Painted Palette Tree at Florence Griswold Museum

Philip Koch, Northstar: Griswold, oil on wooden palette,
12 x 8", 2013

Florence Griswold Museum in Old Lyme, Connecticut has an innovative way of celebrating the holidays- Christmas trees decorated with artist's palettes.

As a gesture toward their own history of artists painting panels for the Museum, they ask artists to paint on wooden palettes. I was invited by David Rau, Griswold's Director of Education, and Outreach to try my hand at one on one of their palettes. The Museum hangs them on Christmas trees inside their galleries. This is the 10th anniversary of "Miss Florence's Artist Tree."

Christmas decorations had a hand in turning me toward painting in the first place. At six I became something of an art critic. 

Back in the 1950's each year my family would receive a mountain of Christmas cards in the mail. I was handed a roll of tape and given the job of hanging them all up in our living room. Rising to the challenge, I found I enjoyed deciding which of the illustrations on the cards (they were all little paintings in those days) were the best. Usually these were the snow scenes. They got hung in the prime spots. Those I thought inferior were relegated to the hard-to-see corners of the room. I had a ball and made this my job for years after. It was my first dipping of my toe into waters of connoisseurship. 

Florence Griswold Museum  is known as "The Home of American Impressionism." In the first two decades of the 20th century, most of the leading artists of the Tonalist  and the Impressionist movements in America came to stay at the boarding house run by Florence Griswold. Henry Ward Ranger, Childe Hassam and (my favorite) Willard Metcalf were among dozens of artists who came and did serious work there along the banks of the Lieutenant River. 

As a memento of their stay, many of the artists painted wooden panels in the boarding house dining room.

Here's one of the dining room's painted panels by Willard Metcalf (Am. 1858-1925), Beach and Headlands, an oil from 1907-08.

Here's another of the panels by another of Florence Griswold's guests, Arthur Heming (Canadian 1870-1940), Shooting the Rapids from 1906. My wife Alice took a special trip up from Baltimore last March to see the Griswold's Heming exhibition, our first visit in years. We delighted with the show. Amy Kurtz Lansing, Griswold's curator was kind enough to spend time with us and tell us about some of the Museum's history and how she came to work there.

A view of the Heming installed in the dining room wall.

This is the cover of invitation to the Museum's holiday exhibit. My painted palette is at the upper right.

When contacted about painting one of the Museum's palettes, I thought back to the spectacular snowy winters that I loved as child. In particular an image of the pines that grew around my house in the snow seemed perfect for the theme.

I hadn't worked on a non-rectangular canvas since 1967, so I figured it would be help to start by making a vine charcoal drawing to determine the best placement of my shapes.

Here I am in my studio, using the vine charcoal drawing at the right as a guide, working out the painting in oils.

The Griswold Museum's Magic of Christmas exhibition runs Dec. 6, 2013 - Jan. 5, 2014. There is a ticketed opening reception party Thursday Dec. 5. You can learn more about it on their website  here.


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