ARTIST TREE IS CENTERPIECE AT FLORENCE GRISWOLD MUSEUM
TThe Magic of Christmas at Florence Griswold Museum in Old Lyme is so charming that you can picture the events associated with it becoming a family tradition. In fact, for at least one family, it has. The Ballards of Madison have made it a must to pose their daughter Jennifer in front of the Christmas trees on display, sending the combination of New England charm and childhood wonder to Jennifer’s grandparents in North Carolina.
And who can blame them, as the museum is dressed up in its finest as the holidays roll around. Miss Florence’s Artist Tree, with palettes decorated by nearly 100 artists serving as the ornaments, and the new Handmade for the Holidays trees will be enough to get you in the mood. Other highlights of the Magic of Christmas celebration (running Nov. 22-Jan. 4) include a Holiday Tea Room and the chance to see the museum decked out for a historically accurate 1910 Christmas.
“People have made us part of their holiday season,” says Tammi Flynn, the museum’s director of marketing. “They make a day of it by going out to lunch, entertaining their out-of-town relatives.”
The Artist Tree is an evolving favorite, with artists of all styles contributing to the 12-foot tree.
“It’s in the tradition of the Lyme Art Colony,” Flynn says. “They painted on the walls and the doors. So we have artists of all styles painting on palettes here.”
The contributions are diverse, including a ceramic work that is so heavy the branch needs extra wiring, and a Swarovski crystal palette that is both heavy and sparkling. The collection spans the years since the concept was introduced, with Connecticut-born artist Sol LeWitt contributing a palette, as well as most of the art professors at Connecticut College.
Museum director of education David Rau came up with the idea in 2004. The contributions are now part of the per- manent collection on display in the museum’s gallery.
“Artists take it really seriously,” Flynn says. “They are very happy to paint for us; they put their heart and soul into it.”
Of course, fitting all of the palettes onto one 12-foot tree is a recurring challenge.
“Now that we have almost 100, we will have to expand past the tree,” Flynn says. “Every year our designer says, ‘They’re not going to fit,’ and they do, but this year it might be true.”
The new Handmade for the Holidays display is four trees decorated by Connecticut artists. Woodworker Craig Nelson, paper cutter Dottie Netherton, glass artist Jeffrey P’an and illustrator/ printmaker James Polisky will use handcrafted ornaments to decorate their designated tree. The four artists will show their works at a trunk show at the museum gift shop from 11 a.m. - 3 p.m., on Nov. 28, which coincides with Santa’s visit.
The main house, which is decorated in 1910 period fashion for Christmas, is
a tribute to Florence Griswold, who was born on Dec. 25. Flynn says the authentic look of the decorations, however, can throw people who may come in expecting Victorian visions from Martha Stewart and see something else altogether. The decorations don’t tend toward the ornate; we’re talking handmade ornaments, construction paper chains, dried flowers, stringed popcorn and cranberries for the tree.
“It’s interesting to watch people’s reaction,” Flynn says.
The museum is also a great place for families with young children, as every Sunday from Nov. 23 through Jan. 4 is time for Joy in the Making, a hands-on activity. On those days, admission for the children is free and they can enjoy making different creations. There is also a Teddy Bear Tea for the kids on Dec. 15.
Speaking of tea, if you are interested in attending a holiday tea, it is important to make reservations early. The tea room is open Tuesday through Friday from Dec. 2-Dec.19, with seatings at 2 p.m. Admission is $30 per person, which also includes entry to the museum and a discount at the shop.
“This is one of our busiest periods,” Flynn says.
The museum is open 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Tuesdays through Saturdays, and 1-5 p.m., Sundays. Admission is $9 for adults, $8 for seniors, $7 for students and free for children 12 and under.
JENNIFER BALLARD TAKES HER OWN SHOT PRIOR TO HER YEARLY POSE BEFORE THE TREE. PHOTO TIM COOK / THE DAY
THE RANGE OF PALETTES THAT DECORATE THE ARTISTS’ TREE IS AS BROAD AS THE MEDIUM ITSELF.
PHOTOS COURTESY OF FLORENCE