Its $4.5 million, five-year restoration complete, the Thomas and Mary Nimmo Moran Studio debuts as a museum on July 2 in East Hampton, just in time for the summer tourist season. Visitors can get a first look at state-of-the-art interactive exhibits and tour the Morans' Victorian garden — also restored — or just watch plein-air painters working on the lawn of the quirky Main Street house, which narrowly escaped art history’s dustbin.
“The structure was near ruin and was saved, literally, from peril,” says Maria Vann, executive director of the East Hampton Historical Society, which manages the property for the East Hampton-based Thomas Moran Trust. “It’s significant,” Vann says of the house, as it's the first artists studio built in East Hampton.
“It’s a big, big deal and the only 19th century artists studio to be restored” on the East End, says Alicia G. Longwell, the Lewis B. and Dorothy Cullman chief curator at the Parrish Art Museum in Water Mill.
The Moran museum features touch screens with videos about the artists and exhibitions of their artwork, including 50 original prints the Morans made of their favorite places, from the Rockies to East Hampton’s Hook Pond.
Here are five surprising things to know about Moran and the site:
1. Moran was a member of the Hudson River School
Moran, who emigrated from England with his family at age 7, belonged to the famous fraternity of 19th century New York City-based landscape painters. He “looms large in 19th century American painting” for landscapes of the American West, which “were absolutely astonishing” to viewers in the era before movies, Longwell says.
2. Moran’s painting helped inspire the National Parks system
Moran accompanied the 1871 Hayden U.S. Geological Survey Expedition, which explored northwestern Wyoming and inspired his famous painting, "The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone." The painting created a national sensation and was purchased by Congress for display in the Capitol. Moran’s images of canyons, hot springs and geysers helped convince President Ulysses S. Grant to sign legislation designating Yellowstone as a national park — the first in America — the following year.
3. Mary Nimmo Moran was also a renowned artist
Nimmo Moran was an immigrant from Scotland whose family settled in Philadelphia. She married Moran, her neighbor and teacher, in the 1860s and took up etching in 1879 after he introduced her to the technique.
“She became very well known and was one of the first women etchers to be recognized in the American painter-etcher movement inspired by [James McNeill] Whistler,” Longwell says.
4. The Morans were East Hampton artists-pioneers
Long before Abstract Expressionist painters Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner relocated from New York City to Springs in the mid-1940s, the Morans bought land opposite the town pond in 1882. Moran built East Hampton’s first artists studio there two years later.
5. The studio is an architectural wonder
Moran designed and built the house using odds and ends from demolished Manhattan buildings, says Richard Barons, chief curator of the East Hampton Historical Society.
“The neighborhood around Moran’s city studio was changing from older-style frame and brick row houses to brownstones,” Barons says. “There was enormous destruction of entire blocks of homes, some less than 40 years old,” Barons says.
Barons says Moran scavenged the ruins for railings, windows and doors partly to save money, but also to lend his East Hampton studio “an exotic look.” The house, which has a turret and other features of the then-fashionable Queen Anne style, was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1965.
Thomas & Mary Nimmo Moran Studio
WHEN | WHERE 229 Main St., East Hampton. Open July 2 through Columbus Day; house tours at 11:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. Victorian garden tours, July 2 and 3, preregistration required; Opening celebration and benefit for the museum, July 6, tickets from $150.
INFO 631-324-6850, easthamptonhistory.org
ADMISSION $10 ($5 students)