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Eye of the Beholder

Weir Farm gets a new look



Alyssa Inman

The door opens, sliding heavily across the Oriental rug. Darkness shrouds the room, but there is beauty in this half-light as it snakes across bookshelves and armchairs. A light flicks on, and the room comes into focus. To the right, a wooden desk and an ancient sofa. To the left, a wispy outline of a painted lady in a frame, and straight ahead, a set of stairs disappearing up into the house. The light is on but the room still feels dim, beckoning visitors to forget the modern street outside and to sink into the rich history of this place.

The recent re-opening of Weir House in May represents more than a simple end to renovation. It marks a completely new era for the National Historic Site, where each period in the farm’s history is given due space to breathe and share its stories.

Artists began living in what is known today as Weir House—originally an 18th-century farmhouse—in 1882, when Impressionist painter J. Alden Weir purchased the property and transformed the house into his country retreat. Artist friends such as Impressionists John Twachtman, Childe Hassam, and Albert Pinkham Ryder used to visit Weir and paint the landscape.

Weir’s daughter and son-in-law, painter Dorothy Weir Young and her husband, sculptor Mahonri Young, continued the home’s artistic tradition begun by Weir until the mid-1950s. The last stewards of the house were painter Sperry Andrews and his wife, Doris, an accomplished water­colorist, who moved to the house in Branchville in 1957. Sperry Andrews lived and worked in Weir House for 48 years, until his death in 2005. Doris, an active artist and a strong preservationist, preceded him in death in 2003.

The couple’s passing marked the beginning of a period of renovation for Weir House. Today, the home contains artifacts and furnishings from each of the artist’s time, with 85 percent of the original furnishings intact and the remainder reproduced or purchased as needed.

Intriguingly, each area of the house is refurbished to a different period in its history. For example, the gorgeous library, whose walls glow a glossy sea-blue, is reconstructed to mirror the 1930s, while the richly colored living space reflects the 19th century. This coexistence of time periods offers a fresh perspective on the meaning of Weir Farm as a historic site and an artistic haven.

According to Andrew Lowe, a park ranger and tour guide, this historical multiplicity is one of the defining characteristics of the site. The stories from each part of the house build on one another to create a history more complex than any one artist or any one decade.

Guided tours of the house are given Thursday through Sunday, and each tour offers a unique experience for each group of visitors. Lowe emphasizes the importance of connecting each viewer to the history of the space as he describes the house as a “rustic retreat” and a place of inspiration, from its simple domestic life to its history and bucolic landscape. The ultimate goal of the tour is to help inspire the next generation of artists and historians. The park provides art supplies for children, and on a professional level, the famous Artist in Residence Program continues to offer a quiet place where artists can create.

While the world has changed around this tiny Connecticut farmstead, the site’s central purpose—to create a haven for artists to live and work, away from the distractions of the busy world—has always remained the same. This link between artists and inspiration is integral to Weir Farm’s future and the message of its past, as it invites visitors to shed the modern world at its gates and explore a place where history and art collide and the boundaries between past and present blur.  

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