The Bruce Museum: a tribute to the arts and sciences

by leslierankowfinearts

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THE BRUCE MUSEUM IN GREENWICH, CONNECTICUT, WAS ORIGINALLY BUILT AS A PRIVATE HOME, AS WAS THE  FLORENCE GRISWOLD MUSEUM IN OLD LYME, THE FRICK , THE NEUE GALLERY AND  THE MORGAN LIBRARY IN NEW YORK. THANKS TO THE GENEROSITY OF THESE EARLY PATRONS, THESE AND MANY OTHER VENUES HOUSE WONDERFUL COLLECTIONS NOW AVAILABLE TO THE GENERAL PUBLIC.  THE ARTS HAVE FLORISHED IN THE STATE OF CONNECTICUT FOR MANY GENERATIONS; AN IMPORTANT HOME FOR MANY OF THE GREAT AMERICAN IMPRESSIONISTS SUCH AS CHILDE HASSAM, JOHN TWACHTMAN AND WILLARD METCALF AND THE COS COB ARTISTS COLONY.  OVER THE YEARS, THE GREENWICH COMMUNITY, THROUGH ITS GENEROSITY, HAS BUILT THE BRUCE COLLECTION TO NEARLY 15,000 OBJECTS REPRESENTING BOTH  THE ARTS AND SCIENCES.

WHEN AUNDREA AND JIM AMINE RETURNED TO THE STATES WITH THEIR FAMILY TO LIVE AND WORK, THEY MADE GREENWICH THEIR HOME. AUNDREA’S GREAT INTEREST IN ART NATURALLY PROPELLED HER TO BECOME INVOLVED WITH THE MUSEUM.  THROUGH HER ENTHUSIASM AND GENEROSITY OF TIME AND SPIRIT, I HAVE BECOME MUCH MORE FAMILIAR WITH THE SCALE AND SCOPE OF ITS PROGRAMS, FUND-RAISING EVENTS, AND ACTIVITIES.  I AM DELIGHTED THAT AUNDREA AND THE GREAT STAFF AT THE MUSEUM HAVE FOUND THE TIME TO CONTRIBUTE TO THE BLOG AND INFORM US ABOUT THIS WONDERFUL CENTER  OFFERING A WEALTH OF COLLECTIONS, EDUCATIONAL PROGRAMS, EVENTS  AND EXHIBITIONS.

AUNDREA, THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR TAKING THE TIME TO SPEAK WITH ME.

THE BRUCE MUSEUM PLAYS AN INTEGRAL PART IN THE CULTURAL LIFE OF THE GREENWICH COMMUNITY.  ORIGINALLY BUILT AS A PRIVATE HOME, HOW DID THE BRUCE EVOLVE FROM A PRIVATE HOME TO A PUBLIC INSTITUTION?

Robert Moffat Bruce (1822-1909), a wealthy textile merchant and member of the New York Cotton Exchange, bought the house and property in 1858. In 1908, Robert Moffat Bruce deeded his property to the Town of Greenwich, stipulating that it be used as “a natural history, historical, and art museum for the use and benefit of the public.”

The first exhibition ever at the Bruce Museum took place in 1912 and featured works by local artists known as the Greenwich Society of Artists, several of whom were members of the Cos Cob Art Colony.

THE GREENWICH COMMUNITY AT THE TIME WAS A STRONGHOLD FOR ARTISTS WHO ARE AN IMPORTANT PART OF OUR AMERICAN HISTORY – THE CONNECTICUT PAINTERS INCLUDE SUCH  LEGENDARY AMERICANS  AS  CHILDE HASSAM, THEODORE ROBINSON, AND JOHN TWACHTMAN. WERE  THESE ARTISTS SUPPORTED AND COLLECTED BY THE MUSEUM SINCE ITS INCEPTION?

In the autumn of 1912 the Greenwich Society of Artists whose president was painter Leonard Ochtman of Cos Cob, organized their first exhibition in the Robert Bruce mansion – just as plans were underway to open the house as a museum. The Society continued to host art exhibitions at the Bruce Museum though the mid-1920s.

In 1919, a request was made by the Museum for funds to purchase paintings for the collection.  Eight paintings were purchased from the 1919 exhibition directly from the artists including Emil Carlsen, Matilda Browne, George Wharton Edwards, and Charles Harold Davis among others, and this purchase formed the nucleus of the Museum’s art collection.

The Museum has added more works by the Connecticut Impressionists to the collection since then by artists such as Childe Hassam, John Twachtman, and Theodore Robinson.

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THE MUSEUM HAS AN IMPRESSIVE PERMANENT COLLECTION THAT FOCUSES ON BOTH ART AND THE SCIENCES.  WHAT ARE SOME OF THE HIGHLIGHTS OF THE PERMANENT COLLECTION?

The Bruce Museum’s collection is made up of more than 14,000 objects. These include works of art (paintings, drawings, sculpture, prints and photographs), natural history items (mineral

samples, fossils, taxidermy animal mounts, botanical specimens and shells), decorative arts (ceramics, American pottery and art glass), a large costume collection (mainly 19th and 20th

century clothing and accessories). The collection also includes Native American textiles, baskets, clothing and jewelry; pre-Columbian sculptures, vessels and textiles; and Asian costumes and accessories, jade carvings and ceramics. The history collection includes antique fire arms, swords, tools and furniture.

I WAS UNAWARE OF THE BRUCE’S COMMITMENT TO ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCES AS WELL AS ART. I THINK THAT IS A UNIQUE CONTRIBUTION THAT THE BRUCE MAKES TO THE COMMUNITY AND TO THE EDUCATION OF ITS CHILDREN.  WHAT IS THE SEASIDE CENTER, HOW WAS IT ESTABLISHED AND WHAT ARE SOME EXHIBITION HIGHLIGHTS THAT FOCUS ON THE NATURAL SCIENCES?

The Greenwich Point Seaside Center was launched 1968 with a gift of $25,000 from Mrs. Helen Binney Kitchel.  The Bruce Museum was part of the original group of organizers and assumed the overall responsibility for operation in the late 1970s.

In 1999, the Town of Greenwich offered the Innis Arden Cottage to the Museum as the new home for its Seaside Center. The Museum’s Science Committee began planning for a Greenwich Point environmental center.  Negotiations among the Greenwich Point Conservancy, the Bruce Museum, and the Town of Greenwich Shellfish Commission commenced with the expectation that the Cottage would house the Museum’s Seaside Center, which would be shared with the Shellfish Commission, and operate year-round.

In June of 2010, in collaboration with the Greenwich Point Conservancy and other stakeholders, the Bruce Museum began coordinating the design and installation of the new Seaside Center. Exhibitry includes four marine tanks, a touch marine tank, two dioramas, stainless steel cabinetry, tables and stools, a flat screen, an iPad, and other equipment for educational programming.

The new Bruce Museum’s Seaside Center opened in the summer of 2011. Drop-in programming emphasizes a top-down approach, whereby Museum staff educate college and high school students, who in turn teach visitors of all ages.  Scheduled programming utilizes trained Bruce Museum staff.

In March 2011, the Museum launched the First Sunday Science at the Seaside Center, a family-friendly program in collaboration with the Shellfish Commission, Greenwich Audubon, SoundWaters, Greenwich Historical Society, and the Friends of Greenwich Point. The ongoing First Sunday series has been successful, drawing 1,623 visitors for eight programs.

We have welcomed a total of 13,606 visitors since moving to the new Seaside Center in 2011 (Figure 2) including participants for pre-k through 6th grade school programming, lectures, family days, and general summer visitation. With a management agreement in place, the Bruce Museum can generate additional enrichment programming and funding opportunities that can support the maintenance of the Seaside Center.

IN THE NEXT POST, AUNDREA WILL INFORM US OF ACTIVITIES AT THE BRUCE THAT FOCUS NOT ONLY ON THE ARTS BUT ALSO ON SCIENCE.  I, FOR ONE, WAS UNAWARE OF THESE PROGRAMS THAT CREATE SUCH A WELL ROUNDED AND DIVERSE EDUCATIONAL ENVIRONMENT FOR THE GREENWICH COMMUNITY.   THE  UNITED STATES HAS A GREAT WEALTH OF LOCAL AND REGIONAL MUSEUMS, STRONGHOLDS OF COLLECTIONS DONATED BY THE LEADERS AND PHILANTHROPISTS OF THEIR COMMUNITIES.  AS  I LEARN MORE ABOUT THE BRUCE, ITS PROGRAMS AND ITS SUPPORT, I GAIN A PERSPECTIVE OF THE ENORMOITY OF PRIVATE SPONSORSHIP AND ENDOWMENT THAT AMERICAN MUSEUMS ENJOY THAT BENEFIT THEIR COMMUNITY IN PARTICULAR AND THE ART COMMUNITY AT LARGE.

PLEASE POSE ANY QUESTIONS YOU MIGHT HAVE ABOUT THE BRUCE AND ITS PROGRAMS.  AUNDREA AMINE AND THE BRUCE STAFF HAVE BEEN SO GENEROUS WITH THEIR TIME AND INPUT,  I AM CERTAIN THEY WOULD BE PLEASED TO REPLY.

UNTIL NEXT TIME, THANKS FOR READING!