Director’s Message – December 26, 2022

Dear Friends,

Before moving on to resolutions, I like to savor the year coming quickly to a close. I play a little game and challenge myself to name my three favorite moments.

For 2022 it isn’t easy because there has been lots to love. There is the news from our partners Clatter Ridge Farm (their animals and know-how plus our land and barns honor Hill-Stead’s past as a working farm) that together we are helping the endangered monarch butterflies; or, finally attributing the mystery painting in the guest room to a fellow hidden gem, Henri Martin; or, removing the cataracts to (again finally) see the admirable and generous person behind our great founder, her equally impressive father Alfred. But what about that summertime Saturday ping of a clandestine video, a young man proposing marriage in the Sunken Garden? I must include that!

Perhaps I’ll let myself choose four, it is a special birthday year after all.

In these last days of it, as so many of you make donations to your favorite non-profits, we ask that you please consider our museum. Whether your joy lies in art, nature, history or inspiring characters, we at Hill-Stead work all year to bring it to you. And it is your generosity that sustains us.

A bright light in the darkness.

With gratitude,
and all best wishes for all good things in 2023,


Dr. Anna Swinbourne
Executive Director & CEO

P.S. Should you prefer to donate to us directly, please contact Kathanne Wray (t: 860 677-4787 x 111 – e:

Director’s Message – December 19, 2022

Dear Friends,

It is so easy to overlook what is right under our nose. For seventy-five years at Hill-Stead, we have admired the paintings on the walls without considering the bigger picture of how they got there. Realizing we ought to, we began to look more closely, and what we found is extraordinary.

The artwork now at the museum is only a fraction—a tip of the iceberg—of what was once there. Self-taught and daring as a collector, Theodate’s father Alfred bought the art of his contemporaries, the Impressionists, who were then little-known in this country. He acquired over forty Impressionist masterpieces that we have traced to their current owners around the globe: a third Monet haystack; a second Degas jockeys; landscapes by Pissarro and Sisley; even a stunning Renoir painting of a girl and her cat. More astonishing still is how many left the museum not by his choice, but rather his daughter’s, and long after his death, likely to fund her own creative endeavors, including the school she founded to honor him, Avon Old Farms. Continue reading

Director’s Message – November 4, 2022

Dear Friends,

109 years ago, in November 1913, the English suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst arrived in Hartford to give her “Freedom or Death” speech. Our founder Theodate picked her up at the train station and in typical take-action fashion drove her to Hill-Stead for a welcoming lunch. Later that day, Theodate also publicly pledged $100 for Pankhurst’s cause when the hat was passed in the theater post-speech. All these years later, Theodate has made it easy to honor her legacy: all we need to do is get ourselves to the polls on Tuesday, November 8th, and exercise our right to vote!

Emmeline Pankhurst (center) in Hartford, Connecticut, 1913. Library of Congress.

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Director’s Message – August 3, 2022

Dear Friends,

“Good news department” was the title of a recent message from our partners at Clatter Ridge Farm, whose sheep live at Hill-Stead. I found their tidings not just good, but glorious: we don’t mow but leave the grooming of our pastures to the sheep, and since those sheep don’t eat milkweed, we have created an environment that’s extra friendly to the monarch butterfly, just recently added to the endangered species list.

I must admit that I was exceptionally proud of Hill-Stead! Yet another way that we’re honoring our nature-loving and preservationist founder, Theodate.

A monarch butterfly at Hill-Stead & STEAM Academy 4th graders at our Hilma’s Ghost exhibit.

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Director’s Message – May 2, 2022

Dear Friends,

“Tell the bad times to scram!”  were the words of Erin Hazelton in our first meeting to dream up this year’s gala. She and co-chair Kristen Renehan have taken them to heart!

They have created a Roaring ‘20s evening for legends:

To begin, High Hat Circle guests will have the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to celebrate inside the museum. With a nod to Theodate’s husband, Ambassador John Wallace Riddle, who was renowned for having the best alcohol during the prohibition (thank you diplomatic pouch!), we’ll gin up a speakeasy and serve cocktails from the butler’s pantry pass-through, while listening to the captivating duo, Acute Inflections.

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Director’s Message – March 1, 2022

Dear Friends,

Hello March! In like a lion…
We at Hill-Stead, and I as an astrological Leo, are roaring with delight to announce that Kathanne Fowler has joined our team as Chief Philanthropy Officer!

In addition to her work in corporate and private banking, Kathanne brings us decades of experience in knowledgeable and successful stewardship. Since returning to the area from the United Kingdom in 2002, she has faithfully supported the development and strategic planning of many important local institutions, from Hartford Hospital to schools including Ethel Walker, Kingswood Oxford, and Hartford Art School. She has even devoted her time and talents to Hill-Stead, having served on the museum’s Board of Governors from 2004 to 2010. And her work in the field extends far beyond Connecticut to the 1990 Institute in San Francisco, the National Collegiate Equestrian Association, and her alma mater, Williams College in Massachusetts.

We simply could not be happier about her serving Hill-Stead in this critical role. Kathanne beginning now, in this special 75th year and at this incredible moment of exciting growth, is perfect! (those who know me know that I almost never use that “p” word.) Continue reading

Director’s Message – February 2, 2022

Dear Friends,

We love February 2nd at Hill-Stead. Not because it is groundhog’s day, but because it is our founder’s birthday! This year, 2/2/22 is doubly special because the museum turns 75 – our diamond anniversary!

We’ve used the hunkered-down past few weeks to make big plans for celebrating this milestone…

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Director’s Message – December 28, 2021

Dear Friends,

During the short days and long nights of late, as many best-laid plans have gone kerfluey again, my mind keeps returning to the power of choices and how grateful I am to have them.

I think also about the ways Hill-Stead has chosen to respond to the ever-changing circumstances of our pandemic-era lives: our team’s decision, again and again, to turn Why into Why Not, openly and bravely facing whatever that brings; and our survivor’s refusal to throw in the towel despite the seemingly endless waves of challenge.

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Director’s Message – November 27, 2021

Dear Friends,

Sometimes I don’t make it, but I try hard to count my blessings every day. This includes the many –no, better– countless quiet words of thanks for the people who also believe Hill-Stead is incredible and worthy of our love and support.

Three of these people are stepping forward now, to collectively fund a matching gift of $7,500 for this year’s Giving Tuesday. An artist, a professor, and a local parent of school-aged children – perfectly aligned with our annual fund pillars of art, education, and the future – are each donating $2,500 to inspire our donors to match their support this upcoming Tuesday, November 30. I find their leading gesture, in line with the “in it together” spirit of our times, beautiful and humbling. And now I say more quiet words of enormous thanks. Continue reading

Director’s Message – November 1, 2021

Dear Friends,

The day after Halloween is usually slow-moving, as we shake out the cobwebs and off the candy hangover. But this November 1, I’m feeling energized, and slightly giddy, thinking ahead to the holiday season before us: a chance to gather in counting our blessings and to rejoice. Finally.

This season at Hill-Stead also brings our most important fundraising, the Annual Fund. For the Herculean task we face, of raising 90% of our operating budget every year, these donations are critically important. They are the biggest gear in our Hill-Stead engine, without which we simply could not run.

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