By Barbara Malinsky / Photos by Robert Cyr

Behold the wonders of antiquity!  Entering the Slater Museum you are immediately surrounded by some of the world’s most famous statuary.  You might be at the Louvre because there is Nike (Victory) of Samothrace but then there is the Psyche of Capua from the Amphitheatre of Capua, Italy.  As you turn, you see the Satyr or Marble Faun from the Capitoline Museum in Rome that is a copy of a Greek bronze.  In fact, they are all copies, over 150 of them.  The object of the collection was to bring to the general public art pieces that might not otherwise be seen.  In 1888, Norwich Free Academy Principal Robert Porter Keep convinced William A. Slater to fund the acquisition of plaster casts of ancient sculpture in addition to Slater’s gift to construct Slater Memorial Hall.  A museum was born!

In 1884, William Albert Slater, son of the Norwich industrialist, memorialized his father, John Fox Slater with a new building at the Norwich Free Academy.  The young Slater was educated, successful and enjoyed travel, theater, music, and art.  During frequent visits to France with his wife Eleanor, he purchased contemporary art.  His philanthropy provided for the expansion of educational opportunities and affordable access to the arts for local citizens.  His gifts touched residents in their everyday lives.

Another installation at the museum is a chronological tour of the Slater’s Grand Tour of the world that was a common practice among the wealthy. They and their crew visited the many historical sites in their yacht named for Eleanor.   Viewing the photographic exhibit will vicariously take you away to various places around the globe.  The photographs become even more interesting with the added quotes from Eleanor’s journal as she observed each stop along the long itinerary.  In the Azores Eleanor commented,  “Pico …looked grand in the morning light.”   At the Leaning Tower of Pisa she noted, “The town of Pisa is uninteresting but the tower repays one for the drive which today was frightfully cold.  The tower is one hundred and eighty-three feet high and thirteen feet out of perpendicular.”

Several visits to sights in India followed…Dakhma or Tower of Silence in Bombay, the Jal Mahal, and a parade through Jaipur.  In Ceylon, they visited the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic, a Buddhist temple in the city of Kandy, Ceylon (modern day Sri Lanka).  “The world famed Temple of the Tooth is a humbug but is of course a curiosity to be visited.  The relic is strongly locked up and an armed guard stationed at the entrance of the shrine to further protect it.  Only a few of the faithful and now and then a titled European are allowed to look upon it.”

Onto Japan where we see an overview of a port city, possibly Kobe then the Chion-in temple Kyoto, headquarters of the Pure Land Sect, the most widely practiced branch of Buddhism in Japan.  In China the Slaters visited The Flowery Pagoda, the main structure of the Temple of Six Banyan Trees, a Buddhist Temple.  “The visitors to Canton are taken to numerous temples, pagodas, etc. and while they are beautiful and not ordinary it is the getting to them that is interesting and charming to strangers.  The streets are from four to ten feet wide, often filled with a crowd buying and selling, working at trades, heaving burdens, jostling and jabbering.”

The next port of call was Hawaii with Diamond Head in the distance.   Then, heading home to Alaska where the Slaters visited Sitka and then California.  There are more photos and commentary when the exhibit is personally explored.

The Slater also has a gallery of African Art.  According to Director Vivian Zoe, “With a significant number of African Americans living in Norwich and in our school population, we feel that reflecting the rich artistic heritage of that population is important and a way to engage the community.  It’s also important to note that John Fox Slater, for whom the building and museum are named, gave one million dollars to seed a fund in 1884 to educate freed slaves.  The fund still exists and is part of the Southern Education Fund, which still assists the historically Black colleges.”

Several collectors have contributed objects over the years.  Lou Atherton, a retired U. S. State Department Foreign Service officer, spent a good deal of time in Africa and gave his entire collection to the museum in one gift.  Jerry Lopez, another U. S. State Department Foreign Service employee, has been donating pieces acquired in Africa.  Also, artist and Hartford Art School professor Paul Zimmerman donated his collection to the museum.  The gallery comprises masks, utensils, weapons, musical instruments, and more.

The museum also has a collection of Asian Art, the Vanderpoel Gallery of Asian Art that contains Korean, Chinese, and Japanese artwork as well as artifacts from the ancient cultures of Mesopotamia and Persia.

Focusing on home, The Norwich Galleries tell the story of three centuries of life in the Rose City through fine and decorative art, household and industrial objects, archaeological artifacts and documents.  This gallery interprets every aspect of the region’s history and continues to grow by ongoing contributions.

Norwich was an important place in the eighteenth century because of trade opportunities provided by the confluence of three rivers.  At the outbreak of the Revolutionary War, Norwich merchants like Christopher Leffingwell were the principal purveyors of provisions for the patriot army, earning Connecticut the moniker “The Provision State”.  Norwich was a powerhouse of industrial productivity including everything from weaponry to whaling tools, which are represented in the collection.  It is also known for its painters: John Denison Crocker, Ozias Dodge, Alexander Hamilton Emmons, and others.

More than a repository, the museum hosts six exhibits throughout the year.  Some are initiated by the museum and others are hosted by the museum from various institutions.  Some past exhibits have been the ongoing Annual Connecticut Artists Juried Exhibition, which begins the year:  2017 was the 73rd Exhibition, the 127th Norwich Art School Student Exhibition, the Connecticut Women Artists 86th Annual National Open Juried Exhibition, The Connecticut Pastel 23rd National Juried Exhibition, Life’s Landscape: The Art of Ron Wing, who was a Norwich Free Academy graduate, Meadow Life – a celebration of Connecticut’s open lands and green spaces, and Local Color that is a dual exhibition presented by Studio Art Quilt Associates members from Connecticut and the Northern California/Nevada region.  Upcoming exhibitions include the Photography of the Grand Tour.  Many of the images on display will be on view to the public for the first time. Also, on view from October 15, 2017 through January 15, 2018 will be the work of Bela Lyon Pratt: Sculptor of Monument.  The exhibition will feature the work of the Norwich native, revealing his innate draftsmanship and his ability to capture a range of human emotions – passion, strength, fragility – rendered in bronze and marble.

The Slater Museum is a bustling place.  To explore go to

1 reply
  1. Robert Silverberg NFA '1942
    Robert Silverberg NFA '1942 says:

    While attending the Academy, the Slater collection was figured to be “just a part of the school” It wasn’t until years later that I realized what a splendid and singular exhibit it is.

Comments are closed.