WILTON, Conn. – Charlie Burlingham’s grandfather J. Alden Weir was a pioneer of American Impressionism over a century ago. Now, Burlingham works to preserve his legacy at Weir Farm National Historic Site on the Wilton-Ridgefield border.
Weir purchased the property in 1882, and it was turned into a national park in 1990. Burlingham grew up on the property (his childhood home is now known as the Burlingham House, which is used as the visitor center) and now serves as president of the Weir Farm Art Center. The Art Center hosts artists in residence, which he said embodies the spirit of his grandfather, who often invited fellow artists to his farm to paint.
“A lot of American painters gathered here at this place, this is sort of the heart country of American Impressionism,” Burlingham said. “This was a kind of Mecca for American art, and I think anyone who studies that period of American painting, they will end up landing at Weir Farm.”
He said that artists were drawn to his grandfather because of his spirit.
“He was a magnificent friend-maker. He had more friends than you could imagine. People who met him loved him, absolutely loved him. They couldn’t wait to sit with him and talk with him and laugh with him, and he supported his fellow artists,” he said.
Burlingham does some painting, mostly watercolors, but does not think of himself as an artist. He became a lawyer in Cambridge, Mass., where his wife worked as a chef. He still regularly visits Weir Farm for talks, meetings and other events. He enjoys working in the archives, transcribing old letters from his grandfather and other relatives. He is also working on a genealogy project, discovering ancestors who came over on the Mayflower and others who fought in the Civil War.
Weir Farm has hosted a wide variety of artists across all media, and is the only national park devoted to American painting. Burlingham sees it maintaining the family legacy.
“It is a continuation of the spirit of the place, which was creativity,” he said. “We want this place to be a continuing inspiration for younger students, and older students too. And we encourage people to come and sit in the fields and paint.”
He said when he returns to the place where he grew up, he feels like a child again.
“The old saying is, you can’t go home again. But I can. This was my aunt and uncle’s house, and I can still hear their voices.”
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