Founded by the sculptor Elisabeth Gordon Chandler in 1976, the Lyme Academy of Fine Arts began with a single, bold idea – to offer a traditional education in figurative and representational art at a time when academic principles had fallen out of favor. Intense observation and a structured, sequential approach to drawing, painting, and sculpture would provide the foundation on which confidence, creativity, and self-expression were built. Classes would be taught in the picturesque town of Old Lyme, Connecticut, a site of great art historical significance, and Elisabeth’s beloved home.
A faculty of recognized artists worked to execute Elisabeth’s plan. Robert Brackman, newly retired from teaching at the Art Students League in New York and a giant in his field, was among the Academy’s earliest and most revered teachers; he was followed by Deane G. Keller, whose lessons in drawing and painting had a profound impact on the Academy for more than twenty-five years.
As the quality of the Academy’s curriculum became more widely known, enrollment began to climb. By the 1980s, students were applying to study at the Academy from across the United States. The single sky-lit studio rented from the neighboring Lyme Art Association soon became too small; this led to the purchase and renovation of the historic John Sill House in 1986, which stands at the center of the Academy’s campus to this day. As the Academy continued to grow – north-lit studios, an art gallery, and a substantial student library were added on four acres of land in the town’s historic district of Old Lyme – Elisabeth’s vision, now shared by her husband, the sculptor Laci de Gerenday, seemed a model of success.
The decision to seek accreditation as a college in the early 1990s seemed a natural evolution, and in 1995 the Academy began granting Bachelor of Fine Arts degrees. But the requirements of this new role, and the infrastructure that it demanded, impeded the Academy’s historic focus on the fostering of students’ skills. This proved unsustainable, and the sacrifice too great. In 2018, twelve years after Elisabeth had passed, the Academy returned to her original mission, reclaiming its status as an Academy rather than a college, and operating better for the pause. No longer constrained by the requirements that came with a change in academic status, the Academy was free to return its focus to its program, and the students that they served. In 2021, with fresh leadership at its helm, the Lyme Academy of Fine Arts reopens its doors to students, and welcomes a new generation of success.