The Rutland Area Art Association, a 501(c)(3) non-profit was founded in 1961 to promote the arts within Rutland County. It does business as the Chaffee Art Center and is financed by donations, memberships, exhibit sponsors and commissions on exhibit art 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.
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 Chaffee Art Center building is a Queen Anne Victorian Mansion built by George Thrall Chaffee, a prominent Rutland businessman. Construction was started in 1892 and completed in 1895. 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, an exterior first floor foundation of machine-cut marble blocks, a three-story corner tower with gothic windows and an elegant porte-cochere.
Sunny Gables’ interior boasts 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 named Chaffee and Sons Lumber and Feed, foundry, machine shop, department store and the Playhouse Theater, now named the Paramount. Additionally, he held investments in banking and the booming train and transportation industry.
The building provides an aesthetic experience equal to that of the art work it contains.