Women of Waveny Exhibition opens Friday at New Canaan Museum

data blogNovember 9, 2021

The role of women in the creation of New Canaan’s Waveny House and Park will be celebrated in the exhibition, Women of Waveny: Artists, Patrons, and the Lapham Legacy, which opens on Saturday, November 12th at the New Canaan Museum & Historical Society.

The show will highlight the work of two renowned and innovative artists -- Abastenia St. Leger Eberle and Frances Benjamin Johnston -- and three enlightened patrons whose collective and complementary efforts span nearly 150 years and still resonate today.

The exhibition will be open to the public through March 31st, 2022.

“Women’s work” -- ubiquitous, often overlooked, uncredited -- is a focus of the exhibition, which investigates women’s diverse, remarkable, and also quite extraordinary contributions to our nation’s social, political, and economic development. The show’s opening was originally set to coincide with the 100-year anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment in 2020 but was delayed by last year’s COVID-19 shutdown.

“Rather than focus solely on suffrage, we wanted to mark the 100th anniversary with a show about strong, interesting women who made significant contributions in their time,” says Nancy Geary, executive director of the Museum & Historical Society.

Eberle was a sculptor best known for her sensitively rendered works depicting poor, downtrodden women and children, while Johnston’s tireless reinvention took her from prestigious portraiture and timely documentary work, to the Garden Beautiful and Southern preservation.

Within Waveny Park, a bronze nymph by Eberle adorns the spouting fountain in the formal gardens, whose original appearance was captured in beautiful hand-painted lantern slides by Johnston in 1915. 

Original bronzes by Eberle, on loan from museums and private collections, are exhibited together with images reproduced from Johnston’s archive in the Library of Congress. Also featured are historical ephemera and the stories of the Lapham women, who commissioned, cherished, and later bequeathed Eberle and Johnston’s Waveny work to the town.

Photographs of the fountain by Torrance York and of the Herter Looms murals by Julia O-Dowd highlight and vividly capture Waveny’s decorative features.

The work of Eberle, a suffragist and social justice advocate, and Johnston, a freethinker who took her equality for granted, found its way to Waveny through patron Antoinette Lapham, who designed the estate’s formal gardens with the Olmsted Brothers in 1912.

Geary says Antoinette Lapham and her daughter Ruth Lapham Lloyd primarily concerned themselves with raising their families, bringing cultural enrichment to the public, and leaving a lasting family legacy. By gifting Waveny to New Canaan in 1967, Ruth Lapham Lloyd not only opened it up to many uses but also created a living landmark for the region. Later, Elise Lapham, who lived in the Bungalow at Waveny, quietly continued Antoinette Lapham’s love of nature as an active conservationist and ornithologist.

Geary says the contributions of women of different ages and eras, occupations and visions, and pursuits have all momentarily overlapped at Waveny. The works of all these women form a kind of social, cultural, and institutional architecture from which many people can draw from and contribute, Geary says.

Included in the exhibition is Robert Petersen’s 1994 print of Waveny, poignantly conveying the accumulation of women’s history and individual endeavor undergirding that architecture, all of it brought together in cross-pollination and constant renewal. Located in the center of the piece are the names of Antoinette Lapham and Ruth Lapham Lloyd’s names, hard to see in spidery longhand but there nonetheless, the nearly invisible beating heart of the artwork.

The exhibition is curated by Arianne Kolb and Micaela Porta with an accompanying catalog. For more information, visit the museum’s website here.

event infographic of a bronze female statue and the words "women of waveny, arts, patrons and the lapham legacy"