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Gunn Historical Museum

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Gunn Historical Museum
5 Wykeham Road
P.O. Box 1273
Washington, CT 06793
Telephone: 860-868-7756
     Museum Hours:
Thursday - Saturday 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
Sundays 12:00 to 4:00 p.m. as of May 3

Louise Van Tartwijk, Museum Director
Stephen Bartkus, Curator gunnmuseum@sbcglobal.net
Marj Vitz, Curatorial Assistant

  • All of our programs are free and open to the public unless otherwise stated.
  • There is no admission charge, but donations are greatly appreciated.
  • We would be happy to help with your research, but our other commitments
        require that you make an appointment at least three weeks in advance.

  • Exhibits & Programs


    Between Two Worlds: The Photography of Nell Dorr
    May 3 to October 31, 2015

    This retrospective exhibit commemorates the 50th anniversary of the Horace Mann School's John Dorr Nature Laboratory in Washington and the 75th anniversary of the Dorr Foundation. Nell Dorr photographs and artifacts from the Massillon Museum in Ohio, the Amon Carter Museum of American Art in Texas, as well as from the community are featured in this show. New touch screen technology has been incorporated into the exhibit allowing visitors to watch friends and descendants share their stories about Nell Dorr and the lasting impact that she made on their lives and our town. Between Two Worlds: The Photography of Nell Dorr is a traveling exhibition organized by the Massillon Museum. The exhibit and program series has been made possible by a grant from the Dorr Foundation.

    Nell Dorr, celebrated photographer and Washington resident from 1955 until her death in 1988, is best known for her soft-focus depictions of motherhood, family, and children. She first gained notice for her 1934 exhibition at Delphic Studios in New York City, Famous Men, which included images of Carl Sandburg and the man who would become her husband, inventor John Van Nostrand Dorr. Her lifelong dear friend, the actress Lillian Gish, provided entree into the world of well-known individuals.

    The other side of Dorr's artwork features more imaginary settings, children as fairy-like creatures in beautiful natural settings-sometimes mangrove swamps in Florida, other times New England woodlands. Later she created abstract photograms in her darkroom, creating imaginary scenes often with just the light of a kitchen match to expose the images.

    Dorr is best remembered for her images of mothers and their children as recorded in her 1954 book, Mother and Child. A year after the publication of Mother and Child, Dorr was included in Edward Steichen's landmark photography exhibition, The Family of Man, at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. She was also one of ten artists included in a 1983 exhibition at the Corcoran Gallery in Washington D.C. that featured great women of photography.

    In addition to two editions of Mother and Child, Dorr published five other books: Mangroves: Verse and Photographs (1933), In a Blue Moon (1939), The Bare Feet (1962), Of Night and Day (1968), and Life Dance (1975). In 1955, Dorr and her friend, the well-known children's author Tasha Tudor, created a film, The Golden Key.

    The exhibit can be seen during normal museum hours until October 31, 2015. For more information, call 860-868-7756 or email gunnmuseum@sbcglobal.net.

    Related Special Events & Programs Include:
    Tour of the Dorr Nature Laboratory | Lecture on the History of Photography | Women Photographers Film Series | Juried Photography Competition | Lecture on Nell Dorr | Photograph & Camera Appraisal Day | Art Themed Washington Cemetery Tour and more! Additional event information will be posted here as details become available.

    Walking Tour of John Dorr Nature Laboratory
    Saturday June 13, 2015 at 9:30 a.m. at the Gunn Museum

    Registration is required to attend this free program as seating is limited to 14 people. Call the Gunn Museum at 860-868-7756 to register.

    Glenn Sherratt, Director of the John Dorr Nature Laboratory, will lead a walking tour of the campus as part of the 11th Annual Connecticut Open House Day, a one day celebration of the state's fascinating world of art, history, film and tourism, with over 200 organizations throughout Connecticut opening their doors and offering special programs.

    The John Dorr Nature Laboratory, in Washington, Connecticut, is one of the four campuses of the Horace Mann School, an independent day school in New York City. In 1964, Nell Dorr gave the school 83 acres of land in memory of her husband, John Dorr. The Dorr Nature Lab, an LEED Gold, energy-conserving facility, is now comprised of 275 acres and is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.

    The idea of an outdoor campus was the inspiration of Dr. Mitchell Gratwick, long-time head of school at Horace Mann, and John Dorr, a personal friend of Dr. Gratwick. Moved by the ancient Greek adage "character is worth", Dr. Gratwick believed that it was the duty of schools to provide experiences inside and outside the traditional classroom, that nurture a sense of personal worth and responsibility, and an appreciation of the natural world.

    The Dorr Laboratory is a place that uses the rhythm of the seasons to help students from second grade through high school explore changes in themselves and the world around them. This setting becomes a medium for students' self-discovery, and through which they can examine their relationships with others, and study the natural environment in growth enhancing ways.

    Meet at the Gunn Museum at 9:30 a.m. for a guided tour of the exhibit "Between Two Worlds: The Photography of Nell Dorr". At 10:00 a.m. a bus will bring participants from the Gunn Museum to the Dorr Nature Laboratory for a one hour walking tour of their campus buildings and grounds. Participants will learn about the history of the Dorr Nature Laboratory and the diverse activities that take place there. The bus will bring participants back to the Gunn Museum by 12:00 p.m. The tour will take place rain or shine.

    The History of Photography
    Tuesday June 30, 2015 at 6:30 p.m.

    Bill Quinnell, retired professor and director of the Photography Program at Western Connecticut State University, will give a free presentation on the history of photography from its inception in 1827 to 1905, in the Wykeham Room of the Gunn Library.

    The history of photography has roots in remote antiquity with the discovery of the principle of the camera obscura and the observation that some substances are visibly altered by exposure to light. As far as is known, nobody thought of bringing these two phenomena together to capture camera images in permanent form until around 1800, when Thomas Wedgwood made the first reliably documented although unsuccessful attempt. In the mid-1820s, Nicéphore Niépce succeeded, but several days of exposure in the camera were required and the earliest results were very crude. Niépce's associate, Louis Daguerre, went on to develop the daguerreotype process, the first publicly announced photographic process, which required only minutes of exposure in the camera and produced clear, finely detailed results. It was commercially introduced in 1839, a date generally accepted as the birth year of practical photography.

    Bill Quinnell is a professional photographer and was the head of the Photography Program in the Art Department at Western Connecticut State University in Danbury, where he was employed for 33 years before his retirement in 2003. Bill has a MFA in Photography from the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, NY and has participated in numerous solo and group exhibitions. Among Bill's many interests are boxing and boxers, which he spent four years documenting through his photography in the early 2000s. He is presently the owner of Quinnell Photographic Studios in New Milford and specializes in shooting weddings.

    The exhibit "Between Two Worlds: The Photography of Nell Dorr" will be open for viewing one hour before the lecture, from 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.

    Celebrating Women Photographers Film Series

    In support of Gunn Memorial Museum's current exhibit "Between Two Worlds: The Photography of Nell Dorr", a film series entitled Celebrating Women Photographers will be shown. The screenings will be Mondays at 1:00 p.m. in the Wykeham Room of the Gunn Memorial Library.

    Nell Dorr was one of the most spiritual and empathetic photographic artists of the twentieth century. Each of the four films vividly highlights the spirit and creativity of other female photographers.

    One hour before and after each screening in the Library's Wykeham Room, the Nell Dorr Photography exhibit will be open for viewing in the Gunn Memorial Museum where refreshments will be served. For more information about this film series, please contact Margaret Ferguson at 860-868-7586 or gunnprograms@biblio.org.

    Photograph by Nell Dorr

    The Gunn Museum's Black & White Photography Competition
    On Exhibit in the Library's Stairwell Gallery through September 19

    The Gunn Museum's Black & White Photography Competition will be selected by a panel of judges, and hung at the Gunn Library's Stairwell Gallery August 8 to September 19, 2015. Awards will be announced at the opening and a solo show, in the Stairway Gallery, with be offered to the first-place winner. The judges are Wendy Carlson, Judith Petrovich, and Kathryn McCarver Root. Call the museum at 860-868-7756 for more information.

    Wendy Carlson is a Connecticut-based writer and photographer whose award-winning editorial work has been published in a variety of national magazines and newspapers, including The New York Times, Town and Country, Bon Appetit, Traditional Home, Renovation Style, Victoria, VW Driver, Yankee and others. Her corporate work includes clients in the fields of medicine, health, education and green living. Wendy has traveled to Russia to document the work of American medical teams for Healing the Children, and photographed the Irish countryside from the back of horse. In the United States, she founded 50 Women, an interactive photo exhibit on women cancer survivors that is being published into a book. She is also working on "Lives Well Lived," a project documenting aging in America.

    Judith Petrovich is a Washington, Connecticut photographer who holds a B.A. in Art History from the University of Illinois. She studied at the International Center for Photography in New York City from 1978-81. Judith started working as a photo journalist for The Litchfield County Times newspaper in 1986 and left as Chief Photographer in 2002. Presently, she is a free-lance photographer. Her works have been shown locally at the Washington Art Association, New Arts Gallery 10th Anniversary Show, the Paris-New York-Kent Gallery, and the Minor Memorial Library Gallery.

    Kathryn McCarver Root is a gallerist and dealer specializing in fine art photography. McCarver Root opened KMR Arts in Washington Depot, Connecticut in 2007. The gallery showcases both vintage and contemporary photography from the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries, presented in a non-traditional gallery environment. KMR Arts celebrated its 5th year anniversary in 2012 with a momentous exhibit of vintage prints by Diane Arbus, a hugely influential photographer known for her darkly beautiful images. KMR Arts has exhibited photography by such masters as Ansel Adams, Paul Caponigro, Sally Mann, Elliott Erwitt, Saul Leiter, Lillian Bassman, and Horst P. Horst among others. McCarver Root gained her experience over two decades in New York City while working as a photography editor for books (Lillian Bassman, Bulfinch, Weekend Retreats, Rizzoli) and prestigious magazines (Esquire, US Weekly, and InStyle).

    The enthusiastic public response to the Museum's request for black and white photograph entries resulted in over 150 submissions to the competition. This large number necessitated that only one photo from each of the 50-plus photographers could be shown in the exhibition. First Place was awarded to Michael Frohne of Roxbury and his "Sir Dotsalot"; second place to "Paris Cityscape" by Michael Bowman of Washington; third place went to an untitled photo by by Lisa Mahar of Washington; and fourth place went to "Shear Avoidance" by Raymond Kwiatkoski of Roxbury.

    The Gunn wishes to thank Museum volunteer Chris Zaima for hanging the photo exhibit and judges Wendy Carlson, Judith Petrovich and Kathy McCarver Root for lending their photography expertise to the awards selection. The event was so well received that the Gunn Museum intends to make the black and white photo contest a yearly summer tradition.

    Nell Dorr by Lucia Nebel White

    Nell's Magic World
    Friday, September 18 at 6:30 p.m. in the Wykeham Room of the Gunn Library

    Alexandra Nicholis Coon will give a special presentation on Nell Dorr's career, from Massillon, Ohio to the Mangroves of the Florida Keys and beyond. Although she has a place in the history of photography, Dorr never desired fame nor commercialization of her work. Her nonconformist nature and secluded lifestyle left her name little-known in the larger story of the medium; yet her story is one worth telling. Referencing images from the Gunn Museum's exhibition, Between Two Worlds: The Photography of Nell Dorr, the presentation will illustrate ways in which Nell Dorr used photography to create a poetic and personal visual language, the beauty of which still resonates in present day.

    Alexandra Nicholis Coon is the Executive Director for the Massillon Museum. She received her Master's in Art History from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, a B.A. in Art History from Kent State University, and has a Collections Care certificate from the Campbell Center for Historic Preservation. She has been with MassMu since 2001, and served as Curator for the Museum from 2003-2010. Nicholis Coon was adjunct faculty for Walsh University from 2006-2011, having taught art history and museum studies courses, and is a member of the University's advisory board. She has curated a number of photography-themed exhibitions, including Darkrooms in a Digital Age (2007) and Faces of Rural America (2011).

    A reception will take place in the Gunn Museum following the lecture where visitors will be able to view the exhibit, Between Two Worlds: The Photography of Nell Dorr, until 8:00 p.m. Contact the Museum at 860-868-7756 or gunnmuseum@sbcglobal.net for more information.


    Photograph and Camera Appraisal
    Sunday, October 4 at 12:00 p.m.

    A free photograph and camera appraisal event will take place in the Wykeham Room of the Gunn Library and Museum. Registration is required to participate in this free program. Call the museum at 860-868-7756 to register.

    Kathryn McCarver Root and Randy Carlson, will verbally appraise your vintage photographs and cameras, respectively, for estimated age and value. Bring your items in for our experts to identify. All pre-registered participants are welcome to watch this Antiques Road Show-like event.

    Randy Carlson is a long time collector and dealer of vintage cameras and equipment, and the owner of The Photo Shop in Torrington. Kathryn McCarver Root is a gallerist and dealer specializing in fine art photography, and the owner of KMR Arts in Washington Depot.


    8th Annual Washington Green Cemetery Tour - "Arts" Theme
    Friday, October 30, 6:30 — 8:30 p.m.

    This year we celebrate the artistic people who have called Washington home over the centuries. Costumed tour guides will lead groups of visitors from the Gunn Museum to the Washington Green Cemetery where the town's departed citizens will be stationed at their graves to tell their tales of tragedy and triumph. Tour groups will follow a magical path of 1,000 luminarias spanning a quarter-mile through the shadowy cemetery and hear the lively and dramatic stories of Washington's artistic residents. This year the costumed character actors stationed at each gravestone will represent Washington's most illustrious artists, actors, musicians, authors and will share their perilous tales of unrequited love, extravagant lives lived, travels around the world, escape from the Soviets and Nazis, early demise, and much more.

    The tours departed from the Museum in groups of fifteen people every eight minutes between 6:30-8:30 p.m., and lasted approximately 45 minutes. The last tour group departs from the museum at 8:30 p.m. Numbered tickets for the tours will be handed out at the Museum starting at 6:15 p.m. A Halloween themed movie will be shown and treats will be served in the Wykeham Room of the Gunn Library where attendees can wait inside for their tour group to depart. The exhibit, Between Two Worlds: The Photography of Nell Dorr, will also be open for viewing. While this event is free, donations are greatly appreciated.

    Volunteer tour guides, set-up and clean-up helpers are still needed for the Cemetery Tour. Students earn community service hours by volunteering for the Cemetery Tour. Call the Museum at 860-868-7756 or email gunnmuseum@sbcglobal.net if you can help.


    Calling All History Detectives!

    The Gunn Museum Wants You To Help Us:
    find any additional information that you may have in your homes, closets, shoe boxes, barns, secret rooms, basements, attics, shoved under chairs, hidden behind old paintings, or forgotten in old steamer trunks that can help us uncover more about the life and times of: Please send us an email: gunnmuseum@sbcglobal.net, or call us at 860-868-7756, if you have anything to share.

    Museum's Recurring Programs Resume With New Schedule for 2015-2016

    Our three popular recurring programs will now rotate monthly. All are welcome to attend and learn about the history of our town at these fun informal gatherings!

    Washington History Club

    Meets the third Monday of the months of September, December, March and June at 10:00 a.m. at the Washington Senior Center to discuss the history of Washington, Washington Depot, Marbledale, New Preston and Woodville. Share your stories with the group or just listen to the fascinating conversation about our town's past. Bring your photos and objects for show and tell!

    Monday, September 21 at 10:00 a.m. at the Senior Center: The topic of discussion will be farms and farming in Washington. Bring your stories and photos to share!


    Readings from the Archives of the Gunn Historical Museum

    Meets the first Monday of the months of October, January and April at 10:00 a.m. at the Washington Senior Center. Staff present a paper about the history of Washington from the museum's archive, related photos and artifacts from the museum are displayed and a discussion follows.

    Monday, October 5 at 10:00 a.m.

    The paper "The Story of the Old Red House" written in 1905 by Mary Smith will be presented by Gunn Museum staff at the Washington Senior Center. The Red House with its spectacular painted chambers, at 8 Kirby Road, across from the Congregational Church on Washington Green, was built in 1774 by a wealthy merchant named Joel Stone. Joel was a Tory and his home was confiscated by the State of Connecticut during the Revolutionary War, but he escaped and went on to found the town of Gananoque, Ontario, Canada.

    Washington History Club at Night

    Meets the third Tuesday of the months of November, February and May at 6:30 p.m. in the Wykeham Room of the Gunn Library to discuss the history of Washington, Washington Depot, Marbledale, New Preston and Woodville. Share your stories with the group or just listen to the fascinating conversation about our town's past. Bring your photos and objects for show and tell!

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