June 12, 2020

Dear Friends,

Hill-Stead Museum, Farmington CT

With the imminent approach of Summer Solstice—a precise planetary moment when the Earth’s tilt reaches its zenith—I take solace in knowing that I am part of a global community. It happens at an exact moment; it is the same moment everywhere on Earth. We cannot take it back; we can only move forward together.

On this day (June 20), we invite you to come to Hill-Stead and step outside with us at the moment of the Solstice. To pause, be present, and mindful in this powerful and challenging moment in our collective history.

With utmost conviction, we acknowledge our responsibility to fulfill our founder’s intention for Hill-Stead, namely that it serves to enrich and educate our local citizens and the greater public. We exist for all members of the public and seek to build a strong, healthy community that, among many things, is inclusive and embraces equality. And we believe that the arts have the power to unite, an ability that is now more important than ever.

Taking this to heart, not only igniting dialogue but moreover, putting actions behind its words, Hill-Stead is launching From the Porch, a multicultural performing arts series. Building on the successful indoor events and nationally acclaimed Sunken Garden Poetry Festival, the vibrant and inclusive programming of this new series – with music, dance, theater and more – will take place outside on our gorgeous grounds, several nights per week. We will welcome audiences of all ages, and strictly follow the state and local regulations for distancing and safety.

We are also, in this kickoff, celebrating both our identity as the brainchild of an extraordinary woman, and the importance of 2020 as the 100th anniversary of women acquiring the right to vote in the United States. Yet even as we celebrate, we acknowledge that this reform was flawed, as voting rights were not accessible to all women equally in our country. Barriers such as poll taxes and literacy tests fostered unequal and discriminatory voting practices.

To welcome summer on the evening of June 20, our dear friend and neighbor, singer-songwriter Kristen Renehan will sing an acoustical concert from the front veranda. Jim Mastrianni will accompany her on guitar.

Then, on June 26, Tammy Denease, an accomplished performing artist and storyteller, will be performing as Sarah Margu, a captive on the Amistad. She proudly brings the lives of significant, yet “hidden” women in history to life. Tammy received the gift of storytelling from her great-grandmother, a former enslaved person who lived to be 125, and grandmother, who lived to 100.

We are equally delighted to bring to the stage that same night, Elizabeth Lyra Ross, who will dazzle us with her magnificent song. Elizabeth is the first African American female member of The U.S. Army Band and Chorus. Since completing her enlistment, her international career has included the opera roles of Aida, Tosca, Madame Butterfly, Santuzza, and both Bess and Serena in Porgy and Bess. Elizabeth has performed with the Metropolitan Opera and she has been nominated for an Emmy Award on the Live from Lincoln Center Series.

Throughout the summer season, Hill-Stead will collaborate on specific events with other arts organizations from Opera Connecticut to dance companies led by Judy Dworin and Sonia Plumb. In doing so, we will provide a venue for these neighbor institutions, knowing they cannot host their performances indoors now. Our aspiration is simple: by linking our hands and sharing our resources, we nonprofit cultural institutions can together create a lively and sustainable future.

And if the weather allows, we will continue this series into the autumn, to bring to our community as many enjoyable and enriching experiences as we can. During colder days, be ready to sit in the audience wrapped in a blanket or wearing your winter coat!

Throughout the pandemic, we have kept our grounds and gardens open to all every day. Now, you can be there for us by supporting this vibrant summer series, which will simultaneously serve as a fundraising effort for our beloved Hill-Stead. With your support, we can join together to be part of this shared endeavor to bring the arts back to the community.

To find details of the series events, please visit our calendar. It will grow as we move through the summer!

I look forward to greeting you personally when you arrive for a performance.

My best,

Anna

 

April 15, 2020

Dear Friends,

The spirit of spring gives rise to resilience. Hill-Stead Museum bears witness to nature’s remarkable transformation from the birth of lambs in our fields to forsythia’s fiery light and magnolia buds bursting into springtime snowballs.

While the world retreats into quarantine, Hill-Stead is experiencing a moment. With it, we are embracing an unchangeable truth about being human: with a past that is behind us, and a future uncertain, what we do have is the present. In this present—a world filled with constraints of what we cannot, or should not, do—we present a possibility: visit Hill-Stead, to experience and marvel anew at nature’s miraculous power to create; and please do continue to share with us the stories of your visits!

With trees blooming and faith traditions celebrating hope and rebirth, Hill-Stead Museum is itself on a path to reach new heights. We have responded to the chaos of the times with creative energy, igniting the imagination through groundbreaking new programs outside the walls of the museum. Through it all, we have honored our commitment, keeping our gorgeous grounds open for all—an oasis in a turbulent time.

 

And we are determined to carry on with a dynamic, transformative journey we had begun before the present swerve began. It is with eyes to those exciting plans that I am so pleased to announce an important investment, namely a new appointment to our small but mighty team. Beth Brett officially joins us as our Director of Communications and Marketing, having spent her formative years as a lead publicist for the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles. A graduate of Princeton University, Beth has spent the majority of her career in the world of arts and culture. With a master’s degree from Stanford’s Journalism School, Beth has bylined articles for The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle, and ESPN the Magazine. Most recently, the March 8th edition of the Hartford Courant published her op-ed piece about choosing to move to Connecticut. In it, she writes, “Having worked at the J. Paul Getty Museum for eight years, I am now smitten with the Hill-Stead Museum’s impressive collections and
gardens…” Please read more about her appointment here.

Book-ended by my tenure at MoMA in New York and Beth’s at the Getty in Los Angeles, we are arts impactors collaborating on both the challenges and opportunities ahead. Together with the team, we possess the passion, expertise, creativity, and courage necessary to enhance and elevate the museum in innovative ways. Our treasured National Historic Landmark deserves the very best leadership to take it to the next level as the institution prepares to celebrate its 75th anniversary. I am thrilled that Beth will join me to champion Hill-Stead, and together, we look forward to sharing many exciting announcements in the coming months.

Wishing you well,

Anna
Dr. Anna Swinbourne, Executive Director & CEO

March 27, 2020

Dear Friends,

Collective creativity is born from moments like this. The arts have the power to heal. And making art is good for your health! Now more than ever, art is a critical vehicle for staying healthy and connected with the greater community. At Hill-Stead Museum, we are thrilled to offer meaningful creative outlets to uplift the spirit during this unprecedented moment in time.

Speaking of history, have you ever wondered about the birth of photography? In a tale of two cities, Frenchman Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre, and Englishman William Henry Fox Talbot simultaneously announced the first practical photographic processes in 1839. It is fitting that Daguerre, an artist, and Talbot, a scientist, and inventor, would be the fathers of photography. Together, art and science—oft sketched as opposites—are two chapters in the same book. When photography was first developed, the people behind the camera captured the world as they saw it such as our own founder and architect, Theodate Pope Riddle, who experimented with photography, including this image of her swing. No other artistic medium has drawn on such rapid scientific innovation. Now, with the advent of Smartphones, photography is rapidly becoming the first art form where everyone engages.

Today, during this time of uncertainty and social distancing, art can keep us together. Photography continues to serve as a communications vehicle that influences, inspires, and ignites change. Bring your cameras the next time you enjoy the beautiful grounds of Hill-Stead. We invite you to participate in our fun-filled Budding Photographers contest, including three robust categories to spur creativity: Architecture, Landscapes and Horizons, and Living Things. Flock to the sheep or frolic in our meadows as the grounds come alive with spring’s first blooms.

For the intensely curious, armchair adventurers, students, architecture buffs, and historians, we are delighted to offer an extraordinary virtual tour. For the jet setters among us, the experience will be especially timely, allowing us to keep our spirits high during the current travel ban. So, come along with us on a thrilling trip with Theodate during her Grand Tour (1888-1889), a ten-month educational sojourn across Europe in search of arts and culture via her diary entries. Thanks to archival photography, check out the making of the Eiffel Tower as Theodate experienced it during her first tour stop in Paris. Each week we will reveal excerpts from her journal alongside enriching online cultural programming. It’s the ultimate trip across Europe!

Whether you can stop by Hill-Stead Museum or browse the rich content on our Museum’s website, an art adventure awaits all who embrace it! You might even discover sweet coloring scrolls left behind by leprechauns and perfect for kids of all ages.

Best Wishes,

Anna
Dr. Anna Swinbourne, Executive Director & CEO

March 20, 2020

Dear Friends,

I woke early and visited Hill-Stead to watch the sunrise on this equinox day when, in just the right celestial alignment, 12 hours of daylight match 12 of night. I took this photo and listened to this music, Cai Thomas singing Handel’s Lascia ch’io pianga, as I welcomed spring.

At this moment, I paused to think about the anomalies of the seasons, halfway between the Winter and Summer solstice, when the winds of change serve as a metaphor for our current state of affairs. At once, we are on the precipice of a new transformative chapter for our cultural center, all
while dealing with the ongoing world health crisis.

Then I said a silent prayer of thanks to our trailblazing founder, Theodate Pope Riddle, for her vision in creating this oasis and for her deep belief that a healthy state-of-mind required a direct relationship with nature. And, I quietly thanked all those who are also soft in the heart for this special place, and who have generously given and enabled us to preserve it. Their belief in this institution and its relevance inspired them, but I doubt they could have predicted how very much their investment would serve our visitors now, in our time of great, collective need.

Any hour. Any season. Any weather. That’s when Hill-Stead’s grounds are most beautiful. And today, in response to the challenges before us, we are happy to announce that we are expanding our hours of access. Going forward, our estate will be open to the public from 7:30 a.m. to sunset. We are honored to be able to share Theodate’s gift with you.

Tomorrow, sadly, the much-anticipated sheep-shearing event will not go on as planned. But, determined to share this wonder with you as well, we imagined a new way to bring it to you at home. This Saturday, March 21st,
from 1 p.m. onwards, via our website you will be able to view video, interviews, and some adorable before-and-after footage of the sheep who graze our pastures. And since many of them are pregnant, we invite you to join their owners, Clatter Ridge Farm, in naming their expectant lambs.

The revenue from this event, and all those like it, upon which we depend to keep operating, has disappeared. Poof. Gone. With that new reality comes serious concern about the future of our financial wellbeing. The brainchild of one impressive survivor,* we shall stay calm, keep perspective, and trust our inner grit. And, we take comfort in the fact that generations of donors have sustained the museum for just over 73 years. We would be humbled to have you join their ranks – at any level – by donating now.

For the foreseeable future, our glorious grounds and gardens are open for all to enjoy. With plentiful room to roam, please keep your social distance as we work together to reduce the spread of Coronavirus. Come and enjoy spring on our grounds – for a walk, a hike, or simply sit in the Sunken Garden to listen to the returning birds. Let’s turn to the marvels of nature, and their awesome power to help us through.

Take good care,

Anna
Dr. Anna Swinbourne, Executive Director & CEO

* For those who don’t know the story, Theodate survived the sinking of the Lusitania in 1915

February 1, 2020

Dear Friends,

With only weeks-in as Executive Director, I am writing to thank you for your support through the transition and for your many good wishes as we begin a new chapter at Hill-Stead. With you with us, the museum is stronger and better able to move quickly in exciting new directions.

On Valentine’s Day evening, we hosted our first dramatic reading of Shakespeare in the drawing room. Known to many from their summertime outdoor festival in West Hartford, Shakespeare under the Stars, the performers of Capital Classics Theatre Company read, sang and channeled pieces of Shakespearean love. At one particularly heady moment, I looked from the individuals to the walls – where the paintings seemed aglow – and thought about the marvelous artistic dialogue occurring before my eyes, a conversation spanning centuries and mediums. The words of Shakespeare, the actors interpreting them, as their musician accompanied, and all presented within a setting filled with magnificent examples of fine and decorative arts. I couldn’t help but wonder if I was sitting in – inch by the square inch – the most artistically creative room in Connecticut?!

For myself and my family, I continually seek out such sublime expressions of human creativity in artistic form. And one of my favorite parts of this new role is collaborating with colleagues and artists to create such experiences for our visitors. Our next event – Rumba Flamenca on Thursday, March 20, when the musicians will perform between the two Spanish- and musically-inspired canvases by Edouard Manet hanging on our walls – is something I eagerly
await. I’d love to welcome you to this event, or any of the other new offerings coming up: our Mixology à la Monet competition (February 29), at which guests will join in selecting the museum’s new signature cocktail, or our family-friendly sheep-to-shawl extravaganza on the first day of spring, March 21. This event, which we’ve aptly titled The Art of Shearing, stars the beloved sheep of Clatter Ridge Farm who graze our pastures daily and provide countless
moments of zen for those stuck in the perennial traffic jam on Route 4.

Looking forward to seeing you here!

Warm wishes,

Anna
Dr. Anna Swinbourne, Hill-Stead Museum Executive Director