Willimantic, Conn.—On Dec. 8, “Love at First Sight: J. Alden Weir in Windham Connecticut” was screened in the Student Center Theatre at Eastern Connecticut State University.
Under the direction of communications professor Denise Matthews, Eastern students videotaped interviews with the director of the Florence Griswold Museum in Old Lyme, the director of the Windham History and Textile Museum in Willimantic, and professor Anne Dawson, art historian and chair of the Art and Art History department at Eastern. Students also filmed reenactments at the Weir House and the Connecticut Eastern Railroad Museum. Final editing was done by Eastern student Emily Haggett in spring 2014. “Film is a new medium for me, so working with the documentary class was a new experience,” Dawson said, but added that Matthew’s class “did a really wonderful job.”
The documentary is a visual component of Dawson’s in-depth research on Weir that she has been working on since fall 2009. “The director of the Akus Gallery at the time discovered that Weir was buried in Windham and told me about him, since she knew I focus in American art,” said Dawson.” As she began to look into the artist, she found that there wasn’t much scholarly work about him. “It’s a big project,” Dawson said, “but I didn’t realize how big of a project it was when I started it.”
Weir (1852-1919), one of America’s most accomplished impressionist artists, often painted while living at his home in Windham. “As one of his favorite rural locations, Windham played an important role in Weir’s artistic development,” Dawson explained. The documentary focuses on the artist’s personal love story with his first wife, Anna Baker Weir, and his creative love story with the region.
Weir only came to the “Quiet Corner” of Connecticut because of his marriage to Anna, a Windham local. He had been working in New York City and met her there when she came to take painting lessons with a friend. Weir continued to spend the summer and autumn months in Windham with his family for the rest of his life. Other accomplished artists visited him at his Windham property, including John Singer Sargent, Albert Pinkham Ryder, Emil Carlsen and Childe Hassam.
One of Weir’s most famous works is “The Red Bridge” (1895), now in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It is celebrated for its synthesis of nature and industry and features energetic impressionist brushstrokes, a vivid color palette and a sophisticated abstract compositional structure inspired by Japanese prints. “The Red Bridge” depicts a road bridge near Weir’s eastern Connecticut home that joined the rural village of Windham Center with nearby Willimantic.