At Silvermine: 'Landmark' show knocks on history's door

In the early 20th Century, the "Knockers Club" of artists gathered weekly at sculptor Solon Borglum's Wilton studio for critiques and discussions. The group's members, who were the forerurnners of the Silvermine Group of Artists, also held annual art exhibitions at Mr. Borglum's studio every August, until 1920. These shows attracted "art aficionados from New York and throughout New England," according to Susan B. Cruikshank, past president of the Silvermine Community Association, and currently a Silvermine Community Association board member.

Now the tradition of art shows at Mr. Borglum's studio will be revived, with an upcoming "landmark show" of the noted sculptor's works, along with works by "almost 30" of his fellow early Silvermine artists, Ms. Cruikshank said — including "Solon's wife, Emma; Johnny Gruelle, creator of Raggedy Ann and Andy; Carl Schmitt; Addison Millar; D. Putman Brinley; Helen Hamilton; Frank Hutchens; and Charles Reiffel."

The "major exhibit, coordinated by Leigh Grant, will feature some 80 paintings and sculptures," Ms. Cruikshank said.

The art show is part of a historic Silvermine house tour on Saturday, Sept. 15, from 10 to 4, which includes guided tours of six historic homes, a catered lunch and silent auction at the Silvermine Tavern.

Continuing the artistic theme, house tour participants will also visit an exhibition of Silvermine cartoonists at the Silvermine Tavern Country Store. This will feature the work of Wilton cartoonists Clifton Meek, Johnny Gruelle, Brian Walker and Matt Davies, according to Ms. Cruikshank.

Mr. Walker "is part of the creative team that produces the comic strips Beetle Bailey and Hi and Lois, and he will give a talk and sign books at 4 p.m.," she said. "He is a former director of the Museum of Cartoon Art and current chairman of the Connecticut Chapter of the National Cartoonists Society."

Wiltonians Tom and Helen Olson, proprietors of The Timeless Treasures antiques, will host a 4 p.m. lemonade reception at The Silvermine Tavern Country Store.

"This is the tour's fifth anniversary, and the houses are wonderful, but the addition of the art show and the cartoonist exhibit makes it a very unique event," said Ms. Cruikshank. "It's the first time in many years that so many works of artists from the original Silvermine group have been brought together in one place. It's taken the committee a huge amount of work to get the studio to the point where we could host the exhibit, and it's been an unbelievable undertaking. I can't wait to see the show."

Mr. Borglum was born in Ogden, Utah, younger brother of Gutzon Borglum and uncle of Lincoln Borglum, the two men most responsible for the creation of the carvings at Mount Rushmore. Solon Borglum achieved a reputation as a notable American sculptor, known for his depictions of cowboys and American Indians especially, according to wikipedia.

His work may be found in the permanent collection at the New Britain Museum of American Art, at St. Mark's Church in New York City and at the Silvermine Arts Center.

Coincidentally, Ms. Cruikshank said she and her family purchased their Wilton property "from Solon Borglum's daughter, Monica Davies, in the late 1970s. We built our home over the hill from Solon's studio (on Borglum Road.) Originally, the studio was on the road, part of property he named 'Rocky Hill' after New England's best crop ... I have many fond memories of having tea or enjoying a meal with Monica Davies, Borglum's daughter, in front of a roaring fire at the studio where she lived in her later years."

So why did so many artists settle in the Silvermine area?

"They were drawn here by Silvermine's amazing beauty, especially in autumn, with the winding Silvermine river and scenic waterfalls, and by other artists who called Silvermine home," Ms. Cruikshank said.

Another highlight of the art show at the Borglum studio will be the restoration of "one of Charles Reiffel's paintings, Logging in the Wilton Hills, which is being done by Chris Naples of Naples Studio especially for the show. Mr. Reiffel is one of the outstanding Silvermine artists who achieved fame beyond New England," she said.

The homes on tour were selected because "they offer a different perspective on Silvermine's unique history," which is steeped in the arts, Ms. Cruikshank said.

For example, "The Henry Hubbell Studio, part of an 1800s farm, became a summer house and studio for accomplished portraitist Henry Salem Hubbell. It, too, became a local gathering spot for critics, artists and writers," she said.

Will the art show become an annual event, as it was in the days of the "Knockers Club"?

"We don't envision that, because it's a huge amount of work and expense to get the works included," Ms. Cruikshank said. "They're coming from all over the country."

NASH (Norwalk Association of Silvermine Homeowners) is sponsoring the tour, with assistance from SCA (Silvermine Community Association). Proceeds benefit historic and neighborhood conservation efforts, and jitney service will be provided. Tickets are $85 for the general public and $75 for NASH and SCA members. For tickets, call Molly at 203-846-0722 or visit