When budget cuts hit a Connecticut historic site, a volunteer steps up

At Weir Farm in Connecticut, volunteer Pat Hegnauer tends the historic gardens, teaches first aid, and strolls the grounds as a docent, igniting visitors’ creativity.

Cathryn J. Prince
Pat Hegnauer volunteers at Weir Farm National Historic Site in Ridgefield, Conn., and is the director of the G&B Community Cultural Center in Wilton, Conn. Giving of her time is something the septuagenarian says she learned growing up in Hyde Park, N.Y. First lady and social activist Eleanor Roosevelt once visited her school.

Pat Hegnauer embodies the idea that to get something done, give it to a busy person.

Ms. Hegnauer is a long-time volunteer for Weir Farm, the only National Historic Site in Connecticut and just one of two National Park Service sites devoted to
American painting. Because of budget cuts and sequestration the 60-acre site relies heavily on volunteers like Hegnauer.

Three generations of American artists called Weir Farm home: Julian Alden Weir, who helped develop American Impressionism; his daughter, the painter Dorothy Weir Young; and her husband, the sculptor Mahonri Young. The painters Sperry and Doris Andrews were the last to live on the site.

As a volunteer, Hegnauer helps catalog museum collections and maintain the site’s historic gardens. She’s taught CPR and first aid to the site’s staff and volunteers, and she walks the grounds as a docent, igniting visitors’ creativity.

Hegnauer is also the director for the G&B Community Cultural Center in Wilton, Conn., a sort of annex to Weir Farm that often exhibits art depicting the site.
Giving of her time is something the septuagenarian says she learned growing up in Hyde Park, N.Y.

“I still remember when Eleanor Roosevelt came to visit my school,” Hegnauer says.  “I can also still remember Roosevelt’s fireside chats. Not what was said, but
that everything revolved around community and how we can help each other; what can we do for each other.”

However, sequestration meant the site, which is one of 400 national parks, saw its basic budget cut 5 percent, or $51,000. The cuts effected programming, publicity, and hiring. For example, the summer Take Part in Art program normally features two artists who help and encourage visitors in their artistic pursuits. Only one artist is on site now. Also, Weir Farm couldn’t rehire a seasonal maintenance worker.

Hegnauer says the cuts forced more creativity when it comes to staffing programs or tending to the site’s gardens. She credits her ability to do more with less as
having been raised by Depression-era parents.

Hegnauer discovered Weir Farm one winter in the 1990s when she sought a place to cross country ski. The stone walls that bisect the gently rolling fields; the red buildings with white trim, and the silhouette of the trees regardless of the season awakened her inner artist.

“I was immediately blown away by the landscape,” she says. “As a docent it’s my job to awaken new curiosity" and make the same awakening happen for visitors "that has happened to me.”

Today Hegnauer paints and encourages others to do so as well, no matter the results. She says grownups seem more inhibited because they have a preconceived idea of what art should be.

Thousands of people visit the site each year. Weir Farm’s fields, hardwood forests, and wetland areas make it a favorite spot for nature lovers. History buffs and
artists enjoy the spot for its 16 outbuildings, two farmsteads, and hundreds of letters to and from J. Alden Weir. Of course some come to collect a stamp in their National Park passport books as well.

“It’s an oasis in a very congested part of the country,” Hegnauer says.

Over at the G&B center Hegnauer's “ever-present easel” stands in a corner of her study. Bookshelves line the cozy space, framed art hangs on the walls, and postcards are pinned to cork boards. Classical music plays and a pot of hot coffee remains at the ready.

of stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Unlimited digital access $11/month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.