The Rutland Area Arts Association was founded in 1961 to promote the arts within the Rutland Community. Operations began in a Victorian mansion owned by one of Rutland’s leading families, and so the organization’s physical incarnation was christened the Chaffee Art Center.
In 1972, Katherine King Johnson, one of the four founders, wrote :
From a modest beginning, the Rutland Museum of the Arts developed into the Chaffee Art Center. A Center that embraces all of the arts and is appropriately housed in the impressive Chaffee residence located on Main Street. The Structure was built in 1895 by George Chaffee, a prominent and civic-minded business man. After serving as a family-dwelling, the house was closed for nearly 35 years until it was reopened in 1961 as a part of Rutland Bicentennial celebration. The success of the Bicentennial endeavor prompted a small group of citizens to immediately form an association for the sole purpose of establishing a permanent art center in the area.
The Rutland Area Art Association Inc. is a 501(c)(3) non-profit enterprise financed by donations, memberships, exhibit sponsors and commissions on sales. True to the spirit of its founders, the Chaffee Art Center continues to preserve a unique part of Rutland’s history while providing a critical resource for visual arts and art education in Central Vermont. Further success depends upon the sustained involvement and support of the community it serves.
The Chaffee Art Center building is a Queen Anne Victorian Mansion. It was built by George Thrall Chaffee, a prominent businessman. Construction was started in 1892 and completed in 1896. The home was called “Sunny Gables” by the Chaffee Family. It features a variety of European and Middle Eastern architectural styles popular at the time amongst wealthy Americans who were fortunate enough to have traveled extensively. Its distinctive features include the Syrian arch front entrance, a first floor of machine-cut marble blocks, a three-story corner tower with gothic windows and an elegant porte-cochere.
Sunny Gables’ interior is no less spectacular, boasting elaborate parquet floors, elegant moldings, trim cut from birds’ eye maple and tiger oak, and an asymmetrical floor plan typical of the Queen Anne style. It is interesting to note that the Chaffee’s were one of the first families in Rutland to enjoy central heating, gas lighting and indoor plumbing.
The Chaffee family exerted considerable influence in the city of Rutland, and George Thrall was closely identified with almost every phase of its business, financial, political, religious and fraternal life. In particular, George’s business interests included ownership of a lumber company, foundry, machine shop, department store and the Playhouse Theater. Additionally, he held investments in banking and the booming train and transportation industry.
Our building provides an aesthetic experience equal to that of the art work it contains.
The Chaffee Art Center opened Chaffee Downtown on 75 Merchants Row on New Year’s Eve of 2013; kicking off the new year with a new space to provide yet another venue for area artists to exhibit and community art offerings to take place.
Opening a downtown location had been a goal of the Board of Directors for over 2 years. Once the Save America’s Treasures grant monies were secured for the original Chaffee building, we moved forward in securing a space. The Boys and Girls Club, next door, was downsizing and the Teen Center turned Art Center! Board members gutted the room, pulled up the carpet, laid down floors and created a wonderful gallery space downtown.