Yeah… Gonna Hafta Do This the Ordway
Avon (Google Maps location)
May 19, 2019
I have a weird fascination with Connecticut’s private boarding schools. One reason is their exorbitant costs; usually around $70,000/year when all is said and done. But mostly because many of them have remarkably interesting histories, architecture, and/or settings.
Avon Old Farms has all three – plus the exorbitant fees, but I don’t really care about that. Good for them.
Connecticut, of course, has a slew of these kinds of schools. This is where fancy kids learn that “New England Boarding School accent” the rest of the country loves so much. And many of these schools have art galleries to visit. Some are very inviting to the public; always open and free to explore.
Some, I’ve found, are very protective of their space. And some, like the Ordway at Avon Old Farms, are somewhere in between.
I reached out to the contact on the website months prior to my visit and got a return phone call asking me some questions about what, exactly, I wanted to do. As I was working 12-hour days, often in Europe, I never returned that call.
Flash-forward a year or so and I again wrote to the contact. I again got a call back again asking me what this CTMQ thing was all about. It’s sort of hard to explain that I’m not necessarily a “real” writer but I’d like “real writer” access. I succeeded and a date and time was chosen to meet.
I’ve driven near and by and around AoF dozens of times. After all, I live only 15 minutes away. But I’d never tried navigating the interior of the sprawling campus. I probably should have sorted out where the heck the Ordway gallery was before venturing off, but… too late. My wanderings did allow me to take in more of the stunning beauty of the full campus at least.
If you’ve never been… it’s incredible. in 2018, AoF’s quarterback was recruited successfully by Clemson. Upon visiting, Clemson’s coach said, “It looks like something out of Harry Potter world. That’s where I thought I was. I’m going through the woods like, where am I going and where are the hobbits.”
This quote got a lot of airplay but the problem with it is that the head football coach of Clemson shouldn’t know that hobbits inhabit the Shire which is totally not Harry Potter World. So he was given a pass for this kid-fantasy gaffe. Just check out AoF’s website. It’s rad. Or you can do the 360-virtual tour which is radder. Did I mention all the boys must wear jackets and ties here? Now that’s pure Hogwarts.
The school was designed by Theodate Pope Riddle. Her home in Farmington is now the (self-designed) Hillstead Museum and she is rather famous for being pretty much the first successful female architect… ever? The first licensed one in Connecticut and New York anyway.
Pope-Riddle toured New England for inspiration at others school, but wrote a friend, “They all illustrate exceedingly well the things I wish to avoid.” So she designed something out of the Cotswolds and even brought builders over from there to help in construction. It was completed in 1927 and Mrs. Riddle ran the joint with an iron fist. (She had some very strong opinions on what an all-boys school should and shouldn’t offer.)
I finally found the Ordway Gallery – in the Beatson Performing Arts building in the way-back, which also houses a giant gym and a store and a post office and who knows what else.
I never found my contact. In fact, despite seeing students and faculty and employees and parents milling all around the campus, I sheepishly entered the Ordway Gallery alone… and remained alone for the duration of my visit.
Not that my visit was very long. After all… c’mon, this is a high school art gallery. It ain’t big. I was most interested in the stuff that is more or less permanently on display. Like the Theodate Pope Riddle and Avon display case.
The display is an exceptional way to celebrate Avon Old Farms and Mrs. Riddle’s legacy. The exhibit displays: some of the original tools used by local craftsmen to forge, carve, and chisel this campus into being; original hardware, elevation drawings of Mrs. Riddle’s vision for this building complex; and photographs of the campus being constructed by hand in the 1920s.
Cool as it is, again, it’s not big. Please know that I’ve been in much smaller art galleries than the Ordway. And art galleries that are no where near as nicely presented.
Back when I first reached out to the school, the main exhibit featured two alumni who have gone on to found an architecture firm. I was bummed that I’d missed that, but came to find out that they kept a few bits of it up for my visit.
Yup, just for me.
Christopher Stone and his partner David Fox founded the STONEFOX Architects in 2002 with the belief that all that all successful architecture, interior design, and landscape projects are shaped by listening closely to clients and responding with the polished aesthetic dexterity that has become the firm’s hallmark.
Chris Stone brings over 14 years of experience in architecture and design to STONEFOX. With his passion for planning and detail, and his wide-ranging portfolio of corporate, artistic, and personal projects, Chris is able to anticipate new opportunities for creating spaces with lasting value. He can trace his love of art and design back to his time at Avon, where he says he was, “immediately captivated by the architecture of Mrs. Riddle’s Cotswold Village.”
As young as six years old, Andrew Corrigan recognized an interest in architecture & design: he witnessed the architectural possibilities and creation of a space that worked for his family as they build a home when he was young, and the famed architecture at Avon Old Farms only enhanced that interest in architectural design.
“I cannot think of a better example of how architecture influences a person’s experience. The proportions of the school, the layout of the dorms, classrooms, and faculty housing – every little detail is a lesson in thoughtful design. Theodate’s vision of creating a small village in which the school community interacted regularly steered the way we all lived, and the way we learned.”
The main exhibit during my visit was The AP Art Studio, which we can assume are the best pieces from the best AoF artists? Sure, works for me. You’ve already seen a bunch of the pieces above on this page.
As I made my way to the end of the gallery and continued to poke around the incredibly clean building, I found another art gallery! Woo-hoo.
It’s called The Teirnan Room and… it had some art stuff in it. These are the also-ran art projects. Those that didn’t make the Ordway cut. You can check it all out here until this link no longer works.
There were a lot, they were not displayed as nicely as those in the Ordway, and I didn’t stick around too long.
Why? Because I had to check out the AoF Sports Hall of Fame! I knew of three NHL players who went to AoF, and while I assume that all three are on the walls here, I didn’t see Jonathan Quick. I only saw Nick Bonino and (of course, Duh!) Brian Leetch. Everyone knows Leetchy went to Avon Old Farms.
There are a bunch of inductees but I don’t follow sailing or squash or fencing or whatever else they do over here in the Avon woods. I’m not sure they give boxing training here anymore, but the school does have an impressive collection of what they call “pugilism art.” Here’s what it looked like.
I missed that exhibit as well, but it’s part of the school’s permanent collection I think. I’m not sure. You can ask them – they are super nice and very responsive. I know I’ve highlighted the beauty and impressiveness of the school at least as much than the Ordway Art Gallery. Something tells me that anyone familiar with both won’t argue my doing so. You should definitely poke around the school if you’re ever in the area; it’s worth it.
Just watch out for Ewoks and Orcs. Or something.