Connecticut Artists of the 20th Century

The Connecticut art scene during the early 20th century blossomed with creativity and inspiration. In close proximity to New York and Boston, art colonies in Lyme and Cos Cob thrived during the turn of the century, and Norwich led the way in the training of young professional artists who all went on to local, regional, and national acclaim. Slater Memorial Museum established early relationships with artist-academics affiliated with Yale, the University of Connecti­cut, Connecticut College and Hartford Art School.

The Norwich Art School was founded in 1890, two years after the Slater Memorial Museum, to make the museum’s collections more useful to the school and the community. Classes first met in the museum building, where the cast gallery provided an excellent labora­tory for “drawing from the antique,” the term used to describe an­cient sculpture. As the art school classes became more popular, it was decided that the art school deserved a building of its own. The Art School director at the time, Ozias Dodge, and his wife, Hannah, called on Colonel Charles Converse, a wealthy manufacturer with a strong interest in art and the Academy. His donation made the Converse Art Building, and regularly changing temporary exhibitions, a reality.

The Art School’s first director was Irene Weir, a member of the American artistic dynasty that included Julian Alden Weir. Ms. Weir was followed by a succession of remarkable artist-scholars who made the Academy’s Norwich Art School into the equivalent of a junior college for art majors.

Gallery Highlights

A valley in fall.

Alexander Ritchie (1863-1946)
Oil on canvas, ca.1917

This work was painted in c. 1917 by Alexander Hay Ritchie, a Scottish artist born in Edinburgh in 1863. He immigrated to New York around age 20, and is alternately listed in Census records as an artist and scenic painter in the theater industry. 
The artist represented here is not to be confused with Alexander Hay Ritchie (1822–1895), the artist and engraver specializing in mezzotints. Also born in Scotland, but much earlier and in the city of Glasgow, he studied in England under Sir William Allan before moving to New York in 1841. 
A man with distorted limbs sits at a canvas. Figures are directly behind him. In the background in a rocky landscape

 William Ashby McCloy, (1913-2000)
 Oil on board, c. 1947

William Ashby McCloy was born in Baltimore and studied at Phillips Andover Academy, University of Iowa, and Yale University.  He taught at Drake University, the University of Wisconsin, the University of Manitoba, and, finally, Connecticut College, where he remained for twenty-four years.  Upon his death, he bequeathed thousands of his life’s oeuvre to the Slater Memorial Museum. His long, collegial friendship with former Slater Director Joseph Gualtieri led him to create the core-10 steel sculpture Aspirations in 1975-76 specifically for the Museum grounds.
William McCloy’s work reveals a fertile imagination, coupled with skillful draftsmanship.  The many pieces he donated to the Slater reflect constant change and investigation.  He pushed the limits of aesthetic sensibility, enhancing his ability to teach and relate to emerging artists.  He came of age during the Great Depression, when Socialist Realist murals, like those of Thomas Hart Benton (1889-1975), were uplifting communities while employing artists.  His 1947 Autobiography clearly shows the influence of the era and the American Scene muralists. 

Throughout his life, Bill McCloy inserted his image into his work.  He examined and documented his mortality and the changes age imposed upon his visage and body.  His personal renderings extracted all sentimentality and reflected an unflinching self view.  As a result, it is possible to track the virile and powerful young man in youth and prime, as well as the diminishing, aged artist in old age.
Intricate silver brooch with sapphire and citrine.

 Frank Gardner Hale (1876-1945)
 Cabochon-cut tourmaline, sapphire, citrine and silver, c. 1910

Frank Gardner Hale was one of the earliest and most important metalcrafters in the Arts & Crafts movement.  He was a student of C. R. Ashbee in England, and later taught another of the movement’s key artisans, Edward Everett Oakes, who apprenticed in Frank’s Boston studio.
Frank, a member of one of the earliest classes of the Norwich Art School, also graduated from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.  He first worked as a designer of book and music covers and bookplates, and then devoted himself to crafts.  He joined the English Guild of Handicraft with Charles Robert Ashbee (GB 1863–1942)).  After studying silversmithing and enamelling there, he went to London to work on jewelry with Frederick Partridge, considered by the Ashbees to be the most skillful jeweler of the Arts and Crafts Movement.
Frank established a shop in Boston in 1907 and became a member of the Society of Arts and Crafts, largely a group of amateurs.  He brought recognition, artistic integrity and professionalism to the ten-year-old guild.  By 1923, with other jewelers, he formed the Jewelers’ Guild and became its first dean. Good craftsmanship and striving toward technical perfection marked his jewelry designs, often reflecting earlier work as a graphic designer.  Frank employed similar shapes -- leaves, flowers and curving stems -- with both pen and ink and precious metals.
Frank was particularly successful in rendering new designs appropriate for ancient stones -- for example, carved Asian jades or Egyptian scarabs.
A large field with stacks created with dried corn husks. Two men work in the field.

 Ozias Dodge (1868-1925)
 Oil on canvas, n.d.

Ozias Dodge (1868-1925), artist, inventor, and adventurer, was born in Morristown, Vermont, near Mount Mansfield on a farm originally established by his grandfather, most likely in the very early 19th or late 18th century. Nature and the wilderness were familiar to him as a boy. Ozias showed a natural talent for art as a youth and eventually went on to study at Yale, The Arts Students League in New York, and the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. While living in Paris, he came into contact with the works of Realist artists as well as the Barbizon School.

Much of Ozias' later artwork held in the museum’s collection recalls his boyhood in a rural and rustic environment, as well as his exposure to the work of the Barbizon School. In it, he celebrates his natural and built environment as well as the people who were essential to making life possible: fishermen, farmers, and those who worked off the land. The work often features farm workers, rivers, woods, and fields unmarred by urban development. This markedly rural vision existed despite the fact that Norwich had become highly industrialized by the time Ozias and his wife Hannah arrived in 1897. His oil painting Corn Huskers is reminiscent of the work of Millet and Corot, painters whose work Ozias would have studied in Paris.

Lions rest peacefully together in a green, idyllic landscape

 Ellis W. Ruley, (1882-1959)
 Enamel house paint on cardboard

Born in 1882 as the son of a former slave, Ellis Ruley lived his whole life in Norwich. He is remembered as a gentle, well-mannered, and jovial person who had a dream of becoming an artist. His status as an laborer combined with rampant pockets of prejudice against African Americans made it virtually impossible to realize his dream until a work-related accident changed his life forever in 1929. A car in which he was riding in collided with a local lumber truck and left him injured; as a result of the injury, Ellis Ruley received a settlement of $25,000. He painted prolifically throughout his life, joined local art associations, and exhibited his works that he would sell for $15.00. Ellis Ruley passed away in 1959 under mysterious circumstances that continue to be debated and discussed to this day.

This life-changing sum of money catapulted him to an economic status rarely seen by African Americans such as himself. With his small fortune, he bought himself a farmhouse on Hammond Avenue on Norwich’s east side, and a new bright-green Chevrolet convertible. He then set out to become a painter, a profession he practiced with passion and skill which he refined and experiment with over the years. His self-taught career fits well within the larger movement of “Outsider” or “Primitive” art movements of the early twentieth century; his style and inspirations bear a close resemblance to other artists of the time, notably French artist, Henri Rousseau. It is possible that Ruley may have seen the works of Rousseau and other artists in books, magazines, or other printed materials.


Ruley’s landscape “Daydreaming” is a calming, peaceful depiction of animals communing with nature, a theme Ruley often repeats with humans in natural settings. The male lions stare directly at the viewer creating a feeling of engagement and interest. The feeling of relaxation and ease are present within the piece, evoking Ellis Ruley’s kind nature and how he would often daydream about a career as an artist.

An abstracted scene of boats sailing off a wharf.

 George Adams (d.1965)
 Oil on canvas, n.d.
 Gift of Carol M. Adams

A lifelong resident of Lisbon, Connecticut, George Adams is remembered by family members as a very quiet man. His niece recalls that he once attempted suicide by jumping off the Eighth Street bridge in Norwich. Another friend of Joseph Gualtieri’s, Adams was active in the Norwich and Mystic Art Associations.  In 1962, he was a participant in and on the hanging committee for an exhibition mounted by the Mystic Art Association at the Mystic Art Gallery that included artists whose names have been ensconced as Eastern Connecticut’s luminaries, like Joseph Gualtieri,  Charlotte Fuller Eastman, John Gregoropoulos, Alexey von Schlippe, Margaret Triplett, Roger Crossgrove,  Cynthia Reeves Snow, Gerard Doudera and William McCloy.
Portrait of a brunette woman in a pink dress.

 Charlotte Fuller Eastman, (1878-1965)
 Oil on artists’ board, n.d.

Charlotte Fuller Eastman (1878-1965) was the fourth Director of the Norwich Art School.  Returning to her native city and alma mater, Charlotte was a substitute teacher from 1909 to 1911.  In 1911 she became head of the school and remained in the position until her retirement in 1943.  Her replacement, Margaret L. Triplett, had taught at the Norwich Art School for fourteen years before being appointed Director.
Charlotte’s family lived on Mediterranean Lane, which became an artists’ and educators’enclave in the city, attracting future Art School Directors, Ozias Dodge and Blanche Browning, and Slater Museum Director, Hannah Dodge.
A small white house on a country lane on a green, sunny spring day.

 Helen F. Newton (1878-1970)
 Oil on canvas, 1924
 Gift of Harleigh Thayer Knott in Memory of Helen F. Newton

Helen Newton taught mathematics at Norwich Free Academy for many years before relocating out of state to continue pursuing a career in art. She lived in the neighborhood found on Mediterranean Lane in Norwichtown which became an academic and artistic enclave of professionals who worked at Norwich Free Academy and Slater Memorial Museum. The street was home to Ozias and Hannah Dodge, the Fuller family, Norwich Art School Director, Blanche Browning, and NFA faculty member Raymond Bailey Case.

Although not a faculty member of the Norwich Art School, Helen Newton studied art extensively under professionals and her works within our collection reflect the style of American Impressionism she practiced with. Hidden behind trees and bushes one can make out a second green colonial home which was the home of Blanche and Lawrence Browning. At one point, Blanche Browning owned all three colonial homes at the bottom of Mediterranean Lane – Raymond Bailey Case leased the white home seen in the picture from Mrs. Browning and lived there until he passed away in 1980. He taught at NFA for the better part of 30 years and was the Chair of the Science Department.

Two men take a deceased man down from a wooden post. Two men in the background look on.

 Milton R. Bellin (1913-1997)
 Egg tempera on masonite, 1935
 Gift of Thorne Goldfaden Bellin

Milton Bellin’s depiction of Connecticut State Hero, Nathan Hale, is a somber and stoic representation of the death of the former schoolteacher, considered by historians to be America’s first spy. Recruited by General George Washington during the American Revolution, Nathan Hale’s identify was uncovered while stationed in New York and was hanged on September 22, 1776. His reported last words have entered the pantheon of colonial American History in which he stated, “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.” He was executed when he was just twenty-one years old.

Bellin may have been inspired by Michelangelo’s Pieta when painting the body of Nathan Hale which bears a close resemblance to that of Christ’s deceased body draped over his mother Mary. The British soldiers depicted appear visually menacing as a colonial American watches in the background clutching a group of papers symbolizing the repressed will of the people. The African American man in the foreground uses the utmost care when lowering the dead body of Nathan Hale and also represents the prevalent institution of slavery in America. He also represents the often forgotten demographic of African American soldiers that fought on both sides during the war.