An introduction to this year Art in Kent The “20/20 Hindsight” exhibit notes that “the buildings that still stand at Kents’ Corner are part of an original industrial site.” In the 19th century, this crossroads in Calais resonated with the intense activity of a shoemaker, a brickyard, a blacksmith and a sawmill.
Art at the Kent, co-curators Nel Emlen, Allyson Evans and David Schutz, who is also the state curator, have always kept their historic place in mind while hanging the annual month-long exhibition of contemporary works by Vermont artists. Their choices of settling in the original building, which was once a general store and tavern, are often dictated by its unfinished slatted walls, old wallpaper patterns, and large manuscript books still visible.
For this 13th edition of the exhibition, the curators have chosen artists whose work specifically honors the “makers” of the site’s heyday. About 250 pieces by 20 artists fill the rooms and surround the building. Some artists represent hand tools or machine tools in their work; others reuse old tools, use traditional skills to produce modern art, or refer to artifacts found at the site.
Some of the works may sound familiar: “20/20 Hindsight” was also the title of last year’s exhibition, which was mounted mostly outdoors due to the pandemic. This year’s version is the one destined for 2020. It includes works from last year, such as the Montpellier artist Chris Jeffrey‘s “In a New Light”, an old window frame filled with colorful light filters; and Bradford found object artist Cindy blakeslee‘s “# 146”, a four-foot paintbrush whose bristles she made from old shredded cards in a pasta machine.
Jeffrey has been working with colored light filters for four or five years, he explained upon receiving the exhibit on September 11. Discs of various diameters are precision manufactured for high-tech imaging equipment used in medicine and space exploration.
For “Untitled”, Jeffrey mounted three groups of filters, in pink, yellow and blue, on a horizontal board painted in black. Like his three-dimensional “strip” paintings, made up of narrow strips of wood superimposed in geometric patterns, this work forces the viewer to observe him from the side as well as from the front. Moving between the two viewpoints changes the play of light and reflection so that the room never quite resolves into a stable work of art.
A realistic painter in the show is Heidi broner de Calais, which represents workers on telephone poles and construction beams I. Another is Kate gridley de Middlebury, in his almost trompe-l’oeil paintings, the old tools seem to take on personalities.
Gridley’s “Bittern” represents a line of iron trowels, pliers and screws leaning against a wall. With its sharpness and apparent depth, the image first gives the impression that the objects are standing against the real fireplace mantel on which the painting rests. A few of their shapes appear to mimic birds, which probably explains the title.
Montpellier watercolorist Tom leythamAccurate renderings of distilleries, equipment, mines, and mills – including the still-functional Robinson Sawmill just down the road – round out almost every piece. Many of these works appear to be fragments of a scene. Leytham’s 1963 Massey-Harris Tractor borders on abstraction, its wheel fragment being mostly white paper. Other works, such as “Saddle”, are full renderings with the detail one would expect from an artist trained in architecture.
Toussaint Sainte Négritude of Newark is a black gay poet, former Maine poet laureate (2015-17), and bass clarinetist and jazz composer. He makes and wears his own extraordinary hats, a selection of which adorn a small room upstairs. Partly a riff on the tradition of black women wearing flamboyant hats to church, the samples on display take on every possible form – a closed four-pointed crown made of recycled leather and cowry shells, a fascinator with a feather throw, a fur bell.
St. Negritude writes in his colorful artist statement that he is “a hatter of poems”. His poem “How I built my house of stars”, posted alongside, begins: “It started / with doing poems […] Then he started to flourish / through hat making / through wreath making / anointing every vision I caught / turning poems into feathered hats. ”
A complementary shoe display adorns the opposite wall. A 19th century children’s shoe found in the wall of the building during an insulation project in the 1980s accompanies a life-size drypoint engraving of this shoe by the artist from Colchester Carol macdonald.
The Kents’ Corner shoe-making company inspired MacDonald to create his “Footprint” series, which fills a room above the old general store. Best known for her meticulous designs and loose knit prints (some of which hang in the show), MacDonald drew pairs of her own shoes – clogs, boots, heels – in colored pencil on large, vertical sheets of made paper. hand. Then she stepped on paper wearing the same shoes, her soles coated with a mixture of paint and clay. The footprints her two granddaughters made on the portraits of their smaller shoes remind viewers of “what we are passing on to the next generation,” MacDonald writes in an artist statement.
On the outside, knit MacDonald pieces adorn the trees. Also located outside is Christophe curtis“The End of Truth”, a glacial rock in which the sculptor has precisely sculpted a large rectangular void.
Born in Stowe, Curtis maintains studios there as well as in Barre. A geology student from Vermont, he sees his work in stone as a way to contextualize humanity in the sweep of geological time. “The End of Truth” contrasts this arc with the momentary – and necessarily subjective – views that the Window in the Rock offers.
“My hope is that these stone windows… invite viewers to ponder their interpretations of what they’re seeing,” Curtis wrote in his statement.
Indeed, the entire show – of which this review only covers a part – encourages such consideration, as well as admiration for beautifully done things, past and present.