‘We’re Very Excited’: NCM&HS Presents on $2 Million ‘Campus Reimagined Campaign’


The future Jim Bach Special Collections Museum at right, seen from Oenoke Ridge. Specs by Mark Markiewicz

The New Canaan Museum & Historical Society—the oldest organization of its kind in Fairfield County, established in 1889—is working toward a $2 million fundraising goal that will see its spacious Oenoke Ridge campus reimagined, officials say.

Launched in June, the fundraising campaign supports a four-pronged plan that will see new buildings erected and existing spaces reused, according to NCM&HS Executive Director Nancy Geary.

The future Jim Bach Special Collections Museum at right, seen from the north. Specs by Mark Markiewicz

Where the organization’s library now is located—inside the Town House on the main floor—will be “The Bartlett Center for New Canaan History” with a “permanent exhibition on the history of New Canaan,” Geary told members of the Board of Selectmen at their Dec. 19 meeting, held at Town Hall and via videoconference.

“And we’re finalizing what they call the ‘assets’ for that, and there are going to be media consoles that are interactive, especially because we can’t possibly tell the history of this town in 1,0000 square feet,” Geary said.

She continued: “So the media consoles allow us to have, say, 50 important people instead of just a few on the walls. And there’s a really rich history to this town, which I didn’t know when I took the job. Frankly, I live in New York and I didn’t know that much about the town of New Canaan. And it’s a history that goes well beyond the town. The impact of the people of New Canaan on a much larger world is extraordinary. I think it will be a very useful exhibit for everybody that wants to either learn about the town that they live in, or the town they’ve grown up in. I’ve talked to people at, for example, The Glass House and they’ve said people say, ‘What else should we see?’ And having a permanent exhibit means that those visitors can come and really learn about the town in a different way. And in a way that we didn’t have the capacity to share with somebody that just walked in the door. So we’re very excited about that.”

The comments came during a general update and presentation to the newly elected Board of Selectmen. In it, Geary reviewed the history of NCM&HS, its buildings, programs, staff, visitors and—primarily—its future.

Thus far, the organization has raised about $1.25 million of its $2 million “Campus Reimagined Campaign,” Geary said. Plans also call for the new “Jim Bach Special Collections Museum” (unveiled last spring), restored “John Rogers Studio” spotlighting the life and work of the New Canaan resident and important U.S. sculptor, and additional archival space for NCM&HS’s vast clothing and textile collection. 

“We have started the work and we expect all of it to be completed by December of 2024,” Geary said. “So it’s a very tight schedule, but we think we can make it. We keep going back over the schedule and so far we’re hitting the target.”

During the presentation, Geary also noted the town’s recent annual grant to the NCM&HS of $25,000 and called for increased support to allow the organization and its staff to better serve visitors and the community as a cultural resource. 

Selectman Steve Karl spoke in favor of the work Geary has done at the NCM&HS and acknowledged the need for more funding.

“I think the Historical Society has been amazing and the work you’ve done, Nancy, since you took over from Janet [Lindstrom] years and years ago—it’s a night and day difference of the exposure that the Historical Society has gotten in town,” Karl said. “You’ve done all kinds of programming from the ‘Then & Now” on the New Canaanite. You’ve been involved in TEDAC [the town’s Tourism and Economic Development Advisory Council]. The exposure that the Historical Society has had and under your tutelage has been amazing. As you’ve grown, I can see the need for more funding, so I would be very supportive of taking a look at that. And when you look at the comparisons to other towns and other museums in different places locally, it’s really on the lower side of funding, so it probably is time to give those another look. Thank you for bringing it to our attention.”

Geary said that The Jim Bach Special Collections Museum “will replace the existing ‘Tool Museum’ on our campus.”

“The ‘Tool Museum’ is not a museum—it was a garage and it’s not weather tight,” she said. “It’s really not designed for exhibit space and this building will have this carriage that we restored, an 1860 carriage and it’s going to have a working print shop with the whole Acorn Press that was donated by the Hersam family that was used not to print the advertiser but to print special events for the Advertiser and it’s also going to have a place that we can always exhibit Silvermine art.”

The Silvermine Art Colony, one of three in Connecticut, was “a very important art colony,” she said.

“And I’ve talked to the people at the Silvermine Arts Center and they’re delighted that we will have the history and they’re more of a contemporary arts center and a teaching facility now,” she said. “But we will certainly partner with them on what gets exhibited and how they want to be engaged with that as well. And the other portion of that building is that we have been given the studio of Addison Millar, who was one of the original Silvermine artists. And that’s going to be moved to the campus—disassembled and reassembled on the back of this building. So the little rustic shack at the back of the building is that.”

The National Landmark Rogers Studio is “already fully restored on the exterior,” Geary said.

“We’re closing in on the interior, which will be an exhibit on John Rogers’s life and work,” she said. “The Historical Society now has the largest collection of John Rogers works in the world. It’s been hard to select which ones go in the exhibit, but we think we have ones that represent all of the important stages of his work and will have a story of his life and it will be a lot better for people that want to come and learn about him because we can open the doors and people can really navigate the exhibit space by themselves. They won’t need a docent. There’ll be signs. We’ve also just—it’s arriving tomorrow—The Hyde Collection has given us a ‘Slave Auction,’ which was one of his abolitionist sculptures. There’s only two or three in the left in the world that haven’t broken and they’re giving that to us because they feel like this would be the most important place for his work now. So we’re super excited about that.”

Selectman Amy Murphy Carroll asked Geary about how the Gores Pavilion, located in Irwin Park, is used.

“I just always wondered how that was woven into the fabric of New Canaan,” Murphy Carroll said.

Geary said it’s operated as a museum under the NCM&HS agreement with the town.

“For example, this past season, we partnered with New Canaan Moms, and we did the community portraits that were done during COVID,” she said. “Those, the ‘Front Steps Project,’ those portraits are all in there. So it’s used as a museum, it’s open by appointment through us. So for example last year, 80 Spanish architecture students had come in, and so I met them, and they obviously had to come in in smaller groups because of COVID, but they were allowed to come in and look. There’s also an exhibit in the back that came from the Connecticut Department of Culture and Tourism years ago. It’s on mid century modern architecture in New Canaan, so there’s a permanent exhibit on the Harvard Five in the back of the building.”

Murphy Carroll said it would be “great if we can continue to figure out how to use it better.”

“I would really encourage us to continue to look and see how we could open this up to more people to use,” she said. “That would be, I think, really positive.”

Geary said she’s thought about making use of Gores Pavilion as an information center during the NCM&HS-led October4Design programming.

“We could put a person in there and have it open during the day so people could come up and hear about what was going on and all the different places that are doing programming with activities around that type of design,” Geary said. “It seems like a natural fit with that initiative that’s already underway.”

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