Meet your neighbors...Robin Hoffman and Jodi Stiffelman, art aficionados
Updated 9:54 am, Friday, March 2, 2018
NEW CANAAN — Robin Hoffman only took a few art classes while an undergraduate student at Tufts University. From talking to her, however, one would think she had majored in art history.
“I took two or three art history classes in the 1970s, but that didn’t exactly make an art history career,” said Hoffman, who holds an MBA from the University of Chicago Business School.
After leaving Illinois, Hoffman lived in Hong Kong and England with her family before settling in New Canaan in 1998. It was as a South School parent that Hoffman turned back to art, organizing school outings and giving art lectures along with fellow New Canaan resident Jodi Stiffelman, whose child was at West School.
“We would teach the children about famous paintings and would also take them on trips to the Metropolitan Art Museum in New York City,” Hoffman said. “The interest in art started out as a way for us to volunteer in the classroom. I wanted to volunteer in the schools and to learn art history myself to be able to teach it to the kids.”
The program for students, which was known as Learning To Look, operated from 1998 to 2007, but the community’s interest was piqued. Residents reached out to Hoffman and Stiffelman to ask about lectures for adults.
April 18, 6:30 p.m., Norwalk Public Library: “Change Begins: Cézanne and Matisse”
April 23, 6:30 p.m., New Canaan Library: “Dutch and Flemish Baroque: From Posed Portraiture to Captured Moments”
April 24, 6:30 p.m., C.H. Booth Library, Newtown: “The 20th Century Renaissance: From the South to Harlem”
“People asked us if we could develop lectures. These people had an interest in learning about art, and because we were well-known through our efforts in the schools, they asked if we could do it for adults,” Hoffman said.
That idea eventually materialized into a program they called ArtVentures in 2009, two years after Learning To Look had concluded. The duo turned their art lectures into a series at Weston Library, but it took some time to get back in the groove of things.
“We had a learning curve and we corrected our mistakes right away. We discovered our formula during that time,” said Stiffelman, who, like Hoffman, took a few art history courses while at Long Island University, where she majored in business marketing.
After the series of lectures, the duo began to expand and they rebranded to their current name in 2010: ArtScapades.
“We came up with a different bunch of names and bounced them off each other and off family members and friends and came up with ArtScapades,” Hoffman said. “It has a dual meaning in the sense that we give lectures, but we also lead gallery and museum tours and so ‘escapades’ means you can go out places and we figured it was more encompassing that way.”
Since then, ArtScapades has given over 120 lectures in the area, even conducted some in other towns, like Springfield, Mass., and Palm Beach, Fla.
Throughout the past eight years, Hoffman and Stiffelman, both 60, have covered a breadth of art movements ranging from art in Papua New Guinea to the Old Masters to American Folk Art.
“One of our most-requested lecture series is the one on French Impressionism, as it’s a great place to start,” Hoffman said. “Other popular lectures are the ones on American Impressionism, as it’s very specific in this area, and the ‘Feminine Side of 20th Century Art’ has been a big seller for the past few years with art from Georgia O’Keeffe and Frida Kahlo.”
What Hoffman most values about ArtScapades is the fact she’s constantly learning about new art periods and movements, as the lectures are tailor-made for audiences and settings.
“We’re happy to lecture on whatever the client would like,” Hoffman said. “Sometimes we will do tie-ins to current galleries or exhibits, so we have to research and learn about different art periods.”
For lectures, ArtScapades provides a background of the historical context prior to focusing on the artists.
“We try to tell the artist’s story through their art and include their personal lives, as that’s included in their art and we point out titillating information, as this is part of a captivating story for various artists,” Stiffelman said.
The work is split between Hoffman and Stiffelman, each working independently on different artists before formatting their presentations together, which can be from an hour to an hour-and-a-half long.
“We do 25 to 30 lectures a year,” Hoffman said. “We do spend a lot of time writing and editing lectures, not to mention researching our topics.”
ArtScapades lectures are typically free when held at local libraries, though venues like the D’Amour Museum in Springfield charge a nominal fee. ArtScapades charges the client for lectures and the price range depends on the series, if a lecture is specifically tailored and on the range of the lecture itself.
With 20 years in the area, Hoffman and Stiffelman have accumulated a following of individuals who maintain an avid interest in art.
“We have a big client list in New Canaan,” Hoffman said. “We have a mailing list and our website has the dates for our lectures.”
Stiffelman, reflecting on their experiences, agreed.
“Once you have knowledge about art, it’s wonderful to share it,” Stiffelman said. “We keep learning and keep moving forward and it’s been a wonderful journey.”
When asked who her favorite artist or movement is, Hoffman ponders for a few moments, admitting it’s a tough question as she recalls the countless artists she’s studied.
“Annibale Carracci from the Baroque period — currently he’s my favorite because I’m learning about him. Do I love his art? Absolutely not, but I’m learning about him,” Hoffman said with a laugh.