Since opening the doors opened at the G&B Cultural Center in 2010, the variety and number of offerings at the former Gilbert & Bennett School on New Street in Wilton has steadily increased. To the schedule of art and music classes, art shows, recitals, company meetings and workshops, among numerous other activities, G&B has now added a turn-of-the-20th Century Sturges Etching Press with 28-by-48-inch bed.
The press came from the estate of prominent illustrator, painter and collage artist Fred Otnes of Redding, who died last summer at the age of 89, and found its way to G&B through the guidance of independent curator Benjamin Ortiz of Ridgefield, one of many members of the local artists community and others that have been supportive of G&B.
“Ben knew it would have a good home here,” said Pat Hegnauer, director of the center and one of the people who helped spearhead the Georgetown Community Association, which worked to convince the town of Wilton to retain the former school and make it available as a community asset rather than sell it off a number of years ago. “And we are very grateful for that,” she added.
Taking ownership was one thing, but getting the solid steel press, which weighs about 1,300 pounds and had been unused for some time, moved and working again was another. When the first attempt was thwarted over concerns the planned transport couldn’t handle the weight, Hegnauer approached Heibeck Motors and asked if they could move the press on a flatbed and was told, “We can move anything.”
Before returning to pick up the press, the ever-resourceful Hegnauer located a set of industrial wheels online that were attached to the press prior to winching it onto the flatbed. Once at G&B, the press was rolled off the truck and into building. “It went smoother than anyone expected,” she said. The wheels enable the press to be moved for use, or set out of the way.
Hegnauer additionally found David Wolfe of Portland, Maine, “a printmaker and etcher himself, who travels around the Northeast as a ‘press doctor.’ He came in and was able to put the press back into good working order.”
The G&B Cultural Center is partnering with the Center for Contemporary Printmaking in Norwalk as to how to make best use of the press and to offer instruction. Recently, an instructor from CCP offered a four-session, two-hour class on making monotypes. “It’s fun to be childlike, to let your heart create your design,” said Hegnauer.
The press is also available to be rented by artists, who can bring in their own supplies or purchase them from G&B.
The center, constructed as a school in 1915 to serve the children of employees of the Gilbert & Bennett Wire Factory, is described on the G&B website as “an architecturally significant single-story, blond brick, truncated hip-roofed school with Spanish tile-covered roof.” It was state-of-the-art at the time, with a central multi-use auditorium with elevated stage and eight spacious classrooms, each with a door to the outside. It served as a public school for Wilton until 1974. It was subsequently leased to several small, private preschools for many years, after which it sat empty. The Georgetown Community Association worked for several years on a proposal for its use, funding and management, as well as achieving a listing on the National Register of Historic Places.
Today the G&B Cultural Center is a nonprofit organization supporting the visual and performing arts in a local and collaborative manner. It has blossomed into a modern, thriving art center offering classes in music and visual arts and hosts exhibits, concerts and demonstrations. Space is also available to rent for meetings and events.
The Weston School of Music, the New Street Guild of Artists, Galleria d’Arte and Seventy Acres, a landscape architecture and design firm, have all found homes in the building, and most rooms are multifunctional. Artists can rent rooms by hour, day, week or month to paint, create sculpture, frame their work or make use of two potting wheels and a kiln. Groups of artists paint together.
The public can attend concerts and recitals, take classes that include tai chi and yoga, or view the work that is on exhibit between 9 and 4 daily. There is also a lending library of classical records donated from Wilton Library, as well as art books, which share space with the history display of area antiques and memorabilia that has drawn former student visitors from across the country.
Most of the artwork displayed and hanging on the wall is for sale. G&B also has boutique offerings year around, which is more extensive for the holidays.
“We have paintings, ceramics, sculpture, photography, things at every price point from a couple of dollars to thousands,” said Hegnauer. “If you’re looking for items to decorate your home, why go to a chain store when you can come here and buy an original piece of art? The artist benefits, we benefit; it supports our local artists.
“Donations of materials are sold to artists for much less than they would pay in a store; the money goes into the G&B scholarship fund to aid those who might not be able to take a course otherwise,” she added.
The G&B Culture Center is at 49 New Street, Wilton, just north of the Routes 7 and 107 interchange; for information, visit gandbculturalcenter.org or call 203-544-0056