Outdoor day at Hill-Stead

Farmington students are empowered to learn everywhere they go!

by Nancy Nelson

Students from Noah Wallace Elementary School in Farmington, CT, participated in their first Outdoor Days on two glorious fall days on November 5 and 6 at Hill-Stead’s beautiful 152-acre property.

Organized by Ms. Nancy Nelson, kindergarten teacher, with Dr. Carrie Huber, principal, all classes from grades K – 4 were able to spend half a day getting outside in nature to expand their learning beyond the classroom.

Particularly with the ongoing health concerns during this pandemic, it is a great time to be learning outdoors. Research has shown the many benefits of time spent in nature—even two hours a week has been shown to improve children’s ability to focus, increase academic achievement, support problem-solving skills and enhance creativity. And nature affords many meaningful benefits to our emotional intelligence and mental health as well.

When considering how to bring this learning into the regular program at Noah Wallace, Ms. Nelson recognized the limitations of the school property, being in the center of the historic village of Farmington. Hill-Stead, just a short walking distance away, is a natural fit for this project. The beautiful grounds, gardens, and trails offer a plethora of nature study opportunities.

Classes were invited to choose activities from an extensive list of options including hikes, scavenger hunts, nature artwork, math activities, language skills, and physical movement games. Such educational outdoor activities allowed students to spend time observing, searching, describing, discovering, recording, and expressing their understandings in new ways beyond the classroom. Getting outside of the school walls provided students with a new perspective on their learning. Furthermore, it opened many eyes to the neighboring community and the incredible resources right around the corner.

Each Noah Wallace student was provided with an outdoor learning bag, featuring a magnifying glass, notebook for drawing & journaling as well as a pencil and crayons. Teachers also had trail maps, nature identification resources, scavenger hunt options, etc. Classes were able to choose several activities for their time outside, and everyone enjoyed hiking the trails. Teachers and students are all excited about returning to the Hill-Stead with their classes for more outdoor days and talking a lot about bringing their families to see the beautiful grounds on their weekends. Visiting the sheep was a highlight for many students. The furry friends appeared in lots of the writings and drawings kids made as follow-up work back at school.

The Hill-Stead graciously offered the use of the property to all classes, and we are looking forward to establishing an ongoing relationship where classes can take advantage of the outdoor opportunities many times this year, and look forward to exciting educational programs in the future when other field trips are possible again.

Noah Wallace students and teachers alike feel very fortunate to have the Hill-Stead museum in our community and are excited about continuing to visit and explore the learning opportunities onsite, enhancing the educational experience of all students this year.

Nancy Nelson is a kindergarten teacher at Noah Wallace Elementary School in Farmington, Connecticut. Ms. Nelson is currently pursuing another Master’s degree in Place-Based Education at Antioch University of New England. She is excited to incorporate outdoor learning, nature studies and community connections into the Noah Wallace program for all students.

Connecting Girl Scouts to Local History, Art and Nature at Hill-Stead

by Rachel Culter, Education Specialist and Resident Artist

In recent years, an incredible partnership has been growing between Girl Scouts of America and Hill-Stead! Our beloved cultural hub’s education team has been offering them a bevy of activities to help the Girl Scouts work towards or earn their badges. This fall, several troops visited the House Museum, where they learned about its history and found inspiration in founder Theodate Pope Riddle’s story. Then, they sketched, painted, and hiked the scenic landscape.

On an unseasonably warm November day, we watched the Girl Scouts run with glee through the meadow behind the historic home. This particular Girl Scout Troop’s itinerary was to hike to the Pond Trail, searching for natural objects to paint a “moody” piece. Then, after a short break, the girls learned to paint a watercolor landscape inspired by Claude Monet’s “Grainstacks, White Frost Effect.” This painting hangs in the Museum’s Drawing Room. The Brownies, our youngest GS visitors, took part in the program, creating bright and colorful renditions of the Farmington countryside.

Another visiting troop learned about the other Impressionist artists in our collection and used pastels to create a Scenic drawing. An older Junior Girl Scout Troop took part in the “Playing in the Past” program. The girls learned about Theodate’s childhood and discussed what it would be like to live as a girl in the early 20th century. Then the girls made paper dolls with outfits inspired by Theodate’s wardrobe.

More troops have signed up to visit the grounds this year. We are excited to welcome them and explore all that the museum has to offer! If you are interested in learning more about our girl scout program, please visit our Girl Scout Program Page or contact me at cutlerr@hillstead.org or (860.677.4787)

We Sing in Her Honor

“We Sing in Her Honor” was the perfect capstone to From the Porch, Hill-Stead’s inaugural performing arts series. Our beloved cultural institution and Opera Connecticut joined together to honor the life of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and her great love of opera.

Timed to coincide with National Opera Day (October 25, 2020), Hill-Stead hosted our nation’s first-ever RBG memorial concert. International opera luminaries Ta’u Pupu’a, Thomas Cannon, Elizabeth Lyra Ross, and others sang Puccini, Verdi, and more. The dynamic performance included a live-stream option to reach a global audience, featuring Governor Ned Lamont and Lt. Governor Susan Bysiewicz.

The second woman appointed to the Supreme Court, the notorious RBG, spent her life fighting for the ideals of justice and equality to improve humanity. It was most fitting to honor her at Hill-Stead, founded by Theodate Pope Riddle, our nation’s fourth female architect and a visionary female leader in her own right.

The entire series of From the Porch events, composed of more than 30 performances, is the brainchild of Hill-Stead’s Executive Director, Dr. Anna Swinbourne. Hill-Stead’s initiative has united more than a dozen diverse partners across the performing arts sphere. The series resulted in over 100 artists and an audience of nearly 2,500 since its opening night on the summer solstice. One patron described the series as a “mini-Tanglewood;” another said it “made her feel alive again.” Due to its popularity and success, Hill-Stead plans to expand the summer series in 2021.

Dr. Swinbourne took the stage, donning a stunning jacket designed by her friends Barbara “Bobbie” and Peter Bartucca in Orvieto, Italy, with RBG fabric from Berlin. In her remarks, Dr. Swinbourne thanked Evelyn Daly, a probate judge for the Farmington Probate District in Connecticut, for her enthusiastic response to carrying through with the RBG memorial tribute as well as Hill-Steads dedicated staff and supportive sponsors. Dr. Swinbourne described RBG as one of her “personal heroes” and “a shining light who devoted her life towards working for the betterment of humanity.”

Concert headliner Ta’u Pupu’a opened the afternoon’s program with Giuseppe Verdi’s La donna è mobile (Rigoletto, Act III). He expressed his appreciation for Hill-Stead: “I am happy and blessed to be able to strengthen the vocal cords in this beautiful setting. It brings positive energy to have all the colors of Mother Nature surrounding me.”


Mr. Pupu’a was a gifted athlete who played professional football before embarking on a successful second career as an opera singer. The Polynesian tenor trained at the prestigious Juilliard School, receiving an Artist Diploma in Opera Studies program in 2011. A self-described “dream-catcher,” he goes after his goals—whether being drafted to the NFL or chosen for a lead role in an opera—and then tries to catch it and make it a reality.


Doris Lang Kosloff, Artistic Director of Opera Connecticut, accompanied the performers on a grand piano; special thanks to Falcetti Pianos! She regaled the audience with the stories behind each piece. The extraordinary event closed with America the Beautiful featuring the full cast of singers, and their voices rang like angels with hopes RBG could hear them from heaven.

Beth Brett
Director of Communications


Enjoy a preview of the performance

Successful Summer Series Leads to Autumn on the Hill

by Rachel Cutler, educator and resident artist

It was the second week of June when we began our preliminary plans for an outdoor summer art program for local children. Governor Lamont set forth policies for what day camps would like in Connecticut during the pandemic. Undoubtedly, these were unprecedented circumstances, but we felt confident we could create an educational, fun, and, most of all, safe program for our youth.

Our Director of Education, Kate Ebner, and I brainstormed the lesson plans and worked out the logistics. Then, we lovingly named our new creation “Summer on the Hill.”

The weeks flew by as we finalized the details, and soon enough, the first day of the program was upon us. I’ll never forget the looks of uncertainty on the young attendee’s faces as they stood masked and distanced in the Sunken Garden. While reading out the new rules, I also felt a twinge of anxiety. I had directed and led camps before, but none quite like this. Luckily, the uncertainty and nervousness were short-lived. Laughter filled the air as we raced towards the sheep pasture, material packets in hand to sketch out the landscape on that sunny July day.

It is incredible how quickly kids can adapt to circumstances. The students who participated in our program handled the new guidelines thoughtfully and graciously. They respected one another’s space and took full advantage of our sprawling grounds.

Our program helpers, Ben McGowen, a student from the University of Rochester; Annie Wertheimer, a Hobart College student; and Angela Yuan from Miss Porters, were attentive and upbeat. They brought smiles each day and successfully aided attendees at a distance. We were farther apart, but we still shared our love of art, humor, and experiences.

The program ran for four weeks in July and August on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9 am to noon. During these mornings, students ages 9 to14 would gather and participate in a variety of activities. Each session would begin with a short hike and field sketching. Then we would create the masterpiece of the day, focusing on a new medium, whether that is watercolor, pastels, markers, pencil, and crayons. Fun games included one-minute modeling with goofy poses, create a new animal, and art jeopardy.

Summer on the Hill was such a success that it is now a seasonal staple: Our current program, Autumn on the Hill, is running until late October. Nature hikes, animal identification, outdoor art, and games compose each week!

Last week, I spent the afternoon hunting frogs with a group of nature savvy youngsters. It made me realize how important getting outdoors and having a little adventure can be!

If you would like to join our Autumn on the Hill program, please visit Autumn on the Hill.  Each week is a new theme and new adventure!




Painting on the Hill: Drawing Inspiration from the French Impressionists

by Rachel Cutler, educator and resident artist

On Sunday, September 20, the trees around Hill-Stead were tinged with orange and red. With a slight chill in the air, it was a perfect day for painting. En Plein Air is the French term for creating art “outdoors,” and was popularized by the Impressionists.

Historically, the studio was the setting for most painting endeavors. Materials were not suitable for long hikes along the countryside. The “box easel” came into being in the mid 19th century, and artists ventured outdoors more frequently to paint, especially the Impressionists. They wanted to create art at the very moment they were looking upon a scene. They were capturing the essence, the impression of that moment.

Looking out at the West Lawn at Hill-Stead, one can draw a parallel to the rolling fields around Monet’s home in Giverny. The hills behind the trees are soft blue; the lawn is crisp and boasts an assortment of yellows, golds, oranges, tans, and greens. The trees are ablaze with autumn colors, creating a fantastic place to paint En Plein Air.

Guests arrived and found their favorite vantage points. Tables spread across the lawn with materials provided: canvas, paintbrushes, water cups, painting boards, and paints. With the guidance of Hill-Stead’s Education Specialist and local artist Rachel Cutler, aspiring painters learned about the advantages of working out in nature. The wind could blow over paint cups, leaves could drop into the paint, but it was worth these struggles to sit outside with friends and family, inspired by the local landscape. 

The event lasted two hours, and it was broken into two parts, hashing out basic shapes and colors first, then adding details. This process builds confidence for new artists as they bring their paintings to life; guests were happy to add their personality to their work.

Painting on the Hill drew inspiration from the French Impressionists’ belief in staying in the moment of celebrating spontaneity. In today’s times of turmoil and change, it is essential to appreciate the moment. Reflecting on the Impressionists, we can learn a lot about their determination to capture their local environment’s beauty and stay present during their work.

As we move into fall, we celebrate with more fun and inspiring events with our From the Porch Series. Don’t miss the many incredible performances and events we have lined up in the coming weeks!


X Marks the Spot – A Lesson in French Impressionism

By Dr. Anna Swinbourne

There is a spot in the drawing room, marked with an “X” in the nearby photograph, which is one of my favorites at Hill-Stead, if not the whole world. Standing on that spot, facing south to gaze at Monet’s haystacks in summertime, one can rotate clockwise to appreciate example after example of the magnificent paintings the Pope family acquired and installed in this room.

What is so very extraordinary about this particular arrangement is that within a single 360-degree rotation, the visitor can, through first-hand study of masterpieces, have a complete overview lesson in French Impressionism.

The introduction begins with the movement’s revered mentor, Edouard Manet, and his embrace of mid-19th century ideas about modernism – namely that to be modern one must attempt to place their finger on the pulse and particularities of the Now, and in so doing, an artist can assure their importance and appreciation by future generations.

This quest for modernity was sought by Degas, albeit through deceptively created scenes. Looking at Dancers in Pink, I feel as though I occupy the artist’s shoes, standing at an easel set up backstage and observing these performers as they wait in the wings, when in fact Degas could not have occupied this spot, as no man other than ballet professionals were then allowed in such places. The painting was actually carefully and imaginatively constructed in his own studio, fusing individual sketches of young dancers he had hired to serve as models there.

Degas’s traditional practice of creating the painting in his studio was anathema to his Impressionist contemporaries, who carried canvas, easel and materials out of doors to paint before the actual motifs that inspired them, which we see in full glory in the exceptional pair of haystacks, exquisitely positioned at 12 and 6 o’clock.

In fact, pausing my clock-hands-self at either hour and turning to the other, I can, with every bit of my being, understand an essential Impressionist aspiration: to revisit the same motif repeatedly and under different conditions – of day, season, weather – in order to capture a fleeting moment. The low, pale light of haystacks in a winter frost versus those set afire by midday summer sun. Perfect.

And pausing to savor that perfection, my eyes fall on Monet’s seascape of Antibes over the fireplace, an exquisite ending note. Through their dozen years of exhibiting together, from 1874-1886, the young rebellious Impressionists accomplished what they set out to – upend established norms about the type of subject that could be painted, the techniques used to do so, and the opportunities for their work to be appreciated by others – then they went their separate ways. Monet’s soon led him to the south of France, where he found favorite spots of his own, like this one on the Mediterranean.

Somewhere Over the Rainbow – Find Your Pot of Gold by Bidding Now on our Silent Auction

Dear Friends,

As you may have heard, we at Hill-Stead created a custom-for-2020 version of our gala this year, made up of five al fresco farm-to-table dinners by celebrity chef Tyler Anderson on the West Lawn.

For the fourth one, on September 3rd, Mother Nature served us up a bucket full of drama! In the days leading up to it, we were on tenterhooks watching an ever-changing weather forecast. Showers (drats!), then none (hurrah!), then thunderstorms (what?!). But, as the day drew nearer and the chances of precipitation diminished, we decided – timidly – to go for it.

The sun that day was bright and hot, and all looked as though we had made the right decision. Then, just as we were beginning our dinner, and seemingly out of nowhere, the skies darkened quickly. While cutting my pepper, I felt the first drop on my nose; then, a second on my right shoulder. I refused to look up, letting my eyes linger on my plate as I envisioned the mayhem that was in store – the mad dash for cover, the food spoiled, the table settings soaked – in short, our evening and efforts completely foiled.

A whisper from the waiter interrupted my dreading, “Anna, you’ve gotta see this.” Almost in a daze, I obeyed, getting up from my chair and following him to the back of the lawn, not even thinking to guess what was in store. I followed his finger pointing straight back to the house, above which sat a full, vivid and beautiful rainbow. As if possessed, I jogged up to the veranda and to the microphone, to share the news with our guests before it disappeared. Most of them immediately stood and to go and see, and in the intervening seconds, something more extraordinary happened: a double rainbow appeared, fainter than its siblings but there, just as real.

Almost immediately, I saw meaning in this scenario: the planning, the fretting, the courage to make a decision despite the uncertainty, the complication, and then, ultimately, the glory. Reminded me a bit of some of our struggles at the museum this year: the difficult and the marvelous, in our lives in equal measure.

And it gave me hope, for beauty that is triumphant and for some gold, as we’re told that’s what’s to be found at the end of the rainbow!

Now that the series is completed, I am writing to you about the event’s last step of much-needed fundraising, the silent auction portion of our benefit. For all of you interested in supporting the museum in this fashion – purchasing an artwork, a bottle of fine wine, or a memorable experience – there is a curated selection of items to be viewed and bought through this link: https://www.hillstead.org/2020-benefit-auction/

We would appreciate GREATLY any purchase you make, as it would help us reach our overall financial goal! Go bid crazy, and keep your eye on the ticking clock, as our auction turns into a pumpkin at midnight on Monday the 21st!

Take good care,

Featured Auction Items

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