Bruce Museum Collection Favorites

Zuni Jar Including Deer with “Heart Line” Design. Coiled ceramic. c. 1901. Zuni Pueblo, New Mexico. Bruce Museum Collection, Gift of Mrs. Robert Horton, 80.28

Postosuchus kirkpatricki skeleton (cast). Museum purchase, Triebold Paleontology

Frederick Childe Hassam (American, 1859-1935), The Mill Pond, Cos Cob, 1902
Oil on canvas. Bruce Museum Collection, Anonymous gift, 1994.

Silk evening gown, c. 1895. House of Worth. Bruce Museum Collection, 20480-1.

Daniel Ridway Knight (1839-1924), Brittany Girl, n.d.. Oil on canvas, 31x27 in. Bruce Museum Collection, 13412.

Hans Rudolf Manuel Deutsch (Swiss, 1525-1572) Monstra Marina & Terrestria from Sebastian Münster’s Cosmographia (mid-late 16th century) woodcut.

Bausch and Lomb Baloptican Micro-projection Apparatus, mid-1890s, Gift of Dr. Edward Fuller Bigelow, 1925.

Charles Harold Davis (American, 1856-1933), The Old Pasture, 1916. Oil on canvas, 25 x 30 in.
Bruce Museum, purchase from the artist, 1919.

Scolecite on Stilbite
Pune District, Maharashtra, India
Bruce Museum Collection, 2019.11.0643

Fossil fish, Redfieldius sp.
North Guilford, CT
Bruce Museum Collection 20178

William Merritt Chase (American, 1849-1917)
Young Girl, c.1900
Oil on canvas, 30 x 25 in.
Bruce Museum Collection, 2002.31

Joe Fig (American, b. 1968)
Who’s Afraid of Barney? (Barnett Newman), 2008
Mixed media, 14 x 15 3/4 x 12 1/4 in.
Gift of Joe Fig, Bruce Museum Collection, 2017.07

Maria (1887-1980) and Santana Martinez (1909-2002)
Blackware storage jar with butterfly design
Coiled Ceramic, c. 1943-1956
San Ildefonso Pueblo, New Mexico
Bruce Museum Collection, Gift of Margaret Cranford, 23116

Each year, the Bruce Museum presents more than a dozen exhibitions of art and science, with many of the artworks and items drawn from the Museum’s permanent collection of more than 15,000 objects in fine and decorative art, natural history and anthropology.

Here, Museum staff members share their thoughts, plus historical detail and context, as well as some fun facts about their favorite objects from the Bruce Museum Collection.

Zuni Jar Including Deer with “Heart Line” Design. Coiled ceramic. c. 1901. Zuni Pueblo, New Mexico. Bruce Museum Collection, Gift of Mrs. Robert Horton, 80.28

In 2014, I curated an exhibition highlighting the Bruce Museum’s collection of Southwest Native American pottery. Geometric patterns and natural motifs appeal to my personal aesthetic, and pieces created by Native American artists often include excellent examples of this type of imagery. Potters paint designs onto the vessel before it is fired, using either slip or a paint made of natural materials. Designs are frequently symbolic, representing the wishes or needs of the Pueblo people. Artists incorporate motifs, such as rain clouds, mountains, plants, and animals, to invoke much-needed rain to the arid environment. These motifs are often repeated, generation after generation, with each artist bringing a unique style to the symbolism. The deer with the “heart line” design, seen in both early twentieth century and contemporary Zuni pieces like this piece from the Museum’s collection, signifies a connection between the deer’s breath and its heart.

Kathleen Holko, Manager of School and Tour Services

Postosuchus kirkpatricki skeleton (cast). Museum purchase, Triebold Paleontology​

In our collection of science specimens, I am particularly fond of our Postosuchus skeleton. Postosuchus lived in the late Triassic, a time when dinosaurs roamed a united Pangea. Though Postosuchus might look like a dinosaur itself, it was actually part of a group of reptiles more closely related to crocodiles. Reaching an impressive 13 feet long and with jaws full of sharp teeth, Postosuchus was an ecologically important apex predator of its day. When I look at Postosuchus, I feel the same awe as if I gazed upon a tiger, for it surely was a dangerous, powerful, and majestic animal in life. Unfortunately, Postosuchus and most of its relatives fell extinct at the end of the Triassic, leaving only small fox-like reptiles remaining from the crocodile branch of the tree of life. This wave of extinction is what allowed dinosaurs to diversify and thrive in the Jurassic, finally at the top of the food chain. 

Kate Dzikiewicz, Science Curatorial Associate / Seaside Center Manager

Frederick Childe Hassam (American, 1859-1935), The Mill Pond, Cos Cob, 1902

Oil on canvas. Bruce Museum Collection, Anonymous gift, 1994.

When invited to choose my favorite piece in the Bruce Museum’s permanent collection of artwork, my mind returned, time and again, to Fredrick Childe Hassam’s painting The Mill Pond.  Hassam, who lived in New York City and summered in New England, was a member of the Old Lyme Art Colony in Old Lyme, CT, and an outstanding member of the American Impressionist movement. The Bruce has an impressive collection of American Impressionists. As I have learned more about their work, I am consistently drawn to Hassam, and his desire to paint what was around him, to paint what he saw. The subject of this painting, what is now the present-day Cos Cob Harbor and the train trestle bridge at its mouth, has long been a feature of my personal landscape. As a former Connecticut resident, now living in New York City, this bridge, and this harbor, are a constant feature of my travels, and is as visually interesting to me today as they were to Hassam more than a century ago.  

Corinne Flax, Manager of School and Community Partnerships

Silk evening gown, c. 1895. House of Worth. Bruce Museum Collection, 20480-1.

If you have ever visited the Bruce for Youth and Family programs, you may have seen some of my novelty print dresses. Given my love of fashion, when it came to selecting a piece from the Museum’s permanent collection, I chose this silk evening gown from House of Worth. House of Worth was a French haute couture clothing company, and one of its designers specialized in creating unique pieces for events like masquerade balls and weddings. House of Worth dresses were custom-made for their clients, based on fabric, trim, and fit. This dress really spoke to me as it has a beautiful silk patterned fabric, featuring bouquets of flowers, and a gorgeous trim that looks like petals of leaves around the bodice and sleeves. As I pursue my love of fashion by learning how to sew, it is so exciting to explore the Bruce’s textile collection and see pieces like this dress, all hidden gems waiting to be shared. 

Megan Brown, Manager of Youth and Family Programs

Daniel Ridway Knight (1839-1924), Brittany Girl, n.d.. Oil on canvas, 31x27 in. Bruce Museum Collection, 13412.

When I started working at the Bruce Museum, an exhibition titled Canvas and Cast was on display; the exhibition included only works from the Museum’s collection. As I roamed the gallery, familiarizing myself with the space and the works, I turned the corner and came face to face with this piece and audibly gasped. Painted by Philadelphia native Daniel Ridgway Knight, Brittany Girl is an example of some of his favorite subjects, the French countryside and French peasants, usually women. Ridgeway spent most of his career in France, among Impressionists such as Alfred Sisley and Auguste Renoir, and often used the Impressionist painting method en plein air or painting outside. The rural setting of this painting reminded me immediately of my home in rural North Carolina, and the girl reminded me of many of the people I knew there. Seeing this lovely piece transported me to humid spring days and fields that smelled of fresh turned earth and newly sprouted plants, and helped alleviate a bit of my homesickness while I settled into my new home in Connecticut. 

Diana Rafferty, Coordinator of Audience Engagement

Hans Rudolf Manuel Deutsch (Swiss, 1525-1572) Monstra Marina & Terrestria from Sebastian Münster’s Cosmographia (mid-late 16th century) woodcut. 

My favorite work from the Bruce Museum Collection is the woodcut Monstra Marina & Terrestria by Hans Rudolf Manuel Deutsch. This print originally illustrated a copy of Cosmographia, a 16th century description of the world by cartographer and Hebrew scholar Sebastian Münster. It accompanied the text’s section on Scandinavia and depicts the creatures that were thought to inhabit this region. These beasties reflect a mixture of aquatic animal sightings, sailor’s tales, and ideas from ancient sources such as the notion that each land animal had an ocean equivalent. 

Monsters are one of my favorite art subjects because I think that these beings are where we, as viewers, really get to see an artist’s creativity and imagination. I have a particular soft spot for sea creatures because my first job in a museum was as a volunteer researcher investigating a 16th century Italian print of sirens. Hans Rudolf Manuel Deutsch, by depicting these creatures as both marvelously monstrous and wonderfully whimsical, beautifully captures the balance between horror and humor that I think characterizes the best depictions of beasties. 

H.S. Miller, Zvi Grunberg Resident Fellow, 2019-20

Bausch and Lomb Baloptican Micro-projection Apparatus

This projection microscope dates to the mid-1890s and was formerly owned by Dr. Edward Fuller Bigelow, president of the Agassiz Association and founding curator of the Bruce Museum. He was famous for his lantern slide and micro-projection presentations and performed them for thousands of teachers, students, and laypersons over his career. This apparatus was state-of-the-art for its time and surely commanded much wonder and awe during its long period of use. It used a carbon arc lamp for illumination, which at the time produced light 200 times brighter than the best bulb available. It did this by running high electrical current through two carbon rods. The resulting carbon vapor was highly luminous and created a strong, brilliant light. Bigelow was famous for magnifying living protozoans by two-hundred thousand times life-size and also projecting an image of a honeybee stinger onto a wall fifteen to twenty feet in width. Bigelow would travel with this case and also a magic lantern projector, showing glass slides of wildflowers, bee hives, and groups of nature study enthusiasts exploring outdoors. One of the most spectacular presentations Bigelow would give with this micro-projector was to place a tiny trout fry into a special live-well slide and project this living thing so large that the audience could witness the red corpuscles flowing through its veins. In the 1890s this must have been an astounding sight. Presentations of this form continued at the Bruce Museum after Bigelow donated the equipment in 1925. Hundreds of school children were astounded at the spectacle; so much so that there was a big uproar when the museum discontinued it in the 1930s.

Tim Walsh, Collections Managerˆ

Charles Harold Davis (American, 1856-1933), The Old Pasture, 1916. Oil on canvas, 25 x 30 in., Bruce Museum, purchase from the artist, 1919.

Charles Harold Davis (1856-1933) was an American landscape artist who established an art colony in Mystic, CT. (The Mystic Art Colony would eventually become the Mystic Museum of Art.) Davis was heavily influenced by the French Barbizon artists, especially Jean-François Millet. According to the Mystic Museum of Art, while studying in Paris in the 1880s, Davis saw Millet’s work and experienced a conversion. He described the experience as a “light flash suddenly into a hitherto darkened soul.” 

I chose The Old Pasture as my favorite piece from the Bruce Museum Collection because, like Davis, who described light entering his soul when viewing Millet’s work, seeing this work immediately fills me with feelings of light and warmth. This painting evokes memories of summer days at my cousins’ house in Connecticut, running in the grass with the sound of grasshoppers and birds replacing the Bronx traffic and horns of my own childhood home for a few hours of bliss. 

Laura Freeman, Bruce Museum Membership Manager

Scolecite on Stilbite, Pune District, Maharashtra, India, Bruce Museum Collection, 2019.11.0643

I have to admit that my experience with minerals was extremely limited before I viewed the exhibition Treasures of the Earth: Mineral Masterpieces from the Robert R. Weiner Collection(November 11, 2017 - April 1, 2018) at the Bruce Museum. I had been a member of the Bruce for many years, but largely focused my visits on the art exhibitions. I had no idea what I was missing! 

One of my favorite pieces in Treasures of the Earth was the mineral specimen, Scolecite on Stilbite. I think the combination of the two minerals evokes both power and fragility. The piece looks like an explosion caught in action, crystalized into gossamer shards of light. The sense of movement in the specimen is extraordinary; it is as if the scolecite is bursting out from the stilbite. 

The beauty of this piece is reminiscent of a pink dahlia, proving once again that mother nature truly is the greatest artist! I am sincerely grateful that this lovely specimen is now part of the Museum’s permanent collection, as it was part of a large mineral collection generously donated to the Museum by Robert R. Wiener. 

Ellen Flanagan, Bruce Museum Trustee

Fossil fish, Redfieldius sp., North Guilford, CT, Bruce Museum Collection 20178

In 2018, the Bruce Museum received a major gift from Nicholas G. McDonald, who donated the best of his world-class collection of fossil and geological specimens from the Connecticut Valley. Many of these objects date from the dawn of the age of dinosaurs, which began about 250 million years ago.

A retired geology instructor and Chairman Emeritus of the Science Department at Westminster School in Simsbury, CT, McDonald assembled his collection over five decades, starting as a 12-year-old walking a local stream bed with a friend and his dad. Since then, as he told Museum members at a special reception announcing his gift, “I’ve walked almost every stream bed in the Connecticut Valley, and discovered thousands of well-preserved fossil fishes. Central Connecticut has some of the most productive localities for Jurassic fish and dinosaur tracks east of the Mississippi.” As a longtime Connecticut resident, I had no idea our state was such a treasure trove – or that when these ancient creatures were alive, Connecticut was located in the subtropics, just a few degrees from the equator. The specimens are exceptional, beautiful to look at, and invaluable artifacts that will be studied by researchers for generations to come. Dig deeper by clicking here.

Scott Smith, Director of Marketing and Communications

William Merritt Chase (American, 1849-1917), Young Girl, c.1900, Oil on canvas, 30 x 25 in., Bruce Museum Collection, 2002.31

I remember clearly when the Bruce Museum bought this charming painting by William Merritt Chase, an outstanding addition to the Museum’s nineteenth-century American art collection. When I was in graduate school, I studied American painting and wrote my thesis on Chase's pastel paintings. So, long ago, I was deeply involved with this cosmopolitan artist and teacher, who had nine children, several wolfhounds, and a renowned studio on 10th Street in New York City. 

Fresh and energetic, Young Girl is typical of Chase’s style of painting. His bravura brushstroke laden with impasto is on full display. Also prominent is his use of color notations, such as the stroke of green to contrast with red lips and the fully rendered face together with clothing of less detail. 

Young Girl is likely a quick portrait sketch executed in the studio for Chase’s students. As a teacher, Chase taught many artists who would find their own distinct styles, including Georgia O’Keeffe, Edward Hopper, and George Bellows, to name a few. Although a man of his time, Chase welcomed women into his studio, providing serious instruction and professional support. Young Girl delightfully reveals both Chase’s painterly process and his lasting legacy as teacher.

Susan Mahoney, Co-Chair, The Campaign for the New Bruce and Co-Chair of the Museum Council

Joe Fig (American, b. 1968), Who’s Afraid of Barney? (Barnett Newman), 2008, Mixed media, 14 x 15 3/4 x 12 1/4 in., Gift of Joe Fig, Bruce Museum Collection, 2017.07

For several reasons, one of my favorite works in the Bruce Museum’s collection is a mixed media sculpture by Joe Fig, called Who’s Afraid of Barney?. While co-curating the 2013-14 exhibition Inside the Artists’ Studios: Small-Scale Views, I had the fun of visiting artists in their workspaces. On a crisp, sunny day, I made the trip to Fig’s studio, located in a ramshackle industrial building nestled in Connecticut’s Farmington Valley. His neatly organized collection of tiny plastic pieces, found objects, and dollhouse supplies, which would eventually be transformed into realistic miniature props for his sculptures of other artists’ studios, was fascinating to behold. 

I am curious about the source of creativity, but Joe took his interest to serious levels. He began with historical art research, leading to a questionnaire for living artists, which evolved into his first book, Inside the Painter’s Studio, in 2009. Joe told me that he has an affinity for Abstract Expressionism, and that he could understand Barnett Newman’s (1905-1970) work by making a sculpture based on candid period photographs. As you can see in the work, those images revealed that Newman’s New York studio, not unlike his paintings, was tidy and spare. 

When Fig and his dealer, Cristin Tierney, offered the sculpture to the Bruce, I was thrilled.To me, it represents what the Bruce Museum is about—curiosity, creative expression, and a desire to understand art and artists.

Kathy Reichenbach, Assistant to the Executive Director & Board Liaison

 

Maria (1887-1980) and Santana Martinez (1909-2002), Blackware storage jar with butterfly design, Coiled Ceramic, c. 1943-1956, San Ildefonso Pueblo, New Mexico, Bruce Museum Collection, Gift of Margaret Cranford, 23116

As a longtime collector of Native American art, I was delighted to see this amazing example of ceramicist Maria Martinez’s work, from the height of her skills, in the Bruce Museum’s collection. 

Maria Martinez (1887-1980) came of age when clay utensils and cooking vessels were giving way to durable metal containers: pottery making was becoming a lost art. As a child growing up in New Mexico’s San Ildefonso Pueblo, she was curious about how clay was turned into useful objects. This curiosity eventually led to her guiding a transformative movement in Pueblo pottery, moving away from utilitarian designs toward art.

Maria, with the assistance of her husband, Julian, developed techniques that became hallmarks of her work: thin vessel walls, flawless shapes, unique designs with no imperfections, and delicate black-on-black matte painting. Black ware had been produced in New Mexico before, but Maria’s experiments resulted in the now famous black-on-black ware. Black-on-black design started with the design being painted onto a polished vessel with red clay slip. Then, the vessel was fired in a dung kiln at a relatively low temperature to prevent over-firing of the slip. The fire was smoldered with powdered dung. 

This jar demonstrates not only black-on-black surfaces, but also the precise and delicate application of the thin clay slip within the wide band around the vessel. In Pueblo culture, the butterfly is a positive symbol with meanings that can vary from one community to another. It is often linked to a creation myth among many Pueblo tribes: the Creator placed all the colors into a bag, opened it, and a butterfly came out. The butterfly is meant to be a comforting symbol, especially if one rests on your shoulder. 

Maryann Keller Chai, Bruce Museum Trustee