Major Exhibition Explores the Lives and Art of Pioneering Sisters from New London at Lyman Allyn Art

NEW LONDON – The Lyman Allyn Art Museum is pleased to announce the opening of a major new exhibition on Saturday, Oct. 30, which presents the story and art of May Way (1769–1833) and Elizabeth (Way) Champlain (1771–1825), two sisters and artists from New London, Connecticut. The sisters were among the earliest professional women artists working in the United States. The Way Sisters: Miniaturists of the Early Republic will be on view through Jan. 23, 2022.

“This is the first museum exhibition to focus on the Way sisters, and it includes objects that have never been publicly exhibited,” said Dr. Tanya Pohrt, the exhibition’s curator. “These two women made important and lasting contributions to the art and history of Connecticut and a young nation. Their work deepens our understanding of early American art with objects and stories from the past that still resonate today.”

The women adapted their schoolgirl training in textiles to create collaged and painted portraits that pushed the boundaries of miniatures as an artform, while serving to expand gender roles for women. Mary Way began her career as a miniaturist around 1789 or 1790, producing painted and unique “dressed” portrait miniatures in profile with sewn and adhered fabric clothing that were unlike anything else made in America at the time.

Evidence suggests that Elizabeth (Way) Champlain, known as Betsey, also produced dressed and painted miniatures in roughly the same period. She remained in New London throughout her life and was active as a miniaturist until her sudden illness and death in 1825. Mary Way, who never married, moved to New York City in 1811, seeking new patrons and hoping to expand her artistic sphere. Facing stiff competition. she managed to eke out a living until she went blind in 1820 and was forced to return to New London, where her family supported her until her death in 1833. Over the course of their careers, the Way sisters portrayed friends, relatives and acquaintances, as well as a larger network of the mercantile elite from southeastern Connecticut. Telling a story of struggle, innovation and accomplishment, this exhibition traces what is known of the sisters’ artistic production, celebrating their stylistic and material innovations. It also examines the identities of their sitters, exploring New London’s history in the decades following the American Revolution.

To accompany the exhibition, Pohrt and Brian Ehrlich, M.D., advisor to the exhibition, will be giving an inperson Gallery Talk on Nov. 10. The lecture and reception are from 5:30 – 7 pm. Admission to the lecture is $10 for members and $15 for non-members. Interested participants should RSVP to 860.443.2545 ext. 2129. The opening reception will be Friday, Oct. 29 from 5 – 7 pm. Museum members are free, and nonmembers are $10.

Please RSVP to 860.443.2545 ext. 2129. Space is limited. For more information, please contact Rebecca Dawson by email at dawson@lymanallyn.org. This exhibition is made possible with support from Connecticut Humanities; the Department of Economic and Community Development, Office of the Arts; and an anonymous foundation. A list of the generous sponsors who supported the exhibition catalogue can be found at www.lymanallyn.org. About the Lyman Allyn Art Museum The Lyman Allyn Art Museum welcomes visitors from New London, southeastern Connecticut, and all over the world. Established in 1926 by a gift from Harriet Allyn in memory of her seafaring father, the Museum opened the doors of its beautiful neo-classical building surrounded by 12 acres of green space in 1932. Today, it presents a number of changing exhibitions each year and houses a fascinating collection of over 17,000 objects from ancient times to the present; artworks from Africa, Asia, the Americas and Europe, with particularly strong collections of American paintings, decorative arts and Victorian toys and doll houses.