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    Sunday, April 14, 2024

    Fantasy Trees emerge at Florence Griswold Museum

    Artist Linda Bronson of Essex decorates her Fantasy Tree in the Florence Griswold House in Old Lyme.

    If you like to look at trees bedecked and bejeweled for Christmas, then the Florence Griswold Museum should be high on your list this season.

    Trees covered in painted palettes celebrating the magic of Christmas grace the Krieble Gallery; themed Fantasy Trees, inspired by historic 19th-century paintings, are on view in the rooms of The Florence Griswold House.


    This year's three Fantasy Trees complement Miss Florence's house, decorated in the style of a 1910 Christmas, which was also Miss Florence's 60th birthday. "The House" visually tells the story of Mathilda Browne, one of the only female artists in the colony and ties in with the "Life Stories in Art: Three Women Artists" exhibit in the Krieble Gallery.

    On the first floor of the house, Linda Bronson, a children's book illustrator who lives in Essex, decorated her tree based on the painting "The Skaters" by Miriam Barer (Tamsky), which is hanging over the mantel. A recent gift of the Tamsky family, painted in 1943, the work was inspired by what was then the novel outdoor skating rink at New York City's Rockefeller Center. Born and raised in New Haven, Barer received her BFA in painting from the Yale School of Fine Arts. Now 93, she lives on Cape Cod where she continues to paint.

    "It was really fabulous to play off the painting," Bronson says. "It was done in egg tempera, a super old-fashioned, old school way of painting, but has a modern feel with the really vibrant colors."

    Bronson decorated a white tree in quilled paper in the same colors as the painting. Quilling is the art of rolling narrow strips of paper into coils or scrolls, and arranging them to form elegant filigree.

    To do the tree, Bronson had to learn how to do paper quilling.

    "It was a real undertaking," she says. "I went online and did a whole bunch of research, watching people quilling on YouTube videos."

    "I thought it was kind of great because the word 'quilling' comes from old-fashioned artwork when you quill with the pen and make these beautiful flourishes, except this is done with paper - again, marrying the modern with (the traditional)," Bronson says.

    She also made a skater at the base of the tree.

    "It was so much fun. I love to make three-dimensional things," she says.

    "It was a real honor to do this," she says. "My work is fluid-no right angles or straight edges, so for me this was natural."

    Abby Block of Deep River decorated her tree to reflect the Tonalist paintings in an upstairs room, and Georgann Ritter of Niantic, along with Roberta Sciacca of Chester, designed their tree to reflect the Impressionist paintings in the room across the hall.

    This is Block's second time creating a Fantasy Tree.

    "I wanted to take all the natural beauty in the paintings and top the tree with it," she says. "I collected the leaves and cut branches in the woods behind the (auto repair shop) where I was getting my oil changed, and I cut boxwood and holly while walking my dogs and collected the birch branches and feathers, and all kinds of stuff."

    Block used a theme of blue and red in the bottom half of the tree. She took clear glass balls, lotus pods, and pine cones and covered them in German glass glitter. The tree stands on caribou hides that she got on her honeymoon in Iceland.

    "This is absolutely my favorite thing to do. I absolutely love decorating for Christmas," she says. "I loved using natural things in the tree decoration and the challenge of finding it all and seeing how everything fits together."

    Ridder and Sciacca used a rotating base to turn their tree in circles, and covered the tree in tiny colored LED lights to reflect the motion and color in the Impressionist paintings.

    "The definition of Impressionism is ever-changing light," Ridder explains, "and all artists would paint the same scene, but depending upon the light, would be their individual interpretation."

    Ridder says the pressure to come up with a tree that mirrored the Impressionist paintings in the room made it an even more enjoyable project.

    "I love it, I love design. This was a good, fun thing to do for the museum," she says.


    For more than a decade artists have been invited to paint wooden palettes to hang on Miss Florence's Artist Tree, using any medium(s), style, and subject matter they desired.

    Working in oils, acrylics, watercolors, ceramics, glass and collage, the artists are all given the same-size wooden palettes that they transform into holiday scenes, landscapes, abstract designs and humorous themes.

    This year's dozen new palettes, brought the number up to 158 - and, amazingly, no two are alike. But, David Rau, the museum's director of education, who came up with the original concept of the tree, decided to split the palettes up into three trees to make them more visible to the public.

    "Last year we got a lot of feedback that people like to be able to see all the palettes, and couldn't see the ones high up on the tree," Rau says. "We still used tall trees - Matt Greene (the museum's manager of visitor relations) was a genius with coming up with colors and textures for the tops," he adds.

    All the new palettes are on one tree, and on all three trees the palettes are laid out in clusters of themes. Visitors can literally spend hours studying them all.

    The museum is offering dozens of holiday-themed activities and events that are listed on its website, www.florencegriswoldmuseum.org; or call (860) 434-5542 for more information.

    Located at 96 Lyme Street, Old Lyme, the Florence Griswold Museum is open Tues. - Sat., 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday, 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. and will be closed Christmas Day and New Year's Day. Admission is $10 adults, $9 seniors, $8 students, and free to children 12 and under.


    2014 Palette Artists

    Cynthia Bourbeau of Lyme, "The Icelandic Yule Goblins Meet The Artists of Old Lyme," oil.

    Virginia Clark of Lyme, "Abundance," theorem oil on bristol, gold acrylic paint, and silk.

    Roger Clements of Lyme, "Evelyn's Dilemma," collage.

    Lynda Susan Hennigan of Woodstock, "A Sailor's Valentine," shells.

    Jennifer Johnson of Lisbon, "The Red Feather Dozen," fused glass and paint made from powdered glass.

    Tim O'Brien of Brooklyn, N.Y., "Fishing Season," oil and gouache.

    Judy Perry of Old Saybrook, "Oh Swell!" oil.

    Catherine Puccio of Essex, "Woops!" oil.

    Jonathan Rickard of Deep River, "The Willow Pattern, Twisted," acrylic.

    Andrew Stevovich of Northborough, MA, "Girl with Gift," oil.

    Anita Soos of Guilford, "Cadence for Florence," oil monotype on paper.

    Elizabeth Wolff of Bantam, "Trimming the Tree," colored pencil on paper.

    Roger Clements of Lyme's "Evelyn's Dilemma."
    Catherine Puccio of Essex created a palette titled "Woops!"
    Andrew Stevovich's palette "Untitled (Girl with Gift)."

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