Arts and Culture in Connecticut
In Connecticut, the arts offer big city sophistication and small town openness, cutting edge experimentation along with the classics, and history beside new forms. The Constitution state boasts some superlative artistic talent, including one of the first American composers, a top American humorist, a highly awarded actress, and a best-selling contemporary memoirist.
The Yale Repertory Theatre in New Haven premiers the works of unknown playwrights, whose plays then often go on to Broadway. The Hartford Symphony’s concerts feature classic works as well as programs based on the ethnic backgrounds of the area’s peoples. The orchestra reaches all corners of the state with its music through public radio broadcasts.
Connecticut’s maritime history may be traced through the centuries at the historic waterfront that is part of the Mystic Seaport Museum. That history is also present in architecture across Connecticut, from the federal style at the old State House in Hartford to the sculptural forms of the Yale Hockey Rink in New Haven. It plays out as well in the history of crafts in the state, which runs from 17th century silver and furniture to the pottery, metalwork, and puppets of modern Connecticut.
The Hartford Symphony Orchestra, one the largest orchestras in New England, presents more than one hundred concerts a year, offers a summer season in Simsbury, and reaches people across the state through broadcasts on Connecticut Public Radio. In recent years the symphony has extended its community engagement by offering pops series, Sunday afternoon concerts, educational programs, and concert programs that speak to the ethnic backgrounds of area residents. Behind the scenes, the Hartford Symphony is known for involving its musicians in orchestra boards and policymaking decisions.
Connecticut boasts several other symphonies. The New Haven Symphony Orchestraoften performs on the Yale University campus. New Haven is also home to Orchestra New England and the Yale Symphony Orchestra. The Eastern Connecticut Symphony Orchestra in New London has a youth orchestra and a strong program of outreach to elementary schools. Ridgefield, Waterbury, and New Britain are other communities with symphony orchestras. The fifty-voice Chorale Connecticut in Meriden focuses on music of composers from the Renaissance to the present day, and is one of several choral ensembles in the state.
Connecticut Ballet, based in Stamford, has both classical and contemporary resident companies, and its school teaches ethnic dance, jazz dance, and other styles in addition to ballet. The ballet’s education center also has an extensive outreach program.Connecticut Concert Ballet, with studios in Windsor and Manchester, offers training in classical ballet. Mystic Ballet, in Mystic, is known for its adventurous contemporary programs as well as for its projects targeted to family audiences.
Opera comes to Connecticut through the Connecticut Grand Opera and Orchestra, a professional company in Stamford, as well as the Connecticut Lyric Opera in New London and Opera Theatre Connecticut in Clinton.
There are more than 150 museums in Connecticut, many connected with the state’s long history (the first English settlers arrived in the early 1600s), its interests in the arts and education, and the ways Connecticut people have made their livings. Mystic Seaport Museum in Mystic is the largest maritime museum in North America. It is composed of historic buildings, ships, museum exhibits, research collections, and a historic waterfront where visitors may get an idea of New England’s long maritime history and the way of life along the seacoast. The Yale Art Gallery in New Haven is also historic. Founded in 1832, it is the oldest college art collection in the western hemisphere, and holds works dating from ancient Egypt to the present day. The Nathan Hale Museum in Coventry offers exhibits concerning the Revolutionary War hero and what life was like in his day, while the Stepping Stones Museum for Children in Norwalk offers hands-on activities in science, music, and other adventures.
A modernist composer, a rock and roll Hall of Famer, a leading light of the folk music revival, and a top contemporary folk music band have all been part of Connecticut’s music scene, which also includes strong jazz and world music components.
Charles Ives (1874–1954), considered one of the first great American composers, wrote symphonies and other works influenced by the sounds of city and nature and by the work of the New England transcendentalist thinkers. He was born in Danbury and attended Yale. Singer-songwriter Gene Pitney (1940–2006), from Rockville, charted top ten hits in the U.S. and the U.K. in the 1960s, and remained a popular performer all his life. The same was true of Mary Travers (1936–2009), who as part of the trio Peter, Paul & Mary, helped folk music cross over to mainstream popularity in the 1960s. She lived in Redding.
Mixing American folk and blues with world music beats while performing traditional and original music, Rani Arbo and daisy mayhem formed in 2000. The band brings together many of the strands of music from across their home state. Band members Rani Arbo, Andrew Kinsey, Scott Kessel, and Anand Nayak are based in Middletown and tour internationally.
The Charles Ives Concert Park in Danbury hosts a wide range of music, as doesMohegan Sun Resort in Uncasville. The National Guitar Summer Workshop, a summer residential learning program for players at all levels, was founded in Kent and has programs in Connecticut and other places each summer. The Goodspeed Opera Housein East Haddam is a home for musicals, and The Grand Opera House in Hartford, when not hosting classical performers, hosts world-class musicians from across musical genres.
THEATER AND PERFORMING ARTS
Since its early days in the 1970s, Long Wharf Theater in New Haven has been a top resident company that offers new works (some of which go on to Broadway), presents classic plays, and provides children’s programming, workshops, and other events. TheConnecticut Repertory Theatre in Storrs is the performing arm of the drama program at the University of Connecticut. It presents a year-round schedule featuring professional players as well as advanced students.
Yale Repertory Theatre in New Haven is also a professional company, known for its commitment to producing new works. Many plays produced at Yale Rep have gone on to Broadway. Indeed, located between Boston and New York City, the Connecticut live theater community often finds itself a seedbed for professional productions and a home for theater professionals who prefer life outside big cities.
Stamford, Westport, and Putnam are among other Connecticut cities with thriving live theater communities. Prize-winning playwright Eugene O’Neill lived in New London from 1888 until 1917, and the city is the setting for several of his plays.
Films as varied as The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants (2008), Mystic Pizza (1988),The Ice Storm (1997), and The Stepford Wives (1975) have been shot in Connecticut. Its city, small town, and seashore locations, its proximity to the New York City film industry, and an advantageous tax structure for moviemakers have encouraged filming in Connecticut. Yale School of Drama has provided a training ground for theatrical professionals who have gone on to top-level careers in film and on stage. Among the well-known film actors who have studied at Yale are Angela Bassett, Joan Van Ark, and Meryl Streep.
Though he’s often first associated with Missouri, humorist, author, and perceptive observer of 19th-century life Samuel Clemens (1835–1910), better known as Mark Twain, lived in Hartford for some time, and borrowed the New England character of his neighbors for his book A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.
Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811–1896) authored the novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which stirred up popular opinion against slavery in pre-Civil War times. Stowe was born in Connecticut and returned there to live in her later years. Luanne Rice (b. 1955) is a best-selling author of more than two dozen books. She often sets her stories about family and the search for love at the New England seacoast, and several of those, including Follow the Stars Home, have been made into movies for television. She was born in New Britain.
Memoirist and novelist Elizabeth Gilbert (b. 1969), best known for her memoir of spiritual journey Eat, Pray, Love, grew up near Waterbury.
The earliest public art gallery in the nation, landscape painters whose works speak across centuries, and art colonies of American impressionist painters all form parts of the story of visual arts in Connecticut. John Trumbull (1756–1843), a portraitist and miniaturist, is also known for his paintings of events during the American Revolution, among themDeclaration of Independence and Surrender at Yorktown. George Henry Durrie (1820–1865) painted farm landscapes that captured the character of rural Connecticut life.
Frederick Church (1826–1900) painted more spectacular scenes of landscapes in other parts of the world, but he was born in Hartford and several of his early works reflect Connecticut life. John F. Kensett (1816–1872) also painted other landscapes, but often returned to creating finely drawn scenes of the Connecticut seashore. Kensett and Church are considered prominent representatives of the Hudson River School of American landscape painting.
From the 1870s onward, Connecticut seashores and landscapes were favorite subjects of many American impressionist painters who settled or spent summers in the state. As impressionism suggests, rendering the artist’s personal feeling about the landscape is the focus of painters working in this style. Henry Ward Ranger (1858–1916), an early leader of American impressionism, worked in Old Lyme. Childe Hassam (1859–1902) and John H. Twachtman (1853–1902) often worked in Cos Cob.
The Yale University Art Gallery in New Haven, one of the most prominent galleries in the state, has an extensive collection of John Trumbull’s work. Examples of Chapin’s furniture are in the collection of the Wadsworth Athenaeum in Hartford. Founded in 1842, the Wadsworth is the country’s oldest public art museum. The Davison Art Center at Wesleyan University in Middletown is involved in making its collections accessible through digital imaging.
Given its long history of settlement, it’s natural that Connecticut has a great variety of architecture, from meetinghouses and residences that were built in colonial times to creations of prominent 20th-century architects such as Louis I. Kahn and Eero Saarinen.
In the 1950s, Kahn designed the Yale University Art Gallery in New Haven; Saarinen designed the Yale Hockey Rink. Saarinen, who studied at the Yale School of Architecture and designed the St. Louis Gateway Arch, was known for his use of sculptural form, while Kahn’s use of simple form and poured-in-place concrete masonry marked him as one of the most influential architects of the 20th century. Though he also used simple forms,Philip Johnson went more for glass than concrete. The Glass House in New Canaan, constructed in 1949, is one of his better-known buildings.
Stepping back in time, the Waldo Homestead in Scotland is a New England saltbox-style house, built in 1714. Going back even further, the town of Pequot is home to a restored Native American Pequot village from the mid-16th century. The Jonathan Mix House in New Haven, built in 1799, and the Kellogg-Eddy House in Newington, from 1808, are examples of the clean lines and classical details of the Federal style. Calvary Baptist Church, built in New Haven in 1846, is a Gothic revival-style building that is now home to the Yale Repertory Theatre. Hartford’s Downtown North Historic Districtshowcases examples of late Victorian architecture. The Old State House, also in Hartford, brings together several styles of architecture from Connecticut history. The building itself, and the exterior as restored, are Federal style, and are thought to have been designed by Charles Bullfinch. Interior sections of the building are in Victorian and Colonial revival style.
HANDICRAFT AND FOLK ARTS
Eliphalet Chapin (1741–1807), an 18th-century cabinetmaker, is known for the clean lines of his work in what came to be known as the Connecticut Valley Chippendale style.
Connecticut has a long history of craft and folk arts, beginning with accomplished furniture makers and silversmiths of the colony’s earliest days and traveling folk portrait painters in Revolutionary War time. There were woodworkers who carved carousel horses and ships’ figureheads in the 19th century, and today there is a flourishing craft scene with potters, jewelers, and others crafters creating art across the Nutmeg State. An early folk portraitist was Ralph Earle (1751–1801), who also painted battle scenes of the American Revolution.
Work of early shipwrights may be seen at Mystic Seaport Museum, along with carvings Connecticut sailors made while on their long voyages away from home. The New England Carousel Museum in Bristol teaches about its extensive collection of carousel horses and other carousel woodwork. Wesleyan University in Middletown and the University of Connecticut in Storrs (which has, among other things, a museum dedicated to the craft of puppetry) are among the institutions that teach crafts at the university level.Wesleyan Potters, the Guilford Art Center, and the Brookfield Craft Center are among the places where contemporary craftspeople work and teach. During the winter holiday season each year, the Celebration of American Crafts in New Haven and Open Studio Weekend in Hartford also find Connecticut’s top craftspeople showing and selling their work.
HISTORIC ART MOVEMENTS
The Hudson River School is the name for a group of American artists who applied the principles of romanticism to paintings of the American landscape. At first, these painters came from and painted the Hudson River Valley area in New York State, but as the style evolved, landscapes both American and international became subjects. Two Connecticut natives, James F. Kensett and Frederick Church, practiced this style using Connecticut themes. Kensett and Church were well-known painters of the school, which was a stylistic designation rather than a location or organized group who painted together.
Many American impressionists did paint together, though, forming art colonies where painters (and sometimes writers and other artists) lived in the same area and often discussed their work. Impressionism focused on capturing an individual’s conceptions of a scene or a moment, and often had landscape and water scenes as subjects. These groups were most active from around 1880 to the early 1900s, in locations including Cos Cob, Old Lyme, and Mystic.
-World Trade Press