By Kristin Nord
New London, Conn. – When he first came on board as director of the Lyman Allyn Art Museum in May 2014, D. Samuel Quigley was taken with New London’s vibrancy and intrigued by the possibilities of building upon the museum’s considerable holdings. Within the handsome neoclassical building, situated on 11 acres overlooking the Coast Guard Academy, he found a virtual “mini-Met, with approximately 15,000 works ranging from mummies to Warhol and Picasso.” But, he said, it was time to let the rest of the world know about these treasures and to move the museum into the 21st century.
Since then, and drawing upon a career that has included tenures at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the Harvard University Art Museums, and most recently, the Art Institute of Chicago, Quigley has begun to orchestrate significant changes.
Fast forward just a year and a half – and visitors will find a number of galleries are being recast in creative ways. “Cued by Color,” an exhibit of the colorful multi-layered abstract works of Lyme artist Michael DesRosiers inaugurated the museum’s “Near :: New,” a major gallery designed to showcase contemporary regional art.
A major grant will be underwriting a significant makeover of the Lyman Allyn’s permanent American art galleries in ways that Quigley hopes will serve up the institution’s considerable holdings in fresh and unexpected ways.
On the day I visited, an installation on the golden age of jazz in New York and Paris was in progress; “Herman Leonard: Jazz Memories” features portraits of 30 jazz luminaries by the renowned photographer from the museum’s permanent collection and will be on view through May 29. Armchair adventurers will would soon be lured to the Lyman for two traveling exhibitions that probed underwater exploration – in 21 oil paintings and dramatic photographs of exotic creatures, normally hidden from human eyes, procured by high definition video cameras mounted on remotely operated robotic underwater vehicles.
“Dark Water, Deep Treasures: The Art of Discovery” is drawn from the private collection of Robert D. Ballard, PhD, an oceanic explorer who discovered the wreck of the RMS Titanic in 1985; “Beyond 300 Fathoms: Life at the Extremes” comes by way of the Ocean Exploration Trust. Both open on February 5 and remain on view through May 16.
Polly Merrill, head of the Lyman’s Board of Trustees, was enroute to her weekly meeting with Quigley a few days later, and paused for a brief phone conversation to sing the director’s praises. “There is no question Sam is the right person at the right time for the Lyman,” she said. “He loves the museum world and he knows what museums have to do to stay relevant and exciting.”
Merrill added that Quigley brings an interdisciplinary approach towards much of what he does, having trained at Wesleyan University as an ethnomusicologist, and seeing possibilities from a humanist’s worldview.
Expect to see expanded music and educational programming at the Lyman and in future years an expansion of the museum’s outdoor sculpture park. And from May through early September, don’t miss the Lyman’s upcoming retrospective on the leading American Impressionist, J. Alden Weir, “A Good Summer’s Work.”
While the Weir Farm in Western Connecticut, the United States Park Service’s only art park, has received the lion’s share of attention in recent years, it was actually at Weir’s lesser-known retreat in Windham in Northeastern Connecticut where the artist painted many of his best works. The show will bring together 40 paintings from museums and private collections throughout the country for the first time. A special Lyman smartphone app should be ready by then, to enable visitors to further their studies, whether about Weir, American Impressionism or many of the museum’s other holdings.
For a little museum long revered as “a hidden gem,” the Weir exhibition is promising to shake things up considerably.
“It’s going to be a blockbuster,” Merrill predicts.
(The Lyman Allen Art Museum, 625 Williams St., New London, is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. and Sunday from 1 p.m.-5 p.m. For more information, call (860) 443-2545.)