2018-08-09 / Around Town

Arts Festival Returns to Griswold

By Ross Sinclair Cann, AIA


The historic Griswold House will again be the setting for a popular fundraiser and arts festival called “Wet Paint,” on Saturday, Aug. 11. The historic Griswold House will again be the setting for a popular fundraiser and arts festival called “Wet Paint,” on Saturday, Aug. 11. Newport is the repository of many treasures of American architectural history. It is noted for the numerous surviving Colonial Era buildings, but the true building boom began around 1850 when Newport became an escape for southern plantation owners and for New Yorkers, Philadelphians and Bostonians escaping the summer heat.

This was the start of “The Gilded Age,” a term coined by Mark Twain to describe the period of industrialization and new-found wealth that was reflected in a flowering of architectural design and American art.

One of the most well-known and respected architects at the time was Richard Morris Hunt, who designed the John A. Griswold House. On Saturday, Aug. 11, the historic house will again be the setting for a popular fundraiser and arts festival called “Wet Paint.” Originally conceived by the late, Newport artist Richard Grosvenor, the event is celebrating its 25th year and seems to somehow engage more artists and raise more money each year.


In 2000, the Griswold House was listed on the National Register of Historic Landmarks. In 2000, the Griswold House was listed on the National Register of Historic Landmarks. It is a combination of fundraiser, exhibition and auction. Hundreds of artists from Newport and around New England will descend upon the city to create paintings and other artworks. The works will be mounted for display in the Ilgenfritz Gallery at the museum, and people will be allowed to place silent bids to benefit the museum.

While most of the works will sell that evening, the 50 or so most popular works by price and number of bids will be moved into the live auction held on Sunday, Aug. 12 on the grounds between the Griswold House and the Cushing Gallery. They will be sold to the highest bidder in a lively and fun auction that has become an important source of support for the institution and a great way for people to acquire original art at very reasonable prices.


A live auction of diverse images will be held on Sunday, Aug. 12. A live auction of diverse images will be held on Sunday, Aug. 12. Between 1860 and 1900, no American architect was more famous than Hunt. He was the first American-born student of the famous École 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.”

Hunt summered and worked extensively in Newport and was eventually buried here. The Griswold House, one of his earliest career works, was originally built for John Griswold, heir to a China Trade fortune. Hunt met Griswold through his wife, Catherine Howland, while traveling in Europe. He began sketches for the house before returning to the United States. Therefore, the Griswold House was one of the first free-standing structures designed by Hunt upon his return and thus represents the earliest direct transmission of the Beaux-Arts system and style in the U.S.

Now the main building on the Newport Art Museum campus, the house is a model of what architectural historian Vincent Scully coined, “The Stick Style,” which describes the decorative half timber- ing on the exterior of the building. This expressed skeleton references the medieval French structures that Hunt knew from his travels in Europe and also became the vehicle for new and novel designs that were much more than pure emulation or derivation.

Many point to Hunt’s early career as the most creative and important part of his legacy, eclipsing even his late work on enormous mansions like Marble House and the Breakers. The Griswold House has been fortunate in that it has only had two owners in its long life: the Griswold family from 1864 to 1916 and since then the Newport

Art Association. In 2000, the building was listed on the National Register of Historic Landmarks, the highest designation available for a built structure.

Artists who wish to register for the festival and members of the public who are interested in purchasing the art can find more information at newportartmuseum.org.

There are few opportunities to see great architecture, support an important local institution and perhaps walk away with a beautiful piece of original art at the same time, but this weekend’s Wet Paint Festival is one of them.

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