lyme Art Association in 1914.

The artists, known not just nationally but also internationally, exhibited their paintings at the end of the summers at the Phoebe Griffin Noyes Library, but decided they needed a place of their own, she said.

Griswold deeded part of her property to the artists for one dollar. Architect Charles A. Platt, who designed the Freer Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., and Lyman Allyn Art Museum in New London, designed the art association building for the Connecticut impressionist artists to show their work, she said. The building opened in 1921.

Today, the art association remains dedicated to showing representational art, Simmons said. With another art gallery added to its three galleries in 1938 and a studio added in 1979, the association holds shows of its artists' work throughout the year and also offers classes and workshops. The gallery walls feature the work of living artists who are looking to sell their work, just like the founders of the association, she said.

But the nearly 100-year-old building has been in need of renovation. A 2013 condition assessment study of the building's interior and exterior, conducted by Centerbrook Architects and Planners, identified aspects of the building that needed to be fixed, including decaying shingles, rotted trim work and exterior doors in poor condition.

"It really needed to be done," Simmons said of the project. Future phases will address the interior of the building and landscaping outside the building, she added. 

As part of the project, the association collaborated with members of the community and met periodically with the Old Lyme Historical Society to ensure the restoration is being done in a historically accurate manner, she said.

The contractor for the project is Sapia Builders Corp. of Old Lyme.

The work required examining the details of the building, down to the size of each shingle and how much each shingle is shown.

"It was all done exactly the way it had been originally done," Walters said.

The association has reached about 81 percent of its $350,000 fundraising goal and actively is seeking donations, Simmons said. A donor is matching donations, up to $25,000, made between now and the end of April.

"Just as the original artists raised money to open the Lyme Art Association's doors, we, too, find ourselves working to ensure that our historic landmark gallery will thrive for the next 100 years," Simmons said in a statement.

More information is available at lymeartassociation.org.

k.drelich@theday.com

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