Once upon a time, there was a woman…
History is filled with stories that begin with a determined woman facing a seemingly insurmountable challenge and her tenacity to meet it head on. Thus is the case with Florence Griswold, the matriarch who shaped the very soul of Old Lyme, Connecticut. Griswold’s ability to rise above her economic downturn set Old Lyme on the path to a charming New England town with a well-defined artistic bent.
The financial downturn of the Griswold family, the arrival of artist Henry Ward Ranger, and the picture-perfect, bucolic landscape of Old Lyme was the perfect triumvirate. Griswold turned her family’s fine home into a boarding house, Ranger invited his artist friends to come and paint the verdant landscape, and the rest is history.
Note: Some information in this piece was obtained during a sponsored press trip, but all recommendations are my own.
1. Florence Griswold Museum
The Florence Griswold Museum is a dedication to her life and the artists that filled it with laughter, joy, and lots of color. The resorted Griswold home includes a first floor that has been renovated to reflect the halcyon days of a turn-of-the-century summer when the artists were in residence and the rooms were filled with fascinating characters.
Throughout the first floor, mostly concentrated in the boarding house dining room, are original painted door panels. The artists in residence painted stunning pieces on these panels that are part of a permanent exhibit In Situ: The Painted Panels. The 46-panel paintings were the artists’ gift to Griswold and depict a variety of subjects from far-flung places to local landscapes. The close relationship between Griswold and her boarding house guests is evident in the beautiful artwork of the panels. The second floor of the manor is a bright and airy gallery space that showcases works from the Lyme Art Colony and a variety of other brilliant artists.
The separate museum has several galleries to showcase paintings and sculptures in evolving exhibits. Take time to wander through the spacious galleries as you savor the experience of art immersion.
Pro Tip: You can visit the museum’s exhibits online with a free virtual tour, like Fresh Fields: American Impressionists Landscapes.
2 Lyme Art Association
The Lyme Art Association (LAA) was formed in 1914 as a gallery to showcase the works of the artists who called Old Lyme home. Florence Griswold donated property adjacent to her home for the gallery building and in 1921 the LAA celebrated its grand opening.
The gallery is a centerpiece of popular events and showcases revolving exhibits throughout the year. The LAA offers visitors a chance to explore a wide and varied range of artistic styles, mediums, and techniques. The association is composed of 650 member artists whose stunning artwork is displayed across seven different juried art exhibits annually.
Many days, you will see the easel-toting artists taking classes at LAA. The gallery’s lower level is a haven for art students of all levels. Drawing, sculpture, painting, and other art classes are open to non-members. One-day workshops exploring an in-depth focus on an artistic topic like color dynamics, composition, and more can be a fun, hands-on adventure during your artistic getaway.
3. The Side Door Jazz Club
Old Lyme Inn
Dark and mysterious is the hallmark of every classic jazz joint. The Side Door Jazz Club is no exception. When you enter the club, it’s like stepping into the 1940s. The decor of small dark wood tables and straight-back chairs pushed right up to the edge of the stage makes you feel like you are part of the show. All you need is a short glass of amber liquid and a trench-coated, fedora-sporting man at the door — you know you are in for something special.
As musicians and songbirds crank out their personal bebop style and jazzy beat, you can feel your heart rhythm move along with the musical syncopation. One of the interesting things about jazz is the on-stage improvisational interludes. You are drawn into these seemingly private jam sessions and the solo performances keep the evening’s program mesmerizing.
Pro Tip: Check the website for upcoming artists. The performances change weekly so there is always someone new and exciting at the mic.
4. Lyme Academy Of Fine Arts
The Lyme Academy of Fine Arts is an art school for students who wish to explore and enhance their artistic talents. The academy also offers workshops available to artists of all levels. Immersing yourself in a medium you love or stretching your talents outside your comfort zone in a workshop is a unique way to explore this charming artist community. Find an intriguing workshop and schedule a hobby-focused getaway for some selfish time.
Pro Tip: The school offers a printmaking open studio to utilize the printmaking equipment. Open-figure drawing classes are also available on a regular basis.
5. Studio 80 + Sculpture Grounds
Wander through Studio 80 + Sculpture Grounds where massive contemporary artworks are displayed in a 4.5-acre, park-like setting. The grounds are the work of artist Gilbert Boro and showcase his art and other contributing artists. The sculpture grounds are free to enjoy.
“I believe that three-dimensional art should be handled, touched, and experienced in three dimensions,” says Boro. “I want people to not only view my art but touch and explore it. It brings me great joy to watch people of all ages interacting with my sculptures.”
The massive pieces are majestic, thought-provoking, and beautiful. It is a fascinating walk about on a beautiful Connecticut day.
Pro Tip: Park in the back of the Lyme Academy of Fine Arts and walk across the short path to access the sculpture grounds.
6. Ferry Landing State Park
The DEEP Boardwalk Ferry Landing State Park is a beautiful spot for a gentle stroll on a sunny day. Boaters, picnickers, and hikers love this hidden Connecticut gem. The quick 0.6-mile, out-and-back walk along the flat boardwalk is a beautiful way to get in your daily steps.
The boardwalk takes you out along the Connecticut River through the tidal marshes offering views of Osprey, turtles, and other water-loving creatures. The sweeping view from the high platform of the boardwalk showcases stunning water views.
7. The Cooley Gallery
Visiting The Cooley Gallery — whether you are shopping for a beautiful piece of artwork or simply dreaming of owning an original — is a must-see during your stay in Old Lyme. Every American art collector will enjoy exploring the gallery in search of that perfect piece to fill a certain blank wall.
8. The Bowerbird
Old Lyme Marketplace
Every getaway requires even a short shopping expedition. The Bowerbird, in the Old Lyme Marketplace, offers “over 4,500 square feet of impulsive necessities.” It’s the perfect spot to buy your Old Lyme souvenir. You can shop for toys and games, home and garden, jewelry, stationery, gourmet foods, and other goodies. The Bowerbird is the quintessential country gift shop and worth a look-see; you’ll never know what you find that you didn’t know you needed.
9. Hangry Goose
Everyone in Old Lyme dines at the Hangry Goose. It is a comfy and casual towny spot that offers great food and a beautiful view. Open for breakfast and lunch, the menu is filled with hearty traditional dishes; perfect to fuel up before exploring the town.
Old Lyme Inn
In the middle of this charming artistic community is the Old Lyme Inn. Constructed circa 1865, the inn was originally the Champlain family estate and a 300-acre working farm. Around 1950, it became the Barbizon Oak Inn, named for the Barbizon School of painters and the stately 300-year-old oak tree standing tall behind it. Part of the beautiful landscape that attracted the artists to the area, the Old Lyme Inn sits in the heart of the arts district. It is within walking distance of the artist-focused attractions and perfect for your Old Lyme stay.
The charming boutique inn has 13 guestrooms, a wonderful restaurant, and is home to The Side Door Jazz Club. The Old Lyme Inn is more than just a spot to rest your head; it is a central hub where locals gather. You will find neighbors stopping by for a nightcap and some friendly conversation — the perfect way to learn about the comings and goings of Old Lyme. Their legendary Sunday Jazzy Brunch is a weekend tradition for romantic breakfasts and multi-generational gatherings.
Pro Tip: The piano in the lobby is always tuned and waiting for someone to tickle the ivories.
Artistic Old Lyme, Connecticut
Whether you are an artist, art connoisseur, or simply looking for an art-focused getaway, Old Lyme is a delightful option. It is situated between Boston and New York City — about 2 hours from either location.