Sutton Retires from the Bruce Museum After 17 Years

By Elizabeth Barhydt

Peter Sutton

The Bruce Museum’s Board of Directors has formed a transition committee to steer the Museum through a leadership change and to conduct a nationwide search for an Executive Director to follow Peter Sutton.

Sutton has served as Executive Director of the Bruce Museum for 17 years and is now moving toward his retirement. During his tenure, he significantly advanced the Bruce’s mission, improved its operations and expanded its audience.

An art historian and authority on Dutch and Flemish art, Sutton has held curatorial posts in both Philadelphia and Boston and was Director of the Wadsworth Atheneum. He was educated at The Gunnery School and received his undergraduate degree at Harvard before receiving a doctorate from Yale.

The announcement of Sutton’s retirement comes on the eve of a major capital campaign to fund the expansion of the Museum. Sutton had successfully shepherded the Museum through the municipal improvement process.

Jan Rogers Kniffen, Chair of the Board of Trustees, praised Sutton’s efforts to lay the groundwork for the Museum’s expansion.

“Notably,” he said, “[Sutton] has helped set the Museum on a path toward an exciting future, with the recent public announcement of a transformative, $60 million capital expansion and renovation project.”

The newly renovated Museum will feature enhanced art and science workshops and classrooms, allowing the Museum to double the number of programs offered and reach twice as many children.

A proposed addition would essentially include a new entrance and lobby, and would also improve handicap accessibility, increase gallery space, create adequate storage for permanent collections, and create visitor amenities equivalent to other high–caliber museums.

In his February endorsement of the Museum receiving municipal improvement status, First Selectman Peter Tesei noted, “We recognize the value and the tremendous legacy that the Bruce Museum has and the importance of its role in this town going forward.”

“The Museum came to the town on a bequest from Robert Bruce,” said Bruce Cohen at the time. A former member of the Board of Directors for the Museum, he explained, “It was given to the town on a condition. The condition was that it be used as a natural history, historical and art museum for the use and benefit of the public.”

Included in the condition, agreed upon a year before Bruce’s death in 1909, the town agreed to pay for maintaining and upkeeping the Museum at its own expense.

Since a Town Charter amendment in 1991, Bruce Museum, Inc. (BMI), a not-for-profit partnership with the town, has been managing the Museum. The Bruce receives roughly 100,000 visitors annually.

“We do 12 to 16 art exhibitions, natural history shows and science shows every year, which means we do more shows with probably less space than any museum our size in this country,” said Sutton earlier this year. “If we are to continue to be a world class, community-based museum, I think we need some more space.”

The 104-year-old institution reported a 20 percent increase in visitors over the past year and is exceeding capacity for all programming, including school group programs, education workshops, talks and tours.

“We have very limited space, about 3,400 square feet, of exhibition space,” said Sutton. “We have some 16,000 objects in our basement. That’s a lot of material that is off view and almost obsolete.”

Visitor amenities proposed in the expansion include a cafe, with indoor and outdoor seating, and an expanded store and reception hall to host private and public festivities. Other improvements include a dedicated entrance and orientation space for school groups.

“The proposed expansion will allow the Bruce to better serve its community and become a stronger cultural magnet in the region,” Andy Fox, project advisor to the Bruce Museum, said in the official announcement of the expansion. “It makes the Museum a destination for both learning and leisure and the gateway to Greenwich.”

Over the years, the community, through its generosity, has built the Museum collection to nearly 16,000 objects representing the arts and sciences. Paralleling an interest in Connecticut painters and their paintings, early directors of the Bruce Museum, such as Ray Owen, Paul Howes, and Jack Clark, pursued the development of the natural sciences, building particular strengths in the mineral and avian collections.

In 1992, the Bruce Museum undertook a complete renovation of its 139-year-old building and reopened in September 1993.

In 1998 the Bruce Museum received accreditation from the American Association of Museums (now the American Alliance of Museums), an honor granted to fewer than 5% of all museums.

Sitting high on a hill overlooking Greenwich Harbor, the Bruce Museum offers a changing array of exhibitions and educational programs that promote the understanding and appreciation of art and science.

The Bruce Museum has been voted the Best Museum in Fairfield County by area media in recent years, a recognition of its growing popularity and efforts to consistently address new subjects of remarkable beauty or great interest with new insights.

The Museum has engaged Koya Leadership Partners to assist with identifying qualified candidates to replace Sutton.

As the Executive Director and CEO, Sutton led the museum’s transformation from an institution of local interest to one of the most dynamic museums in the region. Today it offers exhibitions of international quality and plays an integral role in the cultural life of both area residents and visitors from afar.

“Peter has increased the Museum’s base of support through highly effective national and international partnerships and fostered a community of committed and enthusiastic patrons,” according to Jan Rogers Kniffen, Chair of the Board of Trustees.

“It has been an honor to serve the Museum and the community as The Susan E. Lynch Executive Director,” says Sutton. “This period of transition offers great opportunities for the Bruce Museum and for me, personally.”

Raising the money to complete the capital campaign and expansion of the Bruce Museum will now fall to the next Executive Director.

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