The Kent Museum in Calais has come full circle. The historic building, originally built in 1810 as a home, is now maintained by the State’s Historic Sites Division for special occasions. And for the last decade, The Kent has presented an annual art exhibit, usually organized around a theme, for one month during foliage season.
This year, a trio of curators, chose the theme “Backstory” for a show of diverse and eclectic artwork by 16 Vermont artists, shown throughout the 18 room house against a backdrop of lathe, layers of paint and patched wall paper. All are remnants of a renovation to the shell of a dwelling that was concluded before it was finished.
Or was it?
The architecture of the house that was also a tavern, a general store, and now a museum, provides a hauntingly appropriate setting for a group of artists, each of whom brings a unique backstory to their artwork; gathering it, like a family, around a holiday table, to share the year’s experiences.
Each of the artists has written a personal backstory to serve as a launching pad or elucidation for their artwork. Their stories highlight their fascination with the materials they’ve chosen and narratives that compel them. Brilliantly woven together on the raw walls, the art is glistens in the chill of early fall light.
Art exhibits are always about making connections, and at the Kent, the juxtaposition of contemporary art with remnants from an historic era are spot on, advancing even the observer’s story like so much stimulating conversation.
As guests move through the house, they pass recognizable landscapes, installations of leaves and books, clothing made from dried flowers and vintage fabric. They progress to more abstract constructions, boxes, wall hangings, photographs, and pencil drawings, huge paintings, tiny paintings, indoor and outdoor sculptures and delicate papier mache bathers that hang from the ceiling as if they’re in the water and the observer is in it with them.
With no technology in sight, fantasy and imagination are unplugged. The sheer diversity of the artwork unites within the universal bonds of experience – not unlike a family.
Considering all I saw and heard, the Kent felt like a household, and I’d just come home again.