Inside and out, Silvermine Arts Center celebrates 90th anniversary
There is no need to go any further than the parking lot at Silvermine Arts Center, 1037 Silvermine Road, to feel the creative energy borne by 90 years of tradition. You will hear it coming from the sculpture studio in a hammer's beat and a power tool's purr and see it in the sun's reflection on 23 sculptures that sit along the paths and perimeter of the four-building campus.
But there is no reason to stay in the parking lot as Silvermine Arts Center celebrates its 90th anniversary with gallery events throughout the year that honor its historic roots.
Executive director Leslee Asch said they kicked off the anniversary with an historic component that will be updated to honor different early members of the Silvermine Guild of Artists. The first artist previously honored was founding member Solon Borglum, whose drawings and bronze sculptures depicted western American frontier life -- cowboys and Native Americans.
Borglum, a Nebraskan rancher born in Utah, came to Silvermine in 1906 in search of a barn big enough to display his sculptures. He attracted many artists to the area, forming The Knocker's Club.
"They would critique, or `knock,' each other's work," Asch said, adding that they held free public exhibitions out of his barn in Wilton.
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"If you read some of the things that the artists were writing at that point, they were saying, `We need to reach out to the community for them to understand our work and want to come,'" she said.
When Borglum died in 1922, the guild formed and was formally incorporated in 1924.
"From 1906 to 1922 was that period when the guild was in formation," Asch said. "When he died in 1922 he was only 53, so it was sudden and unexpected, and the artists looked around and went, `Oh, he was the one keeping this glued together. If we don't organize it in some way it's all going to disappear.'"
Today, the guild has 320 members whose work will be showcased in an all-guild exhibition in May. Asch said gallery director Jeffrey Mueller is trying to include artwork from every guild member.
"He's going to try to get their strongest work in there," she said. "Whether it's an early piece or a recent piece will be up to them and him to decide."
For this event, the gallery is going to waive their usual policy that requires artwork to be for sale.
"We want people to show their strongest work, and it may be some precious piece that they have no intention of selling," she said.
The guild's regular involvement with the arts center has contributed to its success during the past 90 years.
"During the course of each year, the majority of the shows are guild artists, and there's a juried process even within the guild for what work is shown at each point," Asch said. "The way the guild is structured, they have to do work hours. It's really a way of building community also, besides from just paying dues. We really want them connected with each other."
Asch said engaging the community, however, has been the primary goal embedded in the guild's mission since it was founded. She too has held true to this initiative since she began working there two years ago.
"When I first came here, what I felt was that it was sort of an unknown jewel," she said. "The last couple of years we've really made a huge effort to make ourselves more welcoming."
Asch helped launch the first annual Silvermine Artsfest last September to inaugurate the Sculpture Walk, a self-guided tour of the sculptures that can be seen from the parking lot.
"It was a free day of art workshops and music," she said. "It was such a success, we're going to repeat it as an annual event."
This year, the Artsfest will be on Sept. 15, featuring Fishman's Biting Fish Brass Band.
"It's our way of beginning to get people to understand that we're not off-limits, that it really is open (to the public)," she said. "The people who know us know us and love us, but there are an awful lot of people in this community who don't know the breadth of this resource."
Formerly the executive director of the National Dance Institute in New York City, Asch said one of the reasons she came to work for Silvermine Arts Center was to help reignite performance-based art.
"It's fun to bring that element back," she said. "It had been abandoned for a few years. It's not just about the performances or the exhibits. We are giving many more opportunities to interact with the artists."
There are now Artist Talk events every last Tuesday of an exhibition.
The Silvermine School of Art, founded in conjunction with the arts center in 1924, also offers classes and workshops to adults and children.
"Our classes are everything from painting and drawing to bronze casting and jewelry making," Asch said.
But anyone who decides to stay in the parking lot of Silvermine Arts Center can enjoy one thing for sure.
"We kept it true to the nature," she said. "The buildings are still to scale of what was built in the `20s and in the `50s, and we really try to preserve that bucolic character of it."
"The artists who started it were pretty smart and forward-looking," Asch added. "The reality is that the combination of what we have here between the School of Art and the galleries and the guild is really a winning combination. It's really unusual to have that, where the caliber is so high."