Nine years ago, the artist Xiomáro was at a point in his life where he was unsure of his next steps.
An attorney, he was feeling a strong pull from his artistic side. He was also a musician, but it was a serendipitous visit to Weir Farm National Historic Site that set him on his creative path, helping him find focus and direction for his art.
That led to an artist-in-residency at Weir Farm in 2011 and now a book in the Images of Modern America series — Weir Farm National Historic Site — that was published on June 3 by Arcadia Publishing.
It is filled with images Xiomáro “has created of the farm over the years . It takes the reader from seeing what Julian Alden Weir saw when he settled there in the late 1800s, through the artists who followed him — Mahonri Young and Sperry Andrews — through a massive restoration process to what visitors can see today, particularly if they look beyond the obvious. Also helping to tell the story are historic photos of the farm and people associated with it.
“Weir Farm is something for the people of Connecticut to be proud of,” Xiomáro said during a recent interview at the park. “It’s a small park with a big message.”
Weir Farm, as former U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman says in his foreward, is the only U.S. national park dedicated to American impressionist painting. “People can walk in the footsteps of artistic giants,” Xiomáro said. “It’s a national treasure” which next year will be featured on the back of a quarter as part of the U.S. Mint’s America the Beautiful series. Some of the design options are featured in the book.
Beyond promoting Weir Farm, Xiomáro also has a more personal reason for producing the book. A portion of the proceeds he earns will be devoted to a nonprofit organization called Emotions Matter. Xiomáro’s daughter Jessica, to whom the book is dedicated along with his parents, was a poet and artist who struggled with emotional instability.
She was eventually diagnosed with borderline personality disorder. A poet and an artist, her career was cut short when she died of a drug overdose.
Through a visitor’s eyes
When writing the book, Xiomáro put himself in the position of someone visiting the park for the first time, hence the introduction and first chapter serve to give an overview of the site and its history.
Xiomáro also recounts how Weir Farm was almost lost to development — only 68 of the original 238 acres have been preserved — and the photos depict aspects of the park people don’t always readily see: the roots of an overturned tree, remnants of an old wagon, stone walls hidden under vegetation. There are photos that look like paintings, emphasizing the light the impressionists were so inspired by.
Xiomáro also documents the restoration of the Weir house and studios used by Weir and Young. Close-ups of personal items offer a glimpse into the personalities and everyday life of the artists who called the farm home.
While Julian Alden Weir is the dominant figure of the park, he was not its only creative spirit and Xiomáro pays tribute to those who followed after Weir’s death in 1919. They include his daughter, Dorothy, and her husband Mahonri Young, who actually lived there longer than Weir. Young produced “gritty social realist sculptures” in an austere space, Xiomáro writes, in contrast to Weir’s more poetic studio.
The artists Doris and Sperry Andrews purchased the farm after Young’s death in 1957 and kept the grounds and house as they were. They were also instrumental in the farm’s preservation from development.
Artist in residence
Weir Farm has a robust artist-in-residence program through which a different artist visits the farm, living on site, for a month. Most artists use the opportunity to continue with the art they are working on at the time.
Xiomáro, however, used the time to explore the park with his camera. His curiosity led him to meet Weir descendant Charles Burlingham, who let Xiomáro get a look inside the buildings.
Xiomáro used the opportunity to take some photos, and when park officials inquired about them later, that led to a commission to photograph the empty rooms of the Weir house and studios before they were renovated. Another commission followed after the renovation was complete. He also photographed the grounds, which gave him a complete collection of images.
Despite that, it would take several years before Xiomáro reached a publishing deal with Arcadia. Xiomáro emphasized he is not employed by the park and the project was of his own doing. The book may be purchased directly from Arcadia at arcadiapublishing.com, at amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com.
“I want the book to make people aware of the park and hold their representatives in Congress responsible that it’s adequately funded and taken care of,” he said.