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,

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,

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,

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,

Dr. Anna Swinbourne, Hill-Stead Museum Executive Director