The mission of the New Canaan Society for the Arts, Inc. is to promote the visual and performing arts, and to enrich the community through exhibitions, education, and cultural experiences, and to operate the Carriage Barn Arts Center.
The New Canaan Society for the Arts (NCSA), a member-supported, non-profit cultural organization, was founded by a group of artists and art-lovers in 1895. Much as it is today, the organization’s goal was to encourage creative expression, celebrate artistic achievement, and enrich the community as a whole. The Society vanished for approximately 80 years until 1977, when a group of New Canaan residents banded together to re-establish the NCSA and create the Carriage Barn Arts Center for the public. Dedicated volunteers restored a charming 100-year old building on the grounds of the former Waveny Estate — and re-opened its doors to once again offer unique cultural experiences in an exceptional gallery space to the New Canaan community and beyond. Twenty years later, the Society was approached by the New Canaan Sculpture Group, a collaborative of Fairfield County artists, who offered to poor a cement floor in the basement and rent the space as an art studio where they have since convened weekly to study under a master sculptor and tend to their varying practices in a range of media.
Today the Carriage Barn Arts Center’s “Betty Barker Gallery” is home to eight premier art exhibitions annually, including four major juried events, as well as curated exhibitions featuring both members and invited artists. In 2011, the Barn launched an initiative designed to showcase the work of talented high school students annually — and every spring, the Barn sponsors “Art in the Windows,” which places art in retail shops in New Canaan for the enjoyment of pedestrians and shoppers. The Carriage Barn Arts Center is open September through June, Wednesday – Saturday, from 10 am – 3 pm and Sundays from 1 – 5 pm. Entrance to the gallery is free with a suggested donation. All exhibitions are open to the public.
Your support makes it possible. Learn more about becoming a member and help the Carriage Barn continue to be a community treasure.
“A gem of a gallery, well-lit, spacious, and a wonderful space for showcasing art.”
– William Zimmer, The New York Times
Who was Betty Barker?
Betty Barker, after whom our main exhibition space, the “Betty Barker Gallery” is named, was a painter, supporter of the arts, and founding member of the New Canaan Society for the Arts.
Elizabeth Shelly (‘Betty’) Barker was born in Philadelphia, PA on July 19, 1920 into a family that prized art of all kinds. She studied for many years at the Philadelphia Museum School where she developed the foundation for her talent. In 1942 she married Robert Barker, moved to New Canaan, and continued her studies at Silvermine Guild of Artists for the next two decades. At Silvermine she studied with Victor Candel whom she acknowledged as a major influence in her painting career. She also had a busy career as a mother and wife, raising four children Jim, Margaret, Ben, and Ann. Betty was an accomplished and award-winning painter who was celebrated in a series of solo and group shows during her five prolific decades as an active painter. Having completed over three hundred finished works and hundreds of other sketches and unfinished paintings, it is known that she was constantly making art. She described her creative process as follows:
“I paint by combining an abstract pattern with the representational… “; “Sketching and drawing are key ingredients for my paintings…”; “I start a lot of my paintings by sprinkling paint on a canvas laid out on the floor… it gives me a freedom of gesture … I then develop that gesture.”
Betty Barker was a key figure in the effort to save the Carriage Barn from demolition, in the reclamation of this space for art of all kinds, and in the establishment of the New Canaan Society for the Arts. She served as President and as a Board Member of the Society, and curated many of the Society’s shows in this space. Betty Barker died on April 27, 1997 after a long struggle with cancer. A major exhibit of her work was staged at the Carriage Barn the following month, including a painting entitled “Cancer.”
Robert Rankin Barker (1915-2002) and Elizabeth Shelly Barker (d. 1997), Harvard University Portrait Collection, Commissioned by the Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences for the Barker Center, 1997