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Florence Griswold Museum celebrates opening of Artists’ Trail

Old Lyme — Florence Griswold Museum staff and dozens of patrons came together under sunny skies and before iconic views of the Lieutenant River Monday morning to celebrate the grand opening of the museum’s newest addition, the much-anticipated Robert F. Schumann Artists’ Trail.

Tying together the museum’s unique heritage with its landscape, the half mile-long artists’ trail encapsulates four distinct areas of the museum’s 12-acre property fusing together, for the first time, fragments of the original Griswold estate with the art, history and ecology that have come to define the property over the last century.

Besides encouraging visitors to experience the landscape that inspired the artists attracted to the Florence Griswold house during the American Impressionist art movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the trail also offers visitors a full picture of the site, creating an authentic sense of how the Lyme Art Colony painters interacted with the land and which aspects of the property specifically inspired them.

"You can walk outside and you can see exactly that landscape that inspired that artist. You can understand their story of creation — from the natural inspiration, to the creative process to the installation in a museum all at once," museum director Rebekah Beaulieu continued. "While there are a number of museums now that are cognizant of natural landscapes, there is nowhere else, that I'm aware of, where you can come and have this process highlighted."

"This (trail) encapsulates and essentializes a lot of what we've been talking about in terms of getting people to enact the natural experiences here on site. It's not just about walking past the outdoors and saying, 'Oh, I understand that this is the backdrop for all of this creation.' Instead, you get to experience this site as a resident, as an artist would, and we are encouraging that for the first time," said Beaulieu, while also explaining that such an experience is rarely found in the museum world.

Visitors walking through the trail can also learn about the ecology of the property, its migratory bird habitats and native plants, as well as historically significant areas that former longtime museum director Jeffrey Andersen had said can be overlooked.

Dedicated to Robert F. Schumann, a former trustee and patron of the museum for nearly two decades, plans for the trail began in 2017 after the Robert F. Schumann Foundation awarded the museum a $1 million grant to in part have Stephen Stimson Associates Landscape Architects of Cambridge, Mass., design a master landscape plan. 

The museum applied for the grant after it acquired the last remaining piece of the 12 acres that made up the original Florence Griswold property in 2016, said Andersen in an interview with The Day about the project in 2017.

After Griswold died in 1937, the property was divided, redistributed and redeveloped, losing many of the ecological aspects that once constituted much of the land, Andersen said. 

“Finally obtaining this last piece was really the catalyst to set this landscape idea into motion,” Andersen said.

Andersen also explained then that the museum's property was "a land of edges" and encapsulated much more than its gallery and museum spaces.

"From its historic hedgerows lining the property borders to its surrounding forest patches and marshland gardens, the parts that often inspired the artists, were set along the edges of the property," Andersen had said. "It's these areas that were a part of their experience but have largely been lost today. Our vision is to highlight the edges of the property and to reincorporate all of that back in to what exists now."  


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