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Flinn Gallery celebrates 90 years

August 26, 2018

GREENWICH - When the Greenwich Library reached out to residents to loan works for its 1956 art exhibition “Greenwich Collects,” it didn’t just get some pretty landscapes and a still life or two.

Town art lovers filled the space with works by world-renowned masters such as René Magritte and Pablo Picasso, Diego Rivera and Jackson Pollock.

It was just one in a long line of significant exhibitions at the library’s Flinn Gallery, which will celebrate its 90th anniversary season this year. The new season’s festivities begin with “Looking Forward, Looking Back,” the first of six exhibitions the all-volunteer Flinn Gallery Committee will mount between Sept. 6 and June 19.

While many modern libraries have art spaces, opening a permanent gallery was something of a novel concept in 1928, said Leslee Asch, who curated the upcoming exhibition with fellow volunteer Dianne Niklaus.

“It was very forward-looking,” Asch said. “Having a designated gallery in a library at that point was exceptional.”

When the Flinn opened at the former library site on Greenwich Avenue, it showcased works by community members and members of the Greenwich Society of Artists. In the 1960s, the library moved to Putnam Avenue and the gallery was officially named for Isabelle Hurlbutt, a longtime librarian who had secured the space and funding for the original gallery.

Hurlbutt served the library from the late 1920s to 1962, said Greenwich Library Director Barbara Ormerod-Glynn said.

“Her concepts of library service were quite progressive, and her 33-year tenure was noted for the introduction not just of the art exhibits but also musical concerts and lecture series,” Ormerod-Glynn said. “She also introduced Greenwich’s first bookmobile and spearheaded the move of the library from Greenwich Avenue to its current location.”

In 1999, when the library was redesigned by noted architect Cesar Pelli, the gallery was moved to the second floor and renamed the Flinn Gallery to honor major benefactors Stephanie and Lawrence Flinn.

Over the years, the gallery has been the temporary home to an impressive list of artists. In 1937, one of the exhibitions featured the Cos Cob Art Colony, including works by J. Alden Weir, Childe Hassam and John Henry Twachtman. In the 1970s, an exhibition of 20th-century works from Vassar College showcased Mark Rothko and Willem de Kooning.

A 1987 exhibition featured Robert Motherwell, who had a studio in Greenwich, while beloved New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chast of Ridgefield was on view in 2013.

“Looking Forward, Looking Back” features four artists who Niklaus and Asch said use their talent and originality to open a dialogue with the masters who preceded them - a fitting way to celebrate the gallery’s anniversary.

Artist/photographer Rebecca Clark, who has a studio in the foothills of the Connecticut Berkshires, takes segments of master works and manipulates, distorts and enhances them to create a different focus and message.

Painter Rebecca Smith Ford, a Greenwich resident who has a studio in Port Chester, N.Y., often creates works that juxtapose and integrate elements of several traditional works to give them contemporary composition.

Portland, Maine, artist Hilary Irons incorporate her own family narrative into her creations, which reflect an awareness of landscape, set design and abstraction.

Russia-born Alexandra Rozenman, now based in the Boston area, uses vivid colors and her own whimsical vision to imagine herself as part of a particular artist’s time period, style and subject matter.

The public is invited to the exhibition’s free opening reception from 6 to 8 p.m. Sept. 6 as well as a showing of the award-winning film “Loving Vincent” at 8 p.m. Sept. 14. At 2 p.m. Sept. 16, all four artists will discuss their work in an Artist Talk.

The 90th anniversary year will have its formal launch with an Oct. 10 talk by Heather Cotter, an educator from the Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan.

A recent survey showed nearly a third of library visitors stop in at the Flinn, too, Ormerod-Glynn said. Staff display relevant art books outside the gallery, further emphasizing the library’s commitment to making connections between literacy of all kinds.

With town residents’ ongoing passion for art, Niklaus said the Flinn Gallery will continue to be a gathering place for both seasoned art fans and youngsters just learning about fine art, other cultures and ways of seeing the world.

“Libraries are all about information,” she said. “It is visual, not literary, but art is full of information.”

The Flinn Gallery is sponsored by the Friends of the Greenwich Library. “Looking Forward, Looking Back” will open Sept. 6 and be on exhibit through Oct. 17. Gallery hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays, until 8 p.m. Thursdays and 1 to 5 p.m. Sundays. For more information, visit http://flinngallery.com/looking-forward-looking-back/.

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