On this Veteran’s Day, I went to see the play at the Hartford Stage, Chick, The Great Osram, about the life of A. Everett Austin, Jr. Known as “Chick,” Austin was the director of the Wadsworth Atheneum from 1927 to 1944 and during his tenure made Hartford a center of the art world. He built up the Atheneum’s collections of both Old Master Paintings and modern art, brining to the first major exhibition of Picasso to the united States. He was also involved with the performing arts, staging the premiere of Gertrude Stein and Virgil Thomson‘s Four Saints in Three Acts, with an all black cast, and bringing George Blanchine to America. It was the biographical play’s last day, but an exhibition called Magic Facade: The Austin House, about the home Chick Austin built on Scarborough Street in Hartford, continues through April 20.
The house, constructed in 1930, was designed by Leigh H. French, Jr., under Austin’s direction. A Palladian Villa, it was modeled on the 1596 Villa Feretti-Angeli in Dolo, Venezia, Italy. The house gives the feeling of a stage set, as it is only one room deep. When I was in high school, I heard one variation of an urban legend about the house, according to which it was a mere facade for a power station! The house was bequeathed by Chick’s widow, Helen Goodwin Austin, to the Atheneum in 1985 and has recently been restored. It is available for tours on request with a donation to the Sarah Goodwin Austin Memorial Fund.