Connecticut has only one national park — Weir Farm National Historic Site — and it is the only park that celebrates painting. The 60-acre park sits on a lovely portion of the land once owed by American impressionist painter Julian Alden Weir near the rural village of Wilton. We had never heard of the artist before going to the park but were glad we stopped in here. Weir and his family spent summers here as a retreat from New York City in the late 1800s and early 1900s, and several of his artist friends joined him for outdoor painting sessions over the years.
Today, the park has a summer artist-in-residence program and encourages artists of all ages to come with their paints, brushes and easels to paint “en plein air.” One park brochure shows places on a map of the grounds and the paintings that were created there, allowing visitors to try their hand at similar landscapes. We could easily see how for more than a century his home and land have inspired artists to capture on canvas the charming buildings, gardens, woods and nearby pond that Weir constructed.
We arrived the day before the park officially opened for the 2016 season, but the three friendly staffers there preparing for the opening encouraged us to hike around the grounds at our leisure and return the following day for a guided tour of the Weir house.
We strolled over to the pond and along the adjacent Nod Reserve trails. Because the trees had not leafed out yet, the woods felt so open and inviting. In Weir’s day, however, much of the land had been cleared for farming and felt even more open. The woods have grown back since then, so some of the scenery today differs from what Weir and his friends painted. On the other side of the park property, Weir Preserve trails offer more hiking.
We did go back the next day to take the guided tour of the home and Weir’s studio. It seemed like such a lovely summer home for family, and in fact Weir’s daughters continued to live and paint on the property after his death in 1931. The grounds also include the studio where Weir’s son-in-law, sculptor Mahonri Young, worked in bronze and stone.
Speaking of stone, the park materials point out the stone walls on the grounds, another feature of inspiration for landscape artists. Connecticut — and New England in general — teems with stones large and small resulting from the glacial till left behind when the ice sheets receded northward. What to do with all those rocks? Pile them up to create fencing! Only after reading about this did I start to notice that stone walls are everywhere in rural Connecticut. It reminded me of Ireland. With such rocky land to be cleared for farming, animals to be contained, and property to be divided, stone walls make a great deal of sense, and they also make this a highly picturesque, tidy-looking corner of the country.
We’ll recap our onward journeys through tidy and picturesque New England in the next several segments.