2012 marks the 90th anniversary of the , long a pillar of the New Canaan community and a hub of the arts in New England. While Silvermine considers 1922 the year of their founding, the stage was being set decades earlier.
“We can really trace our roots back to 1906 when Solon Borglum first came here,” Leslee Asch, executive director of Silvermine Arts Center, said.
Borglum, a famed sculptor and the Founding Father of the Silvermine Guild, drew a community of artists together in his barn — located under two miles down the road from today’s Silvermine Arts Center — to share their work. The group held their first exhibition in 1908.
“They called themselves the Knockers Club because they would get together to criticize or to “knock” one another’s work,” Asch said. “It was the spirit of camaraderie. That’s been the spirit here all along.”
Silvermine Guild of Artists became official in 1922 and formerly incorporated, founding their School of Art in 1924.
“We trace our founding actually to Borglum’s death. He was still a young man and he died very suddenly from appendicitis. The artists realized that he had been the glue,” Asch said.
Borglum’s brother, Gutzon Borglum of Mt. Rushmore fame, was also an early guild member. Johnny Gruelle, best known as the creator of Raggedy Ann and Raggedy Andy, was also part of the guild.
“[This area] became a real magnet for artists,” Asch said. “It was beautiful and it was not far from New York City, even if you were coming by horse and buggy as they were. Connecticut is really interested — you had these pockets of artists."
Today, the guild has over 300 artists as members — 175 of who will be featured in a 90th Anniversary Exhibition this May.
“We’re building on a legacy and in the next decade, as we’re moving towards 100, we’re going to make sure that we’re secure and can be here for another 90 years,” Asch said.
The 90th year looks to be a bright one for Silvermine. They will be putting together a commemorative book to celebrate the milestone and holding events throughout the year to honor their history. March 11 through April 22, an exhibit will feature the artwork of five women in honor of Women's History Month: Jocelyn Braxton Armstrong, Ann Chernow, Stephanie Joyce, Constance Kiermaier and Marilyn Richeda.
Recently, the Silvermine Arts Center has also worked to revitalize their programs in music and performing arts, long a part of their mission.
“They were very wise, our early founders. They realized that you wanted space to do your own work, but you also wanted people to see it. It really is an oasis for people to come and enjoy the arts,” Asch said. “It’s always been, and it remains, a very vital place.”