Last week I headed over to Weir Farm National Historic Park for the inaugural Weir Farm Artist Collective meeting.
Weir Farm is really special to me. It’s the only National Park in Connecticut aside from a teensy-tiny portion of the Appalachian Trail. I love National Parks, and was even married in one, so when I read The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, Weir Farm is where I took my first “artist date” in 2017.
Weir Farm National Historic Park: The National Park for Art
The park was once home and studio workplace to J. Alden Weir, an American impressionist painter. When he bought the farm, he was inspired by the acres upon acres of natural beauty it offered. While he lived there, he developed its captivating qualities by digging a large scale pond and additions such as a painting studio and a “palace car”—which a younger me is pictured with above. Weir loved to paint en plein air (outdoors) and didn’t want harsh Connecticut winters getting in between him and his muse, his property, so he had this little shed on wheels that he’d take over to his inspiration point and step inside for shelter while he painted.
After J. Alden Weir died, the farm was home to several other artists, including his daughter, Dorothy, and her husband, Mahonri Young, grandson of Brigham Young. (Ya know, the Mormon guy? The one the college in Utah is named after?) It continued to be a private property owned by artists Doris and Sperry Andrews until it was designated a National Historic Site in 1990. It was only in 2021 that Weir Farm was officially designated a National Historic Park, which indicated that it has greater physical extent and complexity than the previous title, and allowed for more funding—I haven’t even gotten the chance yet to see all of the new exhibits!
Because the farm is not only a place of beauty but historically significant for its contribution to the arts, it’s been deemed “The National Park for Art.” There’s an artist-in-residence program, which isn’t abnormal for a National Parks and their push for their Arts in the Park initiative. What is different, however, is that it is only at Weir Farm that they supply art supplies to visitors of all ages so that they, too, can be inspired to create by their surroundings. Beginner and professional painters alike can be seen throughout the park, many set up with their own plein air painting gear and umbrellas for shade.
Over my several visits, I’ve made watercolor works with their provided supplies and several sketches. I even threw together a painting and submitted it to their Art in the Park Contest in 2021 that I’m now too embarrassed to post. Such is the artist life, always improving and not wanting to look back!
Weir’s continued significance for me
In 2021, Weir Farm was getting designated as a National Historic Park while I was in a really rough spot. I was over a year into that yucky ol’ pandemic thing and I had good reason to believe my marriage was coming to an end with all my sense of security headed down the drain with it. It was a time that was challenging but suddenly invigorating. I was getting a lot of help through therapy via zoom, a CBT app, and a weight loss app. I was learning to reparent myself to move on from my childhood trauma so I could muster the strength to weather storms that became unbearable. So when my birthday came around, I treated my inner child as I would care for my own children: I bought myself balloons, gifts and wrapping paper, then told the kids to wrap the gifts. I planned an all-day outing with my boys, first to Weir Farm for us to make art, lunch, and onto to The Aldrich to view art.
When my friends caught wind of the buying-balloons-for-myself thing via group text the night before, they made reservations for us to have a nice dinner—my first kid-free restaurant outing since that whole pandemic thing.
It was over dinner with those friends when I declared: “You know what? If he wants to leave me, fine. I’ll stop worrying about him. I’m gonna do me—me and the kids. I’ve lost this weight, I look good, I’m gonna feel good. I’m having a hot girl summer. He can be along for the ride, he can—not.”
Turns out, that was precisely what our marriage needed: for me to get well. For him to get well. Though we thankfully, surprisingly, (with all the knock on wood required) never became ill with Covid-19, we were sick emotionally and dragging each other down. We were drowning in chaos of a globally-shared trauma, but instead of slowing the breath and relaxing the body to float, we were flailing, creating more waves to splash into the others’ eyes, pressing down upon one another’s shoulders in attempts to grasp a desperate breath.
All that to say, Weir Farm has twice played a role in turning points in my life. The Artist’s Way, including the artist’s dates that Weir was the first of, tore down the barriers that disallowed artistic vulnerability and ultimately changed my life. That 2021 birthday at Weir was a turning point in caring for myself and loving myself the way that a parent should have, furthering my ability and freedom to express myself.
…and Weir does it again.
How interesting is it, then, that Weir is apart of a third pivotal moment? Years ago, with success building from my local gift economy group, a friend suggested we make a local group for creative people. She started a Facebook group for it, but neither of us clearly wanted to put forth the effort required to build it out initially, then our friendship came to a close. The yearning for a group of creative-minded individuals to get together for conversations unrelated to our children, husbands, and obligations didn’t cease. In January 2022, I updated my vision board for the first time in 7 years, and I see it every time I’m at my desk, front and center: Artist Community.
Here it is—Weir it is!
Though I imagined that I’d start an artist’s group in my town, I like that I’ll be meeting with this group at a destination that’s a not-too-far (29 minutes) destination—I’m far enough away where I’ll be committed to creating once I’ve gotten there. I love that it’s brand new, so I’ll be apart of the process as it unfolds. It’s low-key, and I’ve already received very helpful insights from members.
En plein air oil painting is a long-term goal of mine, but even sketching on location that day ended up with me so nervous and uncomfortable that I didn’t come home with anything I’m proud of. Later, at home, I sketched this of one of the other painters in the group.
With the next meeting next month, I feel encouraged to create a Weir inspired painting for the next time we meet!