The Danbury Museum & Historical Society embarks on its 70th year of operation with a very special ‘Locally Grown Art’ exhibit that opens on Saturday, January 14th in Huntington Hall. Please join us for an opening artists reception from 3pm to 5pm. The exhibit will feature sculpture, painting and photography from Danbury artists: Jane Bennett ·Eric Camiel · Barry Collins · Giada Crispiels · Randy Lagana · Honorah O’Neil ·Lys Guillorn
The sponsorship of this event, in partnership with the Housatonic Valley Arts Alliance‘s Accessible Art Project 2012, seems rather serendipitous; especially if you’re familiar with the history of the museum’s early beginnings and the work of those who contributed to its very existence.
In the late 1930s, Danbury resident Earl Thorpe and a group of friends formed an Arts Center that hosted events at various locations around town. Earl Norwell Thorpe was an internationally known sculptor whose 1941 work War & Peace was chosen to grace an entrance of The U.S. State Department Building in Washington, DC. Other Thorpe pieces are located in the Nebraska State Capitol, as well as, St. Thomas Church and the Church of the Heavenly Rest in New York City.
Arts Center members Edythe Bailey, a faculty member at the State Teachers College (now Western Connecticut State University) and Mrs. John C. Downs, also the Regent of the Mary Wooster Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution worked with Thorpe and others to locate a permanent home for both organizations. The DAR was also looking for a meeting place and a space to display their collection of Americana and other historic items.
Having learned that a home on Main Street was slated for demolition for the building of a gas station, the groups went into action to save the structure and secure it as their headquarters. An urgent campaign was underway and with the help of Savings Bank of Danbury, local citizens and businesses, the task of raising the $12,000 needed to preserve the historic home began.
Wooster School headmaster, Aaron C. Coburn expressed the following in regard to the structure in a 1941 letter to the Danbury News-Times:
“This homestead, if saved, can ever be a reminder of the quality of our fathers lives. This building, was built to remind us that ‘what is excellent is permanent.’ This building was built, not for the opportune moment but for the years. You can see, this homestead was built not only as a place to dwell in but as a home for generation after generation.”
The historic John Rider House, built in 1785, at 43 Main Street WAS saved and officially opened on April 6, 1942 as The Danbury Historical Museum and Art Center.
A full list of the people, from every realm of the artistic world, who have lived and worked among us, who have graced our stages or who may have been ‘just passing through,’ would be far too extensive to list here in my little blog. It’s quite impressive though… so, here are a few for you to consider:
John Brewster, Jr. (1766-1854): The prolific, deaf, itinerant painter who in 1799 secured a commission from Comfort Starr Mygatt to paint several family portraits including one of Lucy Knapp Myatt and son, George. The ledger in which Mr. Mygatt noted the cost of the portraits is an item housed in The Danbury Museum & Historical Society archives.
Rachel Crothers (1878-1958): Crothers began her career as an actress but gave that up to teach. She wrote her first play in 1904. Her first success on Broadway was The Three of Us (1906), and for the next 30 years she wrote a Broadway hit virtually every season, usually producing and directing as well. Now considered one of the top American playwrights, Crothers made her home on Long Ridge Road where she established her own arts & literary colony in the ’20s and ’30s. We can merely imagine the list of those who sought her company here in Danbury.
Marian Anderson (1897-1993): African-American contralto and one of the most celebrated singers of the twentieth century. Anderson became an important figure in the struggle for black artists to overcome racial prejudice in the United States during the mid twentieth century. On January 20, 1961 she sang for President John F. Kennedy’s inauguration and in 1963 she spoke at the dedication ceremonies for the Danbury Museum’s newly erected Huntington Hall. Marian Anderson made her home in Danbury for over 50 years. Her rehearsal studio is now one of the historic buildings overseen by the Danbury Museum & Historical Society at 43 Main Street, Danbury.
Anna Hyatt Huntington (1876-1973) Famed internationally-known sculptor and friend of the Danbury Museum & Historical Society. See blog post of October 20, 2011 for more about Huntington.
Charles Ives (1874-1954) Danbury native son Charles Ives was a Pulitzer-prize winning composer. The impact of his family history and musical accomplishments on the psyche of Danbury remains strong to this very day.
Rex Todhunter Stout (1886-1975): American writer noted for his detective fiction. Stout is best known as the creator of the larger-than-life fictional detective Nero Wolfe.
All in all, it appears that Danbury has always been appreciative and receptive to the arts, history and culture. Seventy years later, it continues to be so, and for that, I am grateful.