Escape RI with Easy Fall Day Trips
Here are four fun getaways to explore for a few hours, or maybe the weekend.
A maker’s tour of the riverside village. By Casey Nilsson
B eluga whales are nature’s artform — an indisputable fact. But on this day trip to historic Mystic, Connecticut, a friend and I skip the village’s famous aquarium and devote our attention to its modest but mighty arts community.
Our day kicks off with a York peppermint pattie and a well-frothed cappuccino at Bartleby’s Cafe, a quaint little coffee shop named after Melville’s most passive antagonist. Located in the heart of downtown Mystic, about a block from the drawbridge, the coffee shop boasts breakfast and lunch fare complemented by local art on the walls, from mixed media collage to the expected, but exquisite, river landscapes. All of the artwork is for sale and rotates on a monthly basis. bartlebyscafe.com
After proper caffeination, we hit the streets to browse the artistic offerings in Mystic’s myriad shops. Next door to Bartleby’s is Finer Line Gallery, a treasure trove of landscape paintings and funky sculptures for purchase. Susan VanWinkle’s resin seals and kittens are a delightful aperitif before we head up a creaky set of stairs to the wonderful gallery and studio of marine painter, Russ Kramer. Exquisite originals hang beside affordably priced giclées of dramatic maritime scenes, from Gilded Age yachting parties to “When Cod Was King,” a depiction of dorymen spearing and gutting a glut of codfish on the open water. Kramer’s mastery of movement and light is nothing short of extraordinary; we told him so when he popped out from his studio to greet us.
For more marine art, hop in the car and head to the Maritime Gallery at Mystic Seaport Museum, the nation’s top gallery for contemporary marine art and ship models. mysticseaport.org
We stroll toward the drawbridge and into Curated, a gallery with work by craftspeople from around the world. We lust after Spanish leather goods and jewelry; Chagall-esque paintings by Croatian-born artist, Tatjana Krizmanic; and sturdy drinkware made from recycled Moroccan glass. curated.world
A few doors down is Trade Winds Gallery, which boasts nautical paintings, antique maps and cool vintage prints, including a circa-1940 advertisement for T.N. Dickinson’s Witch Hazel, which was founded in Mystic and is still available for purchase in drugstores today. buildtradewinds.fineartstudioonline.com
Lunch is served across the drawbridge at the S and P Oyster Company, a riverfront restaurant with lovely botanical accents on the outdoor patio. People with special diets will enjoy the vegan and gluten-free menus, while omnivores should order the crispy fried oyster taquitos with citrus slaw and yucca fries. sp-oyster.com
We need all the fuel we can get for our afternoon visit to the Mystic Museum of Art, a four-gallery art space that’s conquerable in a couple of well-spent hours. Don’t miss the fortieth annual juried photo show, curated by Rhode Island’s own Annu Palakunnathu Matthew, which runs through November 11 with an opening reception on October 4. In between galleries, we head to the patio for stunning views of the Mystic riverfront. Admission is by donation. mysticmuseumofart.org
We cruise back through West Main Street and pause at Company of Craftsmen for Mystic-centric handmade souvenirs and Mystical Toys for the little artist in our life. Then we make our way down to Water Street to the well-curated Salt, a maker-focused shop with an emphasis on self-care. We browse artisan soaps, candles, witty letterpress cards, T-shirts, sage smudge sticks and Millennial pink crystals for the modern-day bohemian. saltmystic.com
We end the day with happy hour at Engine Room, an industrial-themed restaurant just around the corner from Salt. We order a $5 Old Fashioned with a few $1.50 farm eggs on the side; there’s an art to a well-deviled egg, after all. engineroomct.com
Nuts and Bolts
Drive time: 45 minutes from southern Rhode Island
Miles: 70 round trip
How to get there: Take I-95 S to exit 90
Best season to go: Fall, summer, spring
If you stay over: The Whaler’s Inn. The newly renovated inn is bright and airy with white linens, nautical accents and views of the river in some guestrooms. The family-friendly hotel also offers junior suites with bunkbeds and a queen bed. 20 East Main St., Mystic, Conn., 860-536-1506, whalersinnmystic.com.
Don’t miss: Art After Dark at Mystic Museum of Art. This kid-friendly event, scheduled for Tuesday, October 16, from 6 to 8:30 p.m., is worth extending your day trip into the early evening. Browse the galleries, feast on all-you-can-eat pizza (and free beer and wine for the adults), listen to music and watch live artmaking on the museum’s riverside patio. The admission fee — $15 for adults, $3 for kids, free for children three and younger — is a bargain when you factor in the cost of dinner, drinks and live entertainment. 9 Water St., Mystic, Conn., 860-536-7601, mysticmuseumofart.org.
Worth a detour: The Velvet Mill. See a sampling of greater Stonington’s art community at Velvet Mill, which houses the studios of dozens of visual artists including painters, jewelers, sculptors and more. Most makers are around on weekends, but head to the mill the weekend after Thanksgiving for the annual open studios holiday show. The massive space also boasts retail shops, a brewery and a farmers market on Saturdays from November to April. 22 Bayview Ave., Stonington, Conn., thevelvetmill.com.
Close to home: Wickford Village. Wickford, like Mystic, is rooted in maritime history but also maintains a flourishing artist community. The Wickford Art Association, Spring Pottery, JW Graham, Yes! Gallery and the Woven Path are all must-stop spots for fine and functional art by local makers. Brown and Main sts., Wickford, wickfordvillage.org.