See the Griswold in Old Lyme for American Impressionism

Florence Griswold Museum

Old Lyme, CT



Old Lyme, Connecticut, is one of the premier centers for American Impressionism. Unless you’re an art geek like me, you might be surprised to know there were any American Impressionists other than Mary Cassatt (1844-1926), and she hardly counts as she moved to Paris in 1874, and spent the rest of her life in France. You can be forgiven, as you’ve been inundated with posters, t-shirts, ties, and other paraphernalia of French artists such as Degas, Monet, Pissarro, and Renoir, but when was the last time you saw a coffee mug with a John eHenryHenry Twachtman or J. Alden Weir (1852-1919) image on it? (In case you’re wondering, the latter is no kin of mine; my family came over from Scotland just in time to fight for the Union during the Civil War.)


Impressionism is so thoroughly associated with France that it’s easy to forget that it spread across Western Europe and was even found in unlikely places such as Australia, Egypt, Iceland, Japan, New Zealand, Poland, Russia, and Slovenia. If there is such a thing as the dean of American Impressionism, it would be Childe Hassam (1859-1935). Hassam was based in the Greater Boston area, but when American Impressionists gathered, it was in places such as Cos Cob and Old Lyme.


Why Old Lyme? There’s a reason why we joke about starving artists. Unless one is born into money or is one of the few to attract notice or better yet, a wealthy patron, it’s sadly the case that most “famous” artists only become so after being rowed across the River Styx. Luckily for a bunch of American artists, Florence Griswold (1850-1937) lived along the Lieutenant River in Old Lyme. She was born into wealth, but never married and when she approached 50, found herself the owner of a sprawling columned mansion in need of repairs, but no steady income. About the same time, Henry Ward Ranger (1858-1916) had the idea of forming an art colony. Griswold began taking in paint-splattered boarders and from this the Old Lyme colony was born.


Ranger was sort of a semi-Impressionist who called his work tonalist (whatever that means), and Griswold’s home attracted a variety of artists. It soon became a place where American Impressionists such as Hassam, Weir, William Chadwick, Bruce Crane, Harry Hoffman, Edmund Greacan, Lawton Parker, William Robinson, and Everett Warner dipped their brushes. Chadwick, Hassam, and Robinson even built studios on the site, though only Chadwick’s remains. From Old Lyme, they practiced their particular form of American vernacular.


Vernacular is the proper word. Impressionism has been called painting with light but of course, the light along the Connecticut coast isn’t the same as that in Provence or the Loire Valley. Nor is the weather. Benjamin Eggleston built a portable cart to work in Old Lyme, convenient for New England’s changeable conditions, not the least of which is her snowy winters. Impressionism is also marked visible brush strokes that make images “impressionistic” rather than “realistic,” and by its preference for ordinary subjects. “Ordinary” is also culturally determined. Neither the Seine nor Rouen Cathedral happened to be close at hand, so Old Lyme artists painted things such as the marshes and Bow Bridge, a humped stone structure that once spanned the Lieutenant. It is also interesting to see how the light changes when Old Lyme artists ventured overseas and painted in places sch as Venice.


You can get a fine introduction to American Impressionism by touring Griswold’s home and the separate Krieble Gallery on the grounds. If you need a break from art, there’s also a picturesque trail along the Lieutenant, a barn repurposed as a landscape photography center, well-kept gardens, a small orchard, and (on occasion) environmental education programs. Below find a sample of art on display at the sites. (All photos are mine. You can click on them to see larger images.)


Rob Weir


Hassam, Ten Pound Island

Chadwick's studio




Lawton Parker, Laurel


Warner, Studios Behind Griswold House

Will Foote, Fish Houses Maine
Hoffman, Bridging the Lieutenant


Hassam's Studio by Hoffman



All Adults Here an Ironic Title

All Adults Here (2020)

By Emma Straub

Riverhead Books, 368 pages.

★★★ ½ 




In books with titles such as All Adults Here, smart money is that grownups will be AWOL. In Emma Straub’s new novel, most of the characters are legally adults, but it speaks volumes when an 8th grader is more mature than most of them.


All Adults Here opens with two crises. Widowed Astrid Strick is jolted into rethinking her golden years priorities when she witnesses a school bus fatally strike Barbara Baker. It rattles her even though she didn’t even like Barbara. Shortly thereafter, her granddaughter Cecelia is sent to live with her, after being bullied at her Brooklyn school by a former friend and her rich parents. Cecelia actually did a good thing, but add those rich parents to the list of adults behaving like children. Cecelia loves her “gamma,” but she doesn’t know anyone her own age in Clapham, a close-knit Hudson River town north of Poughkeepsie. (It’s fictional, though it bears similarities to Rhinebeck.)


Astrid, 68, has been having a closeted relationship with her hairdresser Birdie and has been contemplating coming out to her three adult children. It might have happened sooner had they not been so deep into extended adolescence. Oldest son Elliot is married to Wendy Chan, a lawyer, who put her career on hold to care for their twins. He is a developer with megalomaniacal dreams who immerses himself in work, and is hellbent on proving his manhood. Daughter Porter has a goat cheese enterprise but no partner, so she decides to have an in vitro impregnation. Astrid’s youngest, Nicky and his French wife Juliette, are Cecelia’s parents. Nicky is a heartthrob who was once in movies, but now he and Juliette are quasi-hippies who are more like friends to their daughter, who’d actually like less empathy and more help in growing up.


Other important characters include August, whom Cecelia befriends, and whose parents are a bit like Nicky and Juliette in their laissez-faire parenting skills; and Rachel, a past and renewed friend of Porter’s. Clapham also functions as a character. It is insular, but in a way in which locals fret over preserving its uniqueness rather than closing the gates. Such places lend themselves to a soap opera treatment; locales seeking to put a cloth over the clock generally have things going on under the covers. In addition to Astrid’s relationship with Birdie, Porter has been sleeping with Jeremy, her high school boyfriend who is married with two children; Rachel’s husband left her for a younger woman; Wendy is losing patience with Elliot, who seems perpetually pissed off at everyone. At times it feels as if All Adults Here is an updated Peyton Place.


The novel has been branded as a mother-daughter book and women’s literature. It is certainly true that Straub celebrates female resourcefulness and that men often appear as predators, libertines, or jerks, but this is not a work one should derisively dismiss as “chick lit.” Straub has something a bit weightier in play. Her female characters don’t have their lives in order either. Porter is a wonderful aunt to Cecelia, but her own life is a shamble. Astrid is conflicted over things to the point of paralysis, Wendy was content to act as a perfect bourgeois wife before she cracked, Jeremy’s wife Kristen is anything but a walking poster for sisterhood, and her daughter Sidney is a little shit.


My major criticism of the novel is that Straub mechanistically ticks politically correct boxes, even if they’re not crucial to the novel. Vivian is Chinese American, Birdie is Latina, August is gender fluid, Porter’s obstetrician is African American, and Astrid and Birdie are lesbians. One way of looking at this is to note that even small-town America is diverse; another is to say that Straub undermines the world she built. Much of Clapham’s insularity vanishes in a matter of weeks, which is not the way change usually occurs. There are dollops of tokenism throughout, as the novel’s diversity is surface deep. Vivian could have been Australian, Birdie Icelandic, August a burly football star, and the doctor green with yellow polka dots and it would not have mattered.


All Adults Here is a coming-of-age tale for its central characters. Who says that such a story must be about adolescents? Can Astrid’s brood come to terms with their lives? She gave each what she thought they needed but apparently, she bred hurt and/or resentment–except for Nicky, a man-child, whom everyone loves in the way they’d love a large puppy. Even cute puppies must eventually become dogs. Straub suggests that until adulthood happens, parents risk passing their failings to their offspring.


Rob Weir





Small Towns: Old Saybrook and Old Lyme, CT


Only a bridge separates Old Saybrook and Old Lyme and most visitors to the Connecticut shore will likely spend time in both, so it makes sense to talk about them in the same column. They lie about 45 minutes southeast of Hartford and about 35 minutes due east of New Haven.


This is a part of Connecticut known for its wealth, though the median family income of both towns is slightly below the state average of $76,348. This puzzling statistic is due mainly to the huge gulf between those who make their living on the water versus those who simply by the water and only venture offshore in pleasure craft rather than rusty fishing boats. If you’re of liberal persuasion, note also that each town is about 97% white, Republicans outnumber Democrats in both places, and you’ll see giant Trump flags flying from the sterns of boats tied up in private marinas. If you can stymie your gag reflexes, you can spend a nice day out in the region.


Old Saybook’s population of 10,242 makes it the larger of the two. It’s where you’ll find some elegant old homes in and near the center, and downtown is where you’re most likely to find food options. Other than nearby beaches, there are two major attractions in Old Saybrook, the first of which is the ruins of Fort Saybrook. It was destroyed by Pequots during King Phillip’s War (1636-37), a devastating conflict between English settlers and a confederation of Native Americans in which roughly half of all English settlements were attacked and many were destroyed. The destruction of Fort Saybrook resulted in 20 English deaths, but colonists responded disproportionately by setting fire to the Native settlement at Mystic, killing more than 500–nearly all of whom were women, children, and elderly, as the warriors were off fighting the English.  




There’s not much left of the fort except foundation walls and the park in which it is located is nothing special, so why would one wish to visit it? Mainly, because it’s located at the mouth of the Connecticut River, where it empties into Long Island Sound. (See top.) The Connecticut is
New England’s longest river and is often impressive along its 410-mile length, but nowhere does it rival its estuary at Old Saybrook, where it turns into a saltwater bay. That’s worth a look. Plus, you are near Fenwick Point and the Saybrook Breakwater Lighthouse. You can’t go onto its grounds at present, but you can drive nearby and see the side of the town that drives up the median family income. If you

know what you’re looking for, you can see the back of thehome where Katharine Hepburn once lived. It recently sold for a cool $15.5 million. That’s a bit obscene, but Hepburn’s name is all over Old Saybrook, including the Katharine Hepburn Cultural Arts Center and Theatre. It has a museum to the divine Miss Kate but, alas, it too is off-limits until the COVID crisis passes. 


Old Lyme (7,603) is artier than Old Saybrook, as it was once the home to the Lyme Art Colony, which I will discuss in an upcoming piece. As is often the case of famed New England art colonies­–including Cos Cob, Dublin, Mantunuck, Monhegan, Ogunquit, Rockland, Rocky Neck, and Seguinland–artists continue to congregate in Old Lyme long after the colony evaporated. Works from up and coming artists (and some of modest talent and dreams of grandeur) can be viewed at the local Old Lyme Art Association and you can park there to see a nearby sculpture garden. Overall, Old Lyme is leafier and more quaint than Old Saybrook. Tune in soon to see my review (and pictures) from the Florence Griswold Museum, the region’s biggest non-beach attraction.




Rob Weir