Ocher paint is still visible on the north side of the old Kent barn, long panels of ocher and mustard colored fabric hang from a clothesline, and a welcoming lantern in an ingenious knitted sweater glows in that same hue — this syzygy of color is among the surprises at the Kents’ Corner State Historic Site. Walk a bit further, and 8-foot-tall clothespins come into view.
Among the experiences of this COVID-19 time are opportunities to encounter art in fresh ways and to see things perhaps overlooked in the pace of pre-pandemic life.
“20/20 Hindsight: Art at the Kent Steps Outside” at the Kents’ Corner State Historic Site in Calais offers the experience to discover compelling sculptures and installations by contemporary Vermont artists and to experience the historic Kent property anew.
The show’s theme of exploring historic trades and technology was conceived last fall with the exhibition planned to be primarily indoors. The Art at the Kent curators and participating artists did an impressive pivot to create this exhibition. “20/20 Hindsight” indoors is expected to open next September — conditions permitting.
For over a decade, Art at the Kent has presented contemporary art exhibitions in this state owned historic site, a landmark property long in the Kent family that served as tavern, hotel and family home. Its additions housed the general store, post office and industrial uses. The fleeting annual fall exhibitions are Brigadoon-like — the empty building bursts to life with a swirl of activity and creativity and then returns to dormancy.
While there is a magical quality to the sudden appearance of these shows, the efforts of the curatorial team of Cornelia Emlen, Allyson Evans and David Schütz makes it happen every fall.
“20/20 Hindsight” was selected for the 2020 Kent exhibition with an eye to the Vermont Curator’s Group statewide collaboration, “2020 Vision, Seeing the World Through Technology.”
“Since the Kent is a state owned historic site, we chose to look backwards to get the inspiration for contemporary artists,” Schütz, the Vermont state curator, said.
“In many cases these artists are being inspired by technology of the past, in particular things that would have been at the Kent when it was an active hotel, general store, with a starch factory and shoe factory next door, a saw mill that still stands just down the road. These trades and industries actually were in Kents’ Corner.”
Emlen and Evans were about halfway through selecting artists for the show when COVID-19 struck. Instead of an indoor show, they turned to the Kent grounds, and approached artists to see who would be interested in creating work for the outdoors.
“Hammered, Welded, and Sprung,” by Flywheel Industrial Arts in Montpelier, was inspired by the historic thriving clothespin industry of Montpelier. A giant clothespin sculpture sat on the roof of the United States Clothespin Co. in Montpelier 1897-1924; an old photograph documents the mega-pin and the gentleman who devised snappy spring used by the firm.
The Flywheel team of welder fabricator Ben Cheney, Jesse Cooper who specializes in fine word work, and blacksmith Chris Eaton brought their three areas of expertise to the piece. With original wooden clothespins and computer modeling, they devised the sculpture’s layout and scaled the clothespins from 4 inches to 8 feet with a few tweaks. In white oak and steel, their clothespins are operable, but disabled for the site.
The clothespins pair beautifully with “Laundry: Homage to Christo” with panels of muslin attached by clothespins to a line. “Laundry” is the work of the Kent Curators with Karen Henderson. Framed with them is a literary installation, a letterpress broadside by Megan Buchanan with two odes — “Clothespin” and “Outdoor Shower.”
The lantern in front of the Kent, directly across the road, is wrapped in a yellow/ocher knitted sweater — “Energy,” by Eve Jacobs-Carnahan. In its knitted details, the viewer is drawn to sources of light, from a flame to the blades of a wind turbine, perhaps the famed 1941 device that stood on Grandpa’s Knob.
Travel around the building — all the way around — and there are surprises from Chris Jeffrey’s “In a New Light,” panels made with reflective discs that change depending on the sun’s angle, to John Parker’s “Revolutions” assemblages. Look in the cedar hedge for the “In the Woods” homage by the curators to Wolf Kahn and Cindy Blakeslee’s “#176” brass faucet, perhaps evoking thoughts of opening the spigot one turn at a time.
Along with experiencing the “2020 Hindsight” and the Kent’s grounds, visitors should also see the Robinson Sawmill, a two minute walk, and the Old West Church, a mile up the road, also in this historic district.