2014-08-14 / Around Town

Griswold House Marks Sesquicentennial

By Ross Sinclair Cann, AIA


The south facade of the Newport Art Museum has a walkway connecting it to the Cushing Gallery on the museum campus. The south facade of the Newport Art Museum has a walkway connecting it to the Cushing Gallery on the museum campus. Newport is the repository of many treasures of American architectural history. While the city is noted for the many surviving colonial era buildings, the true building boom began around 1840 as Newport became a summer refuge for Southern plantation owners and New Yorkers, Philadelphians and Bostonians trying to escape the summer heat in a time before air conditioning. The time was just prior to what became known as “The Gilded Age”—a term coined by Mark Twain to describe the period of industrialization and newfound wealth (albeit for a very small segment of the American populace) that was reflected in a flowering of architectural design.

Between 1860 and 1900, there was probably no more famous or well-respected architect in this country than Richard Morris Hunt. He was the first American-born student of the famous Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris and was so instrumental in bringing the European style of studio education to the United States that he became known as the “Dean of American Architects.”


Ross Sinclair Cann, AIA, LEED AP, holds degrees from Yale, Cambridge and Columbia and is a historian, educator and practicing architect living and working in Newport. His firm, A4 Architecture, is one of the many sponsors of Wet Paint. Ross Sinclair Cann, AIA, LEED AP, holds degrees from Yale, Cambridge and Columbia and is a historian, educator and practicing architect living and working in Newport. His firm, A4 Architecture, is one of the many sponsors of Wet Paint. Hunt summered and worked extensively in Newport and was eventually buried here. One of his early works that figured in the organization and design of many later projects was the John N.A. Griswold House, now the Newport Art Museum, which is celebrating its 150th anniversary of construction this year.

The original sketches for the house are on loan from the Library of Congress and are part of the museum’s exhibition “Very Simple Charm: The Early Life and Work of Richard Morris Hunt in Newport, 1858-1878,” which runs through Sept. 14. The exhibit presents a collection of works from Hunt as well as from his famous brother, William Morris Hunt, and other contemporaries, intellectuals and artists who made Newport a hotbed of creativity and inspiration at the time.

Many point to Hunt’s early career as the most creative and important part of his legacy, eclipsing even his later work on enormous mansions like Marble House and The Breakers in terms of originality and creativity.

In addition to the Hunt show, the museum is also preparing for its annual two-day “Wet Paint” fundraiser and auction. Hundreds of artists from the area and around New England will descend upon Newport to create paintings and other artworks on Saturday, Aug. 16. Their works will then be mounted for display in the museum’s Ilgenfritz Gallery, where attendees will have the opportunity to place silent bids. While most will sell that evening, the 50 or so most popular works by price and number of bids will be moved to a live auction held on Sunday, Aug. 17, under a tent on the grounds between the Griswold House and the Cushing Gallery. The pieces will be sold to the highest bidder in a lively and entertaining auction that has become an important fundraiser for the museum over the years. It’s also a great way for bidders to acquire original art at a very reasonable price.

The event is a wonderful way for the Griswold House to celebrate its 150th birthday.

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