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The Eloquent Lyman Allyn Museum


"Beauty," defined by Edmund Burke in The Sublime & the Beautiful (1756) "is for the greater part, some quality of bodies acting mechanically upon the human mind by the intervention of the senses." Although a bit ponderous, it has captured the substance of this elusive idea. In science the 'beautiful' is defined as an 'elegant' existence, (having a luminous clarity, rather than a opaque one,) as in a mathematical proof, say E=mc2. The sheer lucidity overwhelms, at least to the very few who can fathom it. However you define beauty, this quality of acting mechanically upon the human mind is what I call 'resonance'. And at the risk of revealing a well-kept secret, my favorite resonance destination is the Lyman Allyn Art Museum in New London.

Perched like a citadel on an outcrop of stone overlooking the US Coast Guard Academy grounds below and surrounded by a spacious Children's sculpture park, the recently renovated and tastefully re-furbished Lyman Allyn is truly a private gem, perhaps the most intimate museum experience you will encounter.

The visitor arrives to a front circular drive, and walks up a sweeping marble stairway which fronts the facade of a stunning Neo-Classical building. Designed by Charles A. Platt, architect of The Freer Gallery of Art in Washington DC, (and the Lyme Art Association Building), the graceful columned exterior, spacious white-washed interiors, marble staircases, wrought iron balustrades, smooth stone and inlaid floors are the setting for the principal art museum serving southeastern Connecticut. With a collection of more than 30,000 objects spanning five thousand years and five continents, there is something for everyone.

Intimacy and eloquence are what sets Lyman Allyn apart. There is a museum persona that seems to surround you, filling the galleries, drifting up and down the stairs, creating such an immediacy as to allow the art--whatever the medium- to speak for itself. Anywhere in the museum, there is an invitation to be present. Entering the hall foyer the visitor is greeted with utmost cordiality, offered a brief orientation, and encouraged to explore the galleries. Tempting alcoves, small rooms, wide galleries, balcony landings, where you can visit a work of art individually, with the most minimal of distance, an intimacy that is rarely found in any museum.

The eloquence of the Lyman Allyn collections in part comes from a diversity that encompasses New England roots, British inheritance, and ocean enterprise. Lyman Allyn was a bold, enterprising young sailor who created a maritime enterprise, amassed a great fortune and pursued civic philanthropy during his entire life. His youngest daughter Harriet U. Allyn, before her own death in 1926, had sought a fitting tribute to her beloved whaling merchant father. In casting about for a suitable
memorial, Harriet found solid support from her Hartford bankers, who fortunately, were also very active patrons of the arts. From this vision, the Lyman Allyn Art Museum was purposely established for the community of southeastern Connecticut to use, enjoy, and in the true definition of the word museum, a seat of the muses, to learn about art
h year, the museum continues to provide a rich legacy of outreach, in art education, in family participation, and children's discovery of museum collections, has been revitalized.

Any one of the exhibits affords an example of the 'immediacy and eloquence' of the collections. I always compare a visit to the Lyman Allyn to opening a cabinet of curiosities and taking inventory, piece by piece, with close appreciative examination.

There are many ways the museum becomes a personal space, as intimate as any in which you daily live. Each visit deepens this participation, this appreciation. The cultural programs offered throughout the year bring distinguished connoisseurs to lecture series, and monthly Tuesday programs by staff give an opportunity to delve further into the collections.

Of course I cannot leave Lyman Allyn without paying a visit to its Library, a wonderful reference collection housed in a wainscotted room with tall mullioned windows, large oak tables and fine ship models under glass. Despite its inactivity over the past decades, the library still remains an excellent resource where that hard-to-find title of a very specialized subject just might be on the shelf.

Impressive cordiality, intimacy, and eloquence. For a very special museum experience, try Lyman Allyn. Lyman Allyn Art Museum, 625 Williams Street, New London, 860.443.2545. Tuesday through Saturday, 10:00 - 5:00 pm and Sunday, 1:00 - 5:00 pm. (First Sundays each month are free and
offer planned programs for the family.) Directions: From I 95, exit 83, follow signs to museum. And for further information visit


  Editor’s note: Susan Alon, proprietor of MiRIAMGREEN Antiquarian Bookshop & Gallery, in her former life was Head of Special Collections at Washington University School of Medicine, St Louis and Secretary to the Historical Collections, Yale School of Medicine. She is a rare book consultant for Lyman Allyn Art Museum (New London) and a certified appraiser. Locally she offers appraisal workshops on books and is available for Library Friends’ groups seeking to raises funds with an appraisal event. If you are interested in arranging a library or community event, contact her at 88 East Main Street, Clinton, 860-664-4200.  


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