Her pedigree was rooted in one of Stonington’s founding families: The Palmers.
Her paternal great-grandfather, Amos Palmer, was a sea captain and Revolutionary War privateer, whose historic home — the Capt. Amos Palmer House (1797) — is a village landmark at 24 Main St.
Her paternal grandfather, Courtland Palmer, born in Stonington, was president of the New York, Providence and Boston Railroad, known as the Stonington, and, as such, was overpowered by Cornelius Vanderbilt, “The Commodore,” who aggressively grabbed control of the rail line in the late 1830s.
Her father, also named Courtland Palmer, and wed at Calvary Church in Stonington, was an attorney and founder and president of the Nineteenth Century Club in New York, a gathering of intellectuals, industrialists and clergy dedicated to debating social, artistic, literary, theological and scientific problems “in the spirit of the broadest liberality.”
To her biographer, Artemis Leontis, she was, as Leontis once wrote, “the most influential Western visitor to Greece after Lord Byron.”
Leontis, professor of modern Greek and chairman of the Department of Classical Studies at the University of Michigan, has been researching and writing about Eva Palmer Sikelianos for more than a decade. His biography, titled “Eva Palmer Sikelianos: A Life in Ruins,“ was published by Princeton University Press in March.
I first happened upon Eva Palmer, born in 1874 in New York and died in 1952 in Greece, as merely a footnote, and a not quite accurate one, at that, in Anthony Bailey’s memorable 1971 chronicle of life in Stonington, “In the Village.” Bailey, who initially wrote profiles of village life for the New Yorker, was reflecting on those from Stonington who left and settled elsewhere:
“Eleanor Perenyi, walking in a mountainside graveyard in Greece, found a headstone marked Eva Palmer, formerly of Stonington Conn. Miss Palmer had married a Greek poet and helped preserve notable Greek ruins.”
Miss Palmer did visit Stonington as a child with her four siblings. As she wrote in “Upward Panic,” her autobiography: “They went in for riding, swimming, sailing, rowing and, especially when we were in Stonington, for all the activities of country life. My uncle, Charlie Palmer, owned a place there called Walnut Grove. There he had private race course and riding stables, orchards and vineyards, brooks and millponds, sail-boats and row-boats, greenhouses, vegetable gardens, flower gardens, tennis courts, herds of cows and barnyards full of pigs and chickens.”
Today, what was the 85-acre Walnut Grove estate is, on a rather smaller scale, the site of the Admiral Fife Naval Recreation area off Route 1 between North Main Street and Flanders Road.
As for the Greek poet, Eva Palmer did indeed marry Angelos Sikelianos, a beloved poet and playwright who was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1946. But it also might be said that she, in fact, married a Hellenic idyll.
Eva Palmer, seduced by classical Greek plays and dance during her college years at Bryn Mawr, began appearing at society functions “renouncing modern dress and adapting the classic Greek tunic and sandals, “ the New York Times reported in 1907.
Palmer, who was bisexual and had several affairs with women, including the flamboyant American writer Natalie Clifford Barney, and engaged in love triangles much of her adult life, married Sikelianos in 1907. They were part of a circle that included dancer Isadora Duncan.
Together, they revitalized Greek drama and culture in his homeland. “Eva Palmer was the artistic and financial force behind the revival of two festivals of Greek drama and athletic games in the ancient site of Delphi in 1927 and 1930,” Leontis wrote in an email several years ago when I began to ask about the book. “She collaborated on this project with … Sikelianos, with whom she had a lifelong intellectual exchange on Greek culture and world peace.”
Slight in build with auburn hair, she is depicted this way in a biography of Natalie Barney: “Eva Palmer was a fragile beauty with sea-green eyes and thick, ankle-length red hair. …She looked, thought Natalie, like a medieval virgin.”
In the early 1930s, Eva Palmer separated from her domineering and often indifferent husband and returned to America where she directed Greek plays at Smith College and Bryn Mawr. Through Katherine Dreier, an abstract artist whose family owned an estate in Stonington near Walnut Grove, Palmer was introduced to Ted Shawn, founder of the Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival in Massachusetts. Palmer and Shawn, later in that decade, collaborated on integrating dance and song with Shawn’s company of male dancers.
Late in April 1952, Palmer returned to Greece where, that June, she suffered a fatal stroke while attending dramatic performances of Classic Theater in Delphi. She was buried in Delphi.
This, by necessity, has been a most facile accounting. Leontis, the dogged biographer, minutely examines the emotionally complex and conflicted life of Eva Palmer in multiple guises: “She is the Sapphic performer, weaver, director, composer, writer, wife, lover, church musician … believer in and skeptic of historical authenticity, advocate and challenger of Greece’s tourist development, fringe lunatic and political radical.”
Someone, in essence, straining to embody, literally, a classical ideal amidst the politics and constraints of modern life.

Steven Slosberg lives in Stonington and was a longtime reporter and columnist. He may be reached at maayan72@aol.com

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