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Norwalk Plus magazine : Norwalk Plus Winter 2007 Published: Nov 30, 2007 - 8:30:24 AM


Artists in Residence

By Robert J. Sodaro


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Perhaps more so than any other profession, the life of an artist is one of being sequestered away from society-at-large; squirreled away inside their studio drawing, painting, creating, and even standing out in the open taking photographs or capturing the world around themselves on their respective canvases in their preferred medium. Artists tend to stand apart from the rest of us as they seek to channel their specific muse into a form that then can be displayed for the world to see. Needless to say, the interesting dichotomy of this profession is that in spite of their seeking seclusion to create their work, artists are — on some level — more in need of a networking and exhibiting vehicle than most other professions.

This is why, throughout history, artists have always sought each other out, and formed enclaves or communities in which to flourish. In Norwalk, we are especially lucky as to not only live in an area that is especially kind to artists, but home of more than one such community. It is well known that in this area, Silvermine has always been home to various artists, who have come to reside in the picturesque area. Silvermine — a unique Fairfield County, Connecticut neighborhood — has been home to artists for over 100 years. Still (as stated) artists tend to be more involved with their own art than with the comings and goings of the community around them. It is to this end, that the Silvermine Artists-in-Residence group was formed. This group of artists, painters, and photographers is comprised solely of the residents who live in the Silvermine area and provides a forum through which the area’s artists can meet, exchange ideas, and form community ties.

In spite of the fact that Silvermine has always touted itself as an artist community, local residents just might be surprised to learn who has passed through these lush green hills. Some former and current residents have included Gutzon Borglum, who designed Mount Rushmore; John Vassos, the noted American industrial designer and graphic designer; as well as Johnny Gruelle, who created Raggedy Ann and Andy. Hence it is from this most august company that the Silvermine group of artists was formed.

The Artists in Residence program was founded by Nancy Lloyd some seven years ago; Lloyd recently stepped down and was succeeded by an executive committee that consists of Colleen Haines, Dave Muessel, Norm Siegel, and Walt Buttrick. The committee indicated that they felt that the “Artists in Residence” show is both recognition of Silvermine’s unique artistic heritage as well as a demonstration of its special position today as a thriving home for talented artists.

“The Silvermine Artists-in-Residence are unique from other artist groups because they don’t put their work on display to be judged, as most associations and artists will do. Instead, they display their work for the viewers enjoyment”, said Hains.

Unlike other artists associations, they do not hold regular meetings, charge dues, or (as a rule) critique the work of other artists in the group. Still, perhaps the most unusual aspect of this loose-knit group of artists is the range of talent and skill-set of the artists involved. According to the executive committee, there is a widely divergent range in both age and artistic medium.

“We have several well-known artists that exhibit with us.” Buttrick indicated. “Plus there are kids in school pursuing art more seriously, which allows individuals of all skill levels to participate.” He went on to indicate that it allows for a wonderful sense of diversity and experiences.

Given that there is no formal structure to the group, the executive committee exists primarily to arrange for the art shows, and to keep information flowing both within the group, as well as from the group to the outside world.

This year, the group’s art show was held at the Flow of Art, 16 River Street in Norwalk. This is the fourth art show held by the Artists in Residence with previous shows having been held primarily at the Silvermine Tavern (because they have felt that it has been a focal point of the community as a whole). At their last show — earlier this year — over 250 people showed up at the tavern to view the work over a two-week period. They are convinced that with this show being held at an actual gallery, they will draw a larger crowd. “We’re hoping that with the show at a bona fide gallery we’ll get in touch with a wider audience” Siegel said.

According to Jeanine Jackson, who has lived in the area, and been a member for about a year, “This is a very special place. My husband says that there’s still silver in them there hills and it acts as vortex for the artistic community.” She feels that she is fortunate to be side by side with other painters in the area. Jackson met Lloyd while both were out walking through Silvermine. “I Met Nancy Lloyd and Virginia Jennewein and they were both members. I was delighted to learn of such an organization.” She indicated that on her two to three times a week walk through Silvermine Walk she would hook up with both women as they too enjoyed their 2 mile/40 minute strolls around the area. She loves being a part of the group, and finds both a camaraderie and inspiration from the historic aspects of the people and area.

Another artist and Silvermine resident, Megan Ferrell, who is a photographer and commercial designer, has been with the Residence for about two years. She tends to shoot landscapes because she thinks land is so beautiful and it isn’t hard to find good abstracts of everyday images. Her work in the Residence is different than her professional photography, giving her a different form of expression. With the Residence, she is looking at light and shadows, getting different vibes of the space around her. She tends not to do any digital manipulation of her photography because she does so much of that in her professional life. “You have to have an eye and look at things differently,” she said of her Silvermine work. “Silvermine is a unique and supportive community of artistic people,” she stated. “A way back into fine art without judgment, or the pressure of belonging, it’s just nice to be around other creative people and a good forum for discussing. It’s a great network for artists,” added Ferrell

Virtually everyone associated with the Artists in Residence that we interviewed expressed an overwhelming desire to stay in Silvermine and a love for the area, both as an artistic community as well as a picturesque, historic New England area. “Wanting to live in historic old Silvermine is usually driven by either a love of history or a need to live amongst charm,” Haines stated in a recent press release about the Residence, “It is a neighborhood where one can close their eyes on a cold wintry day and see a sleigh pulled by broad shouldered horses as they trod down Comstock Hill. The snow sticking to heavy furred legs of the horses as they breathe out the cold spirit of the morning air can only be imagined by those who do dream…and have time to dream.”

All of the people to whom we spoke indicated that living in such a community tended to help fire their imagination and comfort their individual selves. The group of artists who call themselves the Silvermine Artists in Residence believe that the association not only provides them with a forum through which they, as the area’s artists, can meet, exchange ideas, but form community ties as well.

Still — and perhaps the biggest draw of the association, according to members themselves — is the fact that their art shows are not juried. All artists in the group are invited to display their work (they are told how many pieces they can display for each show) and then all of the art is put up for perusal by the public; there are no juried opinions on whether the art work is accepted or how it rates compared to other pieces.

For the most part, the artists who participate in the various shows put on by The Artists in Residence are simply doing so to enjoy the pleasure of their friends, neighbors, and families, who come to see the work on display. Individuals who come to the shows are invited to look over the art on display and search out a scene that reminds them of the history of the area; perhaps something they might have once seen, or would have liked to have seen, had they lived here 50 or 100 years ago. It could be photography or painting of horses trotting through the snow on Comstock Hill, or fall colors clothing the Silvermine greenery, or perhaps even a piece that provokes a pleasant memory of another time or another place. For according to the executive committee, as well as to the artists themselves, you — their friends, family, and neighbors — are the judge and jury at each and every Artists in Residence Show. ■






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