New exhibition showcases work by Meriden artists

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MERIDEN — For Justin Piccirillo, each of the art pieces now on display in the Meriden Historical Society’s latest exhibition tells a story. 

And Piccirillo, who is able to quickly recall the names of the artists behind each piece and then recite brief biographies about all of them, can just as quickly launch into an entertaining story about each.

The new exhibition, featuring some 100 pieces of art in various media, will be displayed at the Meriden Historical Society Museum & History Center, at 41 W. Main St., from now until the end of April. On Saturday, March 25, Piccirillo, who is a local artist, author and educator, will give two presentations, discussing the works and the artisans behind them. 

One section of artwork now on display consists of a series of landscape paintings, all depicting Hubbard Park. Several of them were created by Frederick Matzon and other artists who came under Matzon’s tutelage nearly a century ago, Piccirillo explained. 

One of those artists was Arthur Watts, who, Piccirillo explained, sought a second passion upon his retirement as a vaudeville performer. Another artist was named John Backstrom. 

“These guys had an art dealership on Pratt Street,” Piccirillo said. “They would go to Hubbard Park and they each carried three canvases.”

They set up the canvases in a line, nine of them total. “And they would paint the same scene,” Piccirillo said. 

They painted that same scene multiple times, making adjustments and correcting previous mistakes in each succeeding painting. 

While the paintings show the same scene, they are different. For example, as Piccirillo demonstrated, Watts’ paintings appear to have an illustrative quality. They were also highly textured — each brushstroke “jumps off the canvas”, Piccirillo said. 

The exhibition shows pieces by numerous other artists of local acclaim, including Charlotte Lilla Yale, famous for her still life floral paintings. 

Piccirillo was joined by Meriden Historical Society director Ginger Jewell and Sandy Goodyear, director of Gallery 53, in showcasing some of the newly hung and placed pieces. 

The exhibition coincides with the release of a Piccirillo authored book, titled “Art and Artisans of Meriden.” The book, which will be released on March 20, is published by Arcadia Publishing. 

Meriden’s past as a hub of silver manufacturing coincided with another development — a burgeoning local arts colony, Piccirillo explained. Many of those artists worked as designers for some of the city’s manufacturers by day, designing various wares and painting lampshades for local companies, like Handel Lamp Company. By night, they worked on their own pieces, Piccirillo explained. 

Among the paintings is a series of seascapes, including works by famed painter Earl Bushnell, who was influenced by another famed painter of seascapes and landscapes — Emile Gruppe. For Jewell, Bushnell’s works are some of her favorites. 

“You can actually see the influence he had,” Jewell said. 

Piccirillo’s presentations, which are free to the public, are scheduled for 1 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. on March 25. Registrations for the first presentation are filled, but there is room to attend the second event. To register, visit



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