Recently, the U.S. National Park Service commissioned me to photograph the Weir House, which sits at the border of Wilton and Ridgefield in Connecticut. I was eager to accept the opportunity as I became very intrigued with the house during my Artist-in-Residence at Weir Farm National Historic Site.
The importance of the Federal style farmhouse lies in it being the 19th century home of painter J. Alden Weir, who is considered to be one of the founders of American Impressionism. In fact, in 1983, a retrospective on Weir was exhibited at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art featuring about 100 of his works. Other museums, like the Smithsonian Institution and the National Museum of American Art also have collections of his work.
The connection of the house to Weir, however, is not its only legacy in the arts. Weir purchased the house and the vast surrounding property from Erwin Davis in 1882 who was himself an art collector. The farm became a host to many of Weir’s artist friends such as John Singer Sargent, Childe Hassam, Albert Pinkham Ryder and John Henry Twachtman.
After Weir’s death in 1919, the sculptor Mahonri Young took up residence with his wife Dorothy who, as Weir’s daughter, became a painter in her own right. One of Young’s most notable works was “This Is The Place” in Salt Lake City. The monument, completed at Weir Farm, commemorates the early history of Utah and the Mormon church. Although he was a non-practicing Mormon, the connection is clear when one considers that his grandfather was Brigham Young.
Ultimately, the house and property became the home of the painter Sperry Andrews in 1958. He met his wife, Doris, at the Art Students League in Manhattan where they were both attending. Together they became working artists. Sperry Andrews exhibited at New York galleries, earned a favorable review in the New York Times and is in the collection of museums in the U.S and Canada.
From Bulldozer Prey to National Park
This special house was the home of artists for over 120 years with its surrounding landscape of hills, ponds and stone walls being a constant source of inspiration. But it wasn’t long before developers cast their eyes on the site for building single family homes. That threat led to the farm being placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984. Then, in 1989, the National Park Service started looking into acquiring the property after Congressional hearings investigated the need for more open spaces in Connecticut.
Finally, in 1990, the property officially became Weir Farm National Historic Site, which is Connecticut’s first and only national park and the only one in the U.S. dedicated to American painting. In addition, it is only the second U.S. national park honoring an artist. The first one, in Cornish, New Hampshire, honors sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens – a friend of Weir’s.
In 2005, Sperry Andrews died and the park gained total access to the house. In 2007, the long process of preserving it for future generations began. The multi-million dollar project will extensively and meticulously restore the first floor of the farmhouse, which has been closed to the public. Completion is expected to take place in 2013.
The house and all the rest of Weir Farm continue the tradition of welcoming and inspiring artists. It is not unusual to find artists painting and sketching in the open air or photographers, like me, poking around with cameras.
So, having a painting and art history background, it was a particular delight to be selected to take documentary and artistic “before” photos of Weir House as the preservation process wends its way toward completion.
© 2011 Xiomáro