Director’s Message – January 18, 2024

Dear Friends,I recall like yesterday the first time my request to borrow a painting for an exhibition was denied. A young curator at MoMA, I marched down the long hallway to my boss’s office, letter in hand, plopped myself down in the Mies van der Rohe chair – without an appointment. (I had temporarily lost my mind.) I raved. How on earth could this be? This is MoMA. The show is a birthday party for the masterpiece that launched 20th century art, Picasso’s Demoiselles d’Avignon. The owner was a descendant of the artist! I went on and on, practically undone, for as long and as far as words would take me. When I hit the end, I stopped, and pleaded silently with my eyes, please please explain this to me. The answer was brief and a sentence I will never forget: sometimes “no” means work harder.

That opinion has been rattling around in my head the entire time we’ve been organizing our present exhibition, Born in 1867: Theodate’s Generation. Researching these brave women, choosing which to feature in the show, selecting objects to tell their stories. All of them with enough strength to defy the “Nos” and move instead in the direction of their dreams, however inconceivable they were. “No” would not stop these women pioneers from accomplishing what they had set their hearts upon.

Every time I enter the gallery and listen to its soundtrack of music by the first American female symphony composer, Amy Beach, whose controlling husband only let her perform twice a year, I think of “work harder.” Or when I stare at Annie Nathan Meyer’s wall of shame – we chose a handful of her countless rejection letters received in response to her lifelong attempts to get her writings published, including one from the institution she founded, Barnard College! – I see “no” fanning her inner fire. And these are just two of the many examples on view, all standing by and ready to be appreciated.

Whether you like medicine or arts or money, we invite you to come and see for yourself. A recent visitor called the show “a voyage of discovery of incredible women” and another declared that “every young girl in Connecticut should see this!”

Consider spending one of these cold days here at Hill-Stead. Warm yourself. Spark your curiosity. Then leave a little bit different. Inspired to follow your own dream.

AnnaDr. Anna Swinbourne
Executive Director & CEO

P.S: for opening hours and exhibition details, please visit our website.