Visitors to the Weir Farm National Historic Site open house on the weekend of May 24 and May 25 will step into the personal history of the pioneer painter of American Impressionist art, J. Alden Weir (1852-1919). His home and studio on the Wilton-Ridgefield border, as well as the studio of his sculptor son-in-law, Mahonri Young, have been authentically restored, down to the last detail, reproducing the place where three generations of American artists painted the surrounding landscape.
It is as though you’ve been invited by Weir himself to enjoy his hospitality and the magnificent views from every window of his home, where above the front door is a wooden plaque with the words: “Here shall we rest and call content our home.”
Linda Cook, National Park Service Superintendent of Weir Farm and an architectural historian, was on the research team that started back in the 1990’s to not only restore, but reproduce, as exactly as possible, the Weir home and the two studios. This meant gathering letters, photographs, paintings, scrapbooks, family recollections, in order to locate furniture, wash and repair tapestries, reproduce the exact wallpaper, find the right bowl, do whatever was needed to assure authenticity.
“The result,” says Superintendent Cook, “is that 80% of the furnishings are the originals.”
The Weir living room is divided into two rooms, each with its original fireplace. Among the family details Ms. Cook acquired during the course of her research was that each fireplace had a name. “One of the fireplaces smoked and they called it ‘The Artist.’ The other, a newer, granite fireplace, they called ‘The Gentleman.’”
The story of Weir Farm began in 1882 when J. Alden Weir purchased the property by bartering a painting for the land. It was not one of his own works, but one he’d brought back from a European trip.
With changes through the years, the country’s only National Park Service site dedicated to American painting is now 60 acres, an artist’s paradise, with meadows, ponds, gardens, forest, trails, hills, all of which have been explored and designated by the park service as good places for plein air artists to put their easels.
The restoration was intense. A clock on the mantelpiece of “The Artist” fireplace was totally black until it was cleaned and a charming, flower painted clock was revealed, just as it had been. “We analyzed marks on the floor to place the furniture in the exact spot where it had been,” Ms. Cook explains. “In the studio, we figured out precisely where Weir’s easel stood from the paint spots on the floor. Many things were just as he left them, brushes, paints, palettes.”
Referred to as “the Father of American Impressionism” Weir was a very active, congenial person, and had many artist friends who visited and painted. One in particular, Albert Pinkham Ryder, was such a frequent visitor that the guest bedroom was called the Ryder Room. It has a traditional four-poster bed surrounded by jubilantly vibrant wallpaper of blue poppies. Among the other well-known artists who visited frequently were John Twachtman and Childe Hassam, friends who had established the Cos Cob art colony in Greenwich.
The house was designed so that walking from room to room is like walking through a series of paintings. The restoration is as close to the original interiors as possible, an assurance that, as Ms. Cook puts it, “This place won’t be lost to time. This is a national park, but a neighborhood jewel.” (Most of the park is in Wilton, but the main house is in Ridgefield.)
The dining room table is set for dinner and it’s easy to imagine the many lively parties that must have taken place. When Dorothy Weir Young and her husband Mahonri lived at Weir Farm, Mahonri built a large, high-ceilinged studio. He kept his clay in a bathtub and now children can touch the sculptured gray clay. After Dorothy and Mahonri, the painter Sperry Andrews and his wife Doris, also an artist, lived at Weir Farm, the third generation of artists.
To appreciate the diligent research and splendid restoration, the place has to be seen. A ramp has been added for people in wheelchairs. Open House on May 24 and May 25 will be the first of many tours, which are free to the public. Artists, students, teachers, in fact everyone who wants the experience of being J. Alden Weir’s guest, will appreciate this remarkable interpretation of America’s art history. The Open House celebration May 24 and May 25 is from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tours will continue through the summer, when Weir Farm is especially colorful.
For the opening weekend, there will be no parking on the site; instead, there will be a shuttle for visitors from Branchville Elementary School on Florida Road off Route 102 in Ridgefield.
Weir Farm National Historic Site is at 735 Nod Hill Road,Wilton; for more information, visit www.nps.gov/nefa or call 203-834-1896.