The Wilton Artists' Colony

Note: all works pictured in this article are in the current collection of the Wilton Public and Gregg Free Library in Wilton.

The Riverview Mill building  is a reminder to us of the diverse and talented community of artists and artisans who call Wilton home, and whose creative work is inspired by the natural beauty and energizing spirit of our town.  What few realize, however, is that Wilton has a long history as an artists’ colony, in the same vein as the towns of Cornish and Dublin.  From the late 19th century on, a group of world class artists, many of whom had originally come to Wilton as summer residents, found this town to be a place that inspired them enough to settle, or at least spend significant time here. 

Ross Turner (1847-1915), who came to live in Wilton in the late 1880’s, was in the vanguard of this incipient artist colony.  After spending several years studying in Europe, he began his career working with the noted painter Childe Hassam in Boston and went on to become one of the pre-eminent New England-based American Impressionists.  He lived and worked in one of the oldest houses in Wilton, which he called Rossmore (on Isaac Frye Highway near Putnam Hill Rd), and created an art studio in a barn on the property. By the early 1900’s many people from Boston and New York had re-discovered Wilton Center as a summer retreat (which since the 1850’s had functioned less and less as the center of town life since the coming of the railroad and the mills to the East Village), and beginning around 1910 and continuing on into the 20’s, 30’s and 40’s several major American artists followed Turner here, locating in and around the Center.

Chauncey RyderChauncey Ryder (1868-1949), a significant landscape artist in the American Impressionist vein, had first come to Wilton as a summer visitor and lived and worked in a house on Isaac Frye Highway, just a short way beyond Bennington Battle Trail and right next to the house known as the “Aunt Mary Ann Cottage”.  By the late 1920’s he had moved from this house into one he purchased on Abbot Hill.  Many of his significant works, in media as diverse as oil, watercolor, etchings and prints, depicted scenes in and around Wilton.  Ryder’s work has gained a great deal of attention in recent years and many of his paintings are on exhibit in places such as the MFA in Boston, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and the Art Institute of Chicago. 

Roy BrownRoy Brown (1879-1956) was yet another young American painter who had gone to study in Europe; he returned to America just before the outbreak of World War I and was summering in Wilton by the end of the 1910’s.  He too was exhibited widely and received much attention for his precise studies in oil and watercolor, as well as prints.  He lived and worked in the Center in a house across from the former Camp Anne Jackson on Wilson Road. 

Hobart NicholsHobart Nichols
(1860-1962) was a member of the Art Students’ League who had also studied in Europe before beginning his career as a landscape painter.  He was elected to the National Academy of Design and later became its president in 1939, serving for ten years.  He was President Emeritus of the Academy at his death in 1962.  Nichols spent his summers in Wilton at a house and barn/studio just up Bennington Battle Trail.  He too is represented in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, as well as the National Gallery in Washington DC.  

Stanley WoodwardStanley Woodward (1890-1970) was well known as one of the “Rockport School” of painters of seascapes and marine subjects. He was an illustrator for magazines such as Collier’s, and was also the author of Adventures in Marine Painting as well as Marine Painting in Oil and Watercolor. He summered here off and on, in various locations, over many years. 

Stanley HallettStanley Hallett (1905-1987)
was the last (and youngest) member of this group of distinguished American artists, known chiefly for his landscapes, who made Wilton his permanent home, and resided here until his death. 

We all know there is something special about our town, and one of the many things that makes it so is the presence here, over the past 100 years or more, of these distinguished men of American arts, as well as the many others who today are part of our community and grace us every day with their work and their lives.

group photo
To commemorate the town’s 200th Anniversary, works by 11 N.H. artists were included in an exhibition at the library, and four of the artists posed for this picture for the Milford Cabinet. Shown (l. to r.) Stanley Woodward, Chauncey Ryder, Roy Brown and Hobart Nichols.  Courtesy Wilton Public and Gregg Free Library Collections

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