YE Soderberg (1896-1972), “Mystic River View, Bascule Bridge”, undated, watercolor on paper. Collection of Marie Boland.

Garrett Price (1896-1979), cover of “New Yorker” magazine, August 7, 1954, printed ink on paper. Permanent collection of the Lyman Allyn Art Museum, gift of the artist.

Garrett Price (1896-1979), Sketch for “Raising the Drawbridge at Mystic, CT, 1954”, watercolor on paper. Permanent collection of the Lyman Allyn Art Museum, gift of the artist.

J. Olaf Olson (1894-1979), Untitled (Mystic River), c. 1950s, watercolor on paper. Collection of Jonathan C. Sproul.

Randy Richards, “Bascule Bridge”, mixed media. This is the best winner of the “Building Bridges” exhibition-competition.

Fred Rickeman, oil painting of the old Mystic Bridge. Mystical Seaport Museum Collection, 1954.1606.

H. Lee Hirsche (1927 – 1998), “Mystic River Bridge”, 1950, watercolor on paper. Permanent collection of the Mystic Museum of Art, donated by Mary Rowe Waldo.

You can’t see everything, just a few steel beams leaning towards the roadway and two large pieces of concrete, suspended in the air and obscured by a building.

However, there is no mistaking it. If you encountered YE Soderberg’s watercolor halfway around the world, you would know in an instant that you were looking at a painting of the Mystic River Bridge.

That’s because it’s a real landmark, familiar to everyone in southeast Connecticut.

As the bridge’s 100th anniversary celebrations wind down throughout the year, there is still one more celebration to be held. The Mystic Museum of Art has an exhibit that tells the story of the bridge through works of art.

“100 Years of the Mystic River and the Bascule Bridge” explores the importance of the waterway and the crossing in shaping the identity of the village.

Without the former, a shipbuilding tradition would not have taken place. Without it, parts of Groton and Stonington could not have become one place.

In the days before the bridge, there were three ways to get from town to town, none of them being practical if you happened to be on what is now West Main Street and were looking for to get to East Main, just a stone’s throw away. You could take a long detour over the head of the river to Old Mystic; cross “the strait”, where Interstate 95 is now; or pay Joseph Packer for a ferry ride south.

The death of the not-so-reliable smuggler, who worked when he pleased, sparked a petition for a bridge. A private wooden structure opened in 1819 and travelers paid 25 cents to cross. Packer’s Wharf became a backwater when nearby businesses migrated to Main Street.

The reconstruction of the bridge in 1831 is the first to appear in the exhibition. It is not painted by a painter but by a commercial photographer, Everett A. Scholfield, who had a long local career.

By the time Scholfield’s objective captured the bridge at the end of the Civil War, the two mystics were becoming one, aided by the elimination of the toll. Groton and Stonington had bought out the owners and made the crossing free.

In 1866, a year after the photo was taken, the wooden bridge gave way to a more solid iron one. He is depicted in a cheerful oil on linen by Frederick Rickeman, an artist known for his views of California.

Looking towards Groton from a high vantage point, the scene is recognizable by the curve of West Main Street and the distant spire of Union Baptist Church. From the tower of the bridge hangs a sign urging travelers to “walk your horses”. But two of those crossing, a stray dog ​​and a farmer with a team of oxen, are apparently exempt.

The iron bridge was followed, in 1904, by an unsuccessful attempt at progress. A steel swing bridge was built to carry a new tramway line over the river, but its foundations settled unevenly and it often got stuck in the open position.

Oil on linen by J. Eliot Enneking gives a vaporous and impressionistic vision of this bridge and the reflections in the water.

Crane problems set the stage for what is now celebrated: a replacement built to last. Based on a patent by Thomas E. Brown, an elevator engineer who designed tilt bridges in his spare time, it was a first for Mystic, which had only had swing bridges. The bridge would rise instead of turn, oscillating with concrete counterweights. The result was a wider channel in the river.

In the first views of the drawbridge, it was still only an idea. Three technical drawings lay out its design in crisp detail, rivet by rivet. They were made in 1920 and are reproduced larger than life-size, the better to see a blizzard of minutiae: tiny numbers, dotted and criss-cross lines, and notations like “air compressor” and “operating strut” .

One shows the bridge in profile, another details the counterweights and the third presents the “bull’s wheel” mechanism that operates the machinery. Created for practical reasons, they are also glorious works of art.

“Handwriting was once a lovingly cultivated and prized skill that…has fallen into decline,” the exhibit notes, adding that it has recently seen a resurgence.

The completed Bascule Bridge appears in paintings like H. Lee Hirsche’s 1950 watercolor, a simple portrait with eerily red counterweights; and views like YE Soderberg’s, which show it as a partly hidden part of the downtown landscape.

In a 1940s watercolor by J. Olaf Olson, it is even less visible. The focal point is a rower leisurely moving up the river, but a bit of the bridge in the distance is enough to set the scene. A more prominent landmark is the Strand Theatre, one of several buildings lost in a disastrous fire in 1960.

If the bridge had a moment of maximum exposure, it was probably August 7, 1954, when it appeared on the cover of The New Yorker. Artist Garrett Price, who summered on Masons Island, provided the magazine with a watercolor titled “Raising the Drawbridge at Mystic, CT.” Four young men on a sailboat approach from the south, one of them blowing a horn, perhaps to signal the tender.

The cover comes with Price’s initial sketch, and seeing them together is like trying to find the differences. Attentive observers will note that the sketch was not drawn from nature. The tender house is on the wrong side, the piers are badly drawn, and the deck is capped by a truss that isn’t really there. Errors have been corrected in the final version.

Curator Amelia Onorato said the exhibit was conceived independently of the anniversary efforts, but was meant to tie into it. The initial idea was to present only works of art showing the drawbridge from the museum’s collection, supplemented by external contributions.

“The more we searched, however, the more interesting information and artwork we discovered,” she said in an email.

In addition to earlier bridge paintings, she said, the story of the Mystic river and shipbuilding is embedded in the story. For example, ships had to be designed to cross the narrow channel left by the open swing bridges.

The exhibition begins with a look at the naval heritage of the river. Although less than 5 miles long, it was home to 11 companies which produced 1,400 ships.

Two of them appear in a large, dramatic oil on linen entitled ‘Clipper Ships Rounding Cape Horn’, painted by Lars Thorsen around 1940. The ships, their bowsprits pointing almost skyward in rough seas, would be the Andrew Jackson and the David Crockett, the famous Mystic shipyard clippers.

To come full circle with the story, a look at Mystic’s time as an art colony, which led to the creation of many paintings.

An accompanying exhibition titled “Building Bridges” is a juried exhibition in which contemporary artists interpret the idea of ​​forging connections in their works. In addition to metaphorical bridges between people, some works offer vivid new views of the drawbridge.

They launch the landmark on its second century of inspiring artists as it continues to define a village.

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What: 100 years of the Mystic River and the Weighbridge

Where: Mystic Museum of Art, 9 Water Street, Mystic

When: Until December 17

Hours: 11 a.m.-5 p.m. daily

Admission: Adults $10; museum members, military families, children under 12 free.



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