As they have traditionally done for years, Wilton Historical Society members will gather on the beautiful grounds of the society for the Annual Meeting and an Old-fashioned Potluck Dinner, on Thursday, June 22 at 6 p.m.. As part of the evening’s events, attendees will learn the exciting details about the new, permanent exhibit on “Connecticut History, Wilton’s Story” that will be created, thanks to a $125,000 state grant and an additional 25% matching gift.
At the annual meeting, president of the Board, E. Bulkily Griswold will conduct a brief business meeting, during which members will elect new trustees and officers, recognize trustees who are retiring from the Board, and present an award for outstanding volunteer of the year.
Following dinner, there will be a presentation about the new permanent exhibition, funded by the state of Connecticut’s Good to Great grant, that is scheduled to open this fall in the foyer of the Betts House. A representative from the exhibition design team, Ralph Applebaum Associates, will make the presentation.
The Wilton Historical Society has been awarded a $125,000 grant from the state Department of Economic and Community Development to create the new permanent exhibit in the 1740 Betts House at the Society’s Danbury Rd. museum complex.
The exhibit will be an interactive timeline to allow guests to see historic and cultural connections to other parts of Wilton and the state.
“House museum displays are moving away from static period rooms, which do not interest many visitors. People respond to history presented in a way that is engaging and memorable – in stories,” says Leslie Nolan, Wilton Historical Society executive director. “With this new exhibit, we will be creating story lines which document Wilton’s evolution from pre-Colonial times to a small New England agricultural village to today’s suburban town, by telling the stories of several real area families. We envision an exhibition rich in interactive display techniques, sound, and objects to handle.”
Nolan saw a need to weave together the cultural history of the area, as well. The timeline will allow a visitor to learn, for instance, about all the artists with Wilton roots and connections, including late jazz musician Dave Brubeck; folk singer Lead Belly; American Impressionist painter J. Alden Weir; Johnny Gruelle, author and illustrator of the Raggedy Ann books; sculptor Solon Borglum, of the Silvermine School and Knockers Club; and sculptor Gifford Proctor.
“The beauty of an exhibit like this is that it is a jumping off point for visitors to continue on to see other Wilton attractions, such as Weir Farm and Ambler Farm” she adds, noting that the Society has already begun the research and planning phase.
Nolan had seen the opportunity to add an introductory interpretive exhibit for visitors since she began her position in 2012.
“When you arrive at the museum complex, there is nothing to provide context for the Society’s historic buildings and location, or for a sense of the cultural depth of the town,” she commented. The new exhibit will be located in the foyer area of the Betts House plus one of the existing historic kitchen spaces.
The Society applied for the maximum amount under the “Good to Great” grant program to completely transform the existing space.
“We are extremely pleased that the Society is receiving the entire grant amount requested–$125,000 for the two-year project–and that a contribution pledged by generous supporters of the Society will provide the necessary 25% match, which is a condition of the State agency’s grant. There will thus be $156,250 in funding for this exciting project,” Griswold says.
The grant is being made through Connecticut’s “Good to Great” program, which was created in 2015 to fund improvements that significantly enhance cultural and historic sites and the way people enjoy them. Specifically, the program targets smaller and mid-sized cultural organizations that have received limited state funding in the past. Funding, which ranges from $50,000 to $125,000, can be used for a variety of activities including construction, exhibit designing and installation, planning and marketing. The Wilton Historical Society grant is one of 20 nonprofit grants totaling nearly $2 million that was first announced by the state Department of Economic and Community Development in September 2015.
Founded in 1938, the Society owns and maintains a total of 18 historic structures on three campuses in Wilton. Most of these 18th and 19th century buildings were saved through “adaptive reuse” – the Society rents out most of the renovated structures for income, while also maintaining a museum complex consisting of two 18th century houses connected by a barn frame gallery space, a 19th century barn and working blacksmith shop, a Colonial herb garden and the museum’s Betts Store.
The Wilton Historical Society is located at 224 Danbury Road.