The Flinn Gallery at the Greenwich Library celebrates its ninetieth anniversary this year, and when you speak to its loyal group of volunteers who do it all—select the artists, curate and install the shows, market and manage each event—you understand why it’s not only still around, but more vibrant than ever.
Recently, we sat down with ten core volunteers, from the most seasoned, Jane Hotchkiss, who at ninety-five has been a gallery fixture since 1950—to the newly minted, two-year volunteer Leslee Asch, who is curating the ninetieth season’s opening exhibit. Collectively this group has donated 205 years and thousands of hours of service.
The volunteers’ professional backgrounds are varied—attorney, fragrance developer, marketing professional, art guild executive director, graphic designer, Realtor, banker, web developer. But they share a common passion: to ensure that the Flinn remains a viable force for its annual 65,000 visitors and continues to engage the community, collectors and artists alike.
THE EVOLUTION OF THE FLINN
Barbara Richards, former chairman of the Flinn and a current trustee of Greenwich Library, has been volunteering since the mid-80s and is well-versed in gallery history. She explains that in 1928, the Greenwich Society of Artists (a group that developed strong ties with those who established notable New York institutions such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Guggenheim and is today known as the Greenwich Arts Society) began using space in the old Greenwich Library for mini-art shows. The space had no name, simply referred to as The Gallery, but it soon became a town hub, a space for groups to meet and concerts to be held. And so it remained for decades—except for a few years during World War II when it became a living tutorial on how to start a Victory Garden. In 1960 the library moved to 101 W. Putnam Avenue and the Flinn to the third floor.
“And it finally got a name, the Hurlbutt Gallery, after Isabelle Hurlbutt who was head librarian for all that time,” Barbara says. In the 1990s, when a $25 million grant from the estate of Clementine Lockwood Peterson extended the library, the gallery moved to its present 2,000-square-foot, second-floor location. It was renamed the Stephanie and Lawrence Flinn Gallery.
A PLACE IN THE COMMUNITY
A library survey found that 30 percent of the people who walk through its doors do so to visit the Flinn. About 200 turn out for show openings, and art sales are increasing. “We are a jewel in the town,” Barbara says. “But we owe our existence to the library, and the Friends of the Library, which funds the Flinn. Without them, we would not exist.”
Diane Stevens, cochair of marketing and a member of the ninetieth anniversary committee, explains that volunteers at the gallery often see mothers introducing their children to art. “They come from all over—locally, New York City, Westchester—because they like the ambience of the library and that the Flinn is so open and easy to navigate. You hear them explaining color and shape to two- and three-year olds, and asking them what they see. It is just lovely.”
Past popular shows include a retrospective on Muppets’ creator Jim Henson, works from the Cos Cob Clapboard School and James Grashow’s whimsical cardboard creations and carved woodcut prints. Notable artists showcased over the years include Milton Avery, Alexander Calder, Dale Chihuly, Robert Motherwell and set designer Tony Walton. Works ranging from wearable art to classic and contemporary paintings have been featured.
Kirsten Pitts, chair of selections, notes that many of the artists have exhibited worldwide, and the committee is always searching for new artists working in various mediums. She references Akinori Matsumoto’s sound sculptures, which were constructed primarily of bamboo and handmade papers to produce a blending of sound and movement. Japan sponsored the artist’s trip except for his lodging, so in the spirit of a dedicated volunteer, Kirsten housed him at her home during the show.
All of these women take their Flinn duties seriously. Linda Butler, chair of membership, says it is all about teamwork and friendships, two key elements in attracting and keeping volunteers engaged. Lillian Lum, chair of the gallery committee, sees her volunteer duties as her second career. The first was in banking. “It’s important for me to feel as if I can contribute something to the culture of the town and work with a wonderful group of people who share my passion for art.”
The ninetieth anniversary season will include six exhibits and three lectures and will run through June. Ruth Sutcliffe, vice chair of the gallery committee and chair of the ninetieth anniversary celebration (which also includes Barbara Richards, Laura Schroeder, Leslee Asch and Diane Stevens) says the group worked hard to select artists with a wide appeal. Also on the schedule, monthly movie nights. Check flinngallery.com for all upcoming events.
COMING UP IN THE FLINN
Sept. 6/Oct. 17
Looking Forward, Looking Back
Oct. 25/Dec. 5
Dec. 13/Jan. 23
Forces of Nature
Jan. 31/Mar. 12
Mar. 21/Apr. 30
Spaces of Uncertainty
May 9/Jun. 19
Time and Place:
Works on Paper
The Long Run, a Retrospective: a current exhibit at MOMA, lecturer Heather Cotter
The Artist as a Writer: lecturer Brian Catling, sculptor, poet, performance artist, painter, filmmaker, novelist and professor of art at Ruskin College, Oxford University
Art Investments and the Auction House: lecturer Noah Kupferman from Christie’s Education Institute in New York
All held 7 to 8 p.m. in the Cole Auditorium
All photographs are contributed.