Wilton editorial: A local gem
Weir Farm National Historic Site had a busy year last year.
The site released numbers for 2019 that showed it had 38,700 visitors. While that’s about what the Grand Canyon sees on a three-day weekend, it’s pretty good for a small park tucked in the suburban backyards of Wilton and Ridgefield.
Nick Perna, who often spoke at the Wilton Chamber of Commerce’s Eggs and the Economy breakfasts, used to joke that if the United States had been settled from west to east, all of Connecticut would have been a national park. As it is, Weir Farm is this state’s first national park, so dedicated in 1990.
It was born out of the conservation movement of the 1960s. Originally 238 acres, the farm by then had been whittled down by about three-fourths. By the end of the 1970s, there existed a group called Citizens to Preserve Weir Farm and the Committee to Save Weir Pond. Also by the end of that decade, the Ridgefield Preservation Trust discoverd the farm was the only intact site of an American Impressionist painter.
That painter was Julian Alden Weir, a champion of American Impressionism. While the Smithsonian American Art Museum describes him as a “celebrity among his peers,” presumably meaning members of the group “Ten American Painters,” which Weir formed with his friends John Twachtman and Childe Hassam, he is nowhere near the household name of French Impressionists such as Claude Monet and Pierre Auguste Renoir.
Still, he is an important figure in the universe of American art and we are fortunate he chose to live here. And we must give thanks to those who went before us and saw the wisdom of preserving his farm — which he memorialized in his paintings — for the benefit of later generations.
They saw that despite there not being towering trees, dramatic canyons, waterfalls, or cliff-side views, there was something worth preserving here. Weir Farm is a national park devoted to art. Last year, nearly 3,000 visitors took advantage of the farm’s free art supplies to find a spot in which to sit or stand, set up an easel or rest a sheaf of paper on their lap and paint or sketch what they saw, which is very much what Weir saw. It could be a meadow, a stone wall, a garden.
Throughout the year there are events related to art — lessons, talks and tours — and the popular Art in the Park Festival, which drew 600 visitors last year.
Also preserved are Weir’s home, his studio and that used by Mahonri Young, who came after him. They are preserved as they were used, giving us a glimpse into what surrounds exceptional creativity. Each month, the farm and Weir Farm Art Center bring in an artist-in-residence to carry on the legacy of art on Nod Hill Road.
The park also offered wellness programs last year, including yoga on Friday afternoons and forest bathing, an activity offered around the world that even National Geographic saw fit to report on.
None of this would be possible without the earnest work of the 165 volunteers who gave 5,700 hours to support the work of the park rangers.
While the house, studios and visitor center are closed right now, set to open in May, the grounds are open daily and worth a visit any time of year to look at the landscape, the birds, or the animals that live and visit there. Information is at nps.gov/wefa.
A book devoted to the story of Weir Farm, as seen through a visitor’s eyes with many photos, is from the Images of Modern America Series. Simply titled, “Weir Farm National Historic Site,” it is by the photographer Xiomaro, a former artist-in-residence. It may be purchased at the visitor center when it reopens or through arcadiapublishing.com, amazon.com or barnesandnoble.com.
Julian Alden Weir referred to his farm as “that great good place.” It is that and it is here.