In the spring and fall of 2013, two interviewers from the Greenwich Oral History Project conducted interviews with two Flinn Gallery volunteers having a wealth of knowledge about this very special non-profit education space. The first was conducted with Betty Burke (Elizabeth Hourigan Burke). As a former library trustee, her involvement with the gallery goes back to the days when it was known as the Hurlbutt. The second interview, with Sandra Herman, is equally insightful. Her involvement with the gallery also goes back to those early days.
The following is a composite summary of the interviews with these two volunteers whose contribution to the gallery’s growth and development has been critical:
What do LEGOS, TIME Magazine covers, cutout artwork and contemporary Japanese antiques have in common? All have at one time been featured exhibits at the beautiful Flinn Gallery, located on the second floor of the Greenwich Public Library.
The Flinn Gallery is a haven for Greenwich residents to visit and become educated about and exposed to a multitude of different artists, methods and mediums from around the world. The diversity of the Gallery’s past exhibits ranges from shows featuring flower paintings or Jim Henson’s Sesame Street, to features exhibiting personal portraits or private art collections gathered from Greenwich residents themselves.
|The Flinn on the second floor of the library|
While every show varies in terms of theme and structure, one can typically find the featured artist or artists giving talks at the opening reception on a Sunday afternoon to guests eager to learn more about the inspiration, medium and development of their artwork. Hors D’oeuvres might be passed or one might find a buffet of doughnuts and cider, with the spirit of each exhibition being echoed throughout the six week long show. For those who are unable to attend the opening day of any given exhibit, there are often placards or even short videos accompanying the featured artwork in the gallery, offering a deeper understanding of what is being presented.
Behind every featured show at the Flinn Gallery is a group of about 60 active and hard working members, whose love of art has brought them together to share in the joy and gratification of educating the Greenwich public about various art forms. For each of the 6 shows held every year, a Chairman and Vice Chairman are elected to organize and run the show. Volunteers sign up to cover a variety of tasks such as hanging, painting pedestals, organizing papers and artwork and manning the desk during exhibitions. While the end-result is rewarding for members, it is the deeply held friendships and connections that most reverberates among them.
For those wondering how artists are selected to be featured at the Flinn, the answer lies with the Selection Committee. Planning for each show begins at least 1-2 years out. Artists from around the world apply, and every strong contender is visited by at least one member, who evaluates the artist’s work and makes a recommendation to the committee. The diversity of the Flinn’s past exhibits reflects its mandate: education of the Greenwich public.
While the Selection Committee is certainly not against featuring local Greenwich artists, there is a focus on bringing in outside artists who are not as familiar to the Greenwich audience. Artists have come from as far as Austrailia, Brazil, Norway and Scotland and have used mediums ranging from the traditional paint, clay and photography to the more avant-garde Legos and cutouts. Each show is unique. Sometimes the work of a single artist will be featured, and other times artists will be grouped together by theme.
The Hurlbutt Gallery, predecessor to the Flinn, was named after a well-liked, longtime librarian and was originally located in the Franklin Simon Building. After construction of the Peterson Wing, the Flinn Gallery opened in 2000 and was named after Larry and Stephanie Flinn, whose generosity, in part, made construction of the gallery possible. The very first show featured at the new Flinn Gallery featured pieces from the private collection of Walter and Molly Bareiss, local Greenwich collectors of over 60 years.
Designed by architect Cesar Pelli, the Flinn Gallery is a beautiful space, constructed specifically for the purpose of featuring art. Its movable walls have hidden storage bins to hide pedestals not in use, and the fabric-covered walls are perfect for hanging artwork in many different layouts. No detail goes unnoticed, with special emphasis being placed on the lighting and layout of each exhibition. The gallery truly strives to make each show the best that it can be.
Pelli, an architect known around the world for the design of large scale projects including hospitals, schools and hotels, was convinced to take on designing the Peterson Wing by then-head of the board, Henry Ashforth. As the story goes, upon Pelli’s visit to the library, the elevator doors opened on the 2nd floor revealing the huge glass walls of the Hurlbutt Gallery standing before him. Intrigued, Pelli inquired about the gallery, and returned later for a tour when it was open. In his own words, the idea of a free art gallery inside of the library was “fantastic” and Pelli’s design for the Peterson Wing reflected that sentiment by including plans for a proper art gallery – what would later become the Flinn.
|Dan Moser Long piece, on view until January 21, 2015|
Shows continue to be held at the Flinn Gallery from September to mid-June. For those interested in learning more about the Flinn, visit the Greenwich Public Library or go to Flinngallery.com.
The two interviews, “Flinn Gallery at the Greenwich Library,” with Elizabeth “Betty” Hourigan Burke, April 29, 2013 and “Flinn Gallery Participation,” with Sanda “Sandy” Herman, September 18, 2013 are available through the Greenwich Oral History Project office located on the lower level of the library or in the reference area on the first floor.