On February 1990 Senator Joseph I. Lieberman introduced legislation to Congress to make a small 60-acre parcel of land in Wilton and Ridgefield, Connecticut the property of the U.S. government. In October of the same year President George W. Bush signed a bill that would establish Weir Farm as a National Park, the only one in all of Connecticut and the only Park in the country dedicated to art and artists. Who was Julian Alden Weir and how did his land and legacy become so important?
He was the son of a drawing professor, Robert W. Weir, at the United States Military Academy at West Point who counted James McNeill Whistler as one of his students. J. Alden studied at the National Academy of Design in New York and in Paris with Jean-Léon Gérôme as well as traveling extensively to France, Italy, Spain, Holland, and England. He was the president of, the Society of American Artists in 1882, the Association of American Painters and Sculptors in 1911, and the National Academy of Design in 1915. However, he is most noted for being one of the earlier artists that brought Impressionism to the United States.
Let’s go back to when Weir Farm began. In 1882 J. Alden bought 153 acres from Erwin Davis in what was known then as Branchville and now straddles the border of Wilton and Ridgefield, CT. Over the next decades he would establish Weir Farm as a welcomed place for his artist contemporaries, John Singer Sargent being one of his frequent visitors.
Many of his well known works were painted on his property such as “Hunter & Dogs” “Upland Pastures,” “The Palace Car,” “The Laundry,” and “Spring Landscape,” his first watercolor sketch of his new home, to mention but a few. I’ve seen these places looking back through a prism of more than 100 years. They have changed, trees fallen or removed, new trees taking up space where only livestock grazed, rocks covered with a century of shifting soil, but the essence of what he painted is clear to see. It’s there in the gentle upward slopes of his preferred perspective, the Farmhouse on the hill as it draws the eye to a high point on his property, or carefully apportioned, lichen covered, stone fences that matrix his property.
On December 8, 1919 Weir died leaving his property to his daughter, painter Dorothy Weir Young and her husband, sculptor Mahonri Young. They in turn passed it to painters Sperry and Doris Andrews. From them it eventually attained National Park status where artists of all mediums frequent it with easel, paints, brushes, cameras, and their unique vision with which they interpret Weir’s past.
It is with this backdrop I began a journey to capture images of Weir Farm, bringing the light of the 19th century to the digital canvas of the 21st. Beginning two years ago it continued through every season and weather condition. As we discussed what my next photo assignment would be, the owner of River Road Gallery in Wilton, CT asked me if I had ever been to Weir Farm. Thirty years of living in this part of the country and I never had. She knew my preferred style of photography abounded with New England imagery, so Weir Farm she thought was a natural. I went up there that afternoon and the moment I arrived I fell in love. Many kudos to the National Park Service for maintaining the charm and period of Weir’s 19thcentury farm.
I don’t believe in ghosts, not the paranormal ones; however, imagination gives life to specters that only our mind’s eye can see. It’s probably why photographers and artists are…well…so visual. We see that which others don’t and try so earnestly to portray it in a manner that makes sense to them and validates us. As I roam Weir Farm I see J. Alden and his family preparing a luncheon at their picnic table, from her front porch Anna Weir calling down to her children to come up to the house for their lunch plates. I envision a farmhand trudging through snow to fetch corn from the crib for livestock. Dawn as roosters wake the Weir family on an early and cold spring morning, or half-ripened apples harvested by J. Alden himself that age to redness on his window sill are the ghosts that accompany me as I wander the farm on Nod Hill. They speak in never-ending discourse changing with every visit.
The cliché begins with, “all of this culminates with,” but I will spare you the hackneyed language. My compact with Weir Farm and the portfolio that has come of it has garnered me the honor of a feature show at River Road Gallery running from June 9th to June 30th, 2012. No, not a “culmination;” just a process-check as I continue my love affair with Weir Farm National Park.