Vermont Arts Council

Fall’s Regeneration at the Kent

First Person
By Catherine Crawley

It’s not fall without a visit to Kents Corners in Calais and the 19th century historic building, once a hotel and stagecoach stop, now known as the Kent Museum. ‘Tis the season for the museum’s annual art show, Art at the Kent, where visitors delight in discovering contemporary art in all the nooks, crannies, and narrow passageways of the Kent.

But nothing during this Covid year is typical, and so too at the Kent, where the indoor exhibition has been postponed until 2021. Instead, visitors can safely view 20/20 Hindsight, a selection of outdoor works showcasing historic trades, innovation, and technology on the grounds of Kents Corner Historic District.

Once an important stopping point on the road from Montpelier to Canada, the site holds much Vermont history. The Kent family settled here in 1798, and between 1833 and 1837, Abdiel Kent erected the two-story Georgian-style brick building and used it as a hotel and tavern as well as the family home.

An outdoor sculpture at the Kent Museum in Calais.

One of Abdiel’s six brothers, Ira Kent, lived in the white clapboard house across the street, and together, until 1860, they operated I&A Kent Store in the wooden addition to the tavern. Kent Corners became a lively hamlet with a blacksmith, a brickyard, a sawmill, a boot and shoe shop, and a number of family-run farms. Beginning in the 1950s, the property was run as a seasonal history museum, and in 1990, the museum became a state-owned historical property.

Not much remains of the original buildings except for the hotel-tavern and barn across the dirt road. But the outdoor spaces have now come to life in clever ways with the pieces of 20/20 Hindsight.

The glass pane of the street lantern in front of the museum is now wrapped in warm yellow knitting, the work of Vermont knitter-sculptor extraordinaire Eve Jacobs-Carnahan of Montpelier who says the work is meant to highlight the innovation of wind-turbine generated electricity. Look closely at the lantern and you’ll spot the lacey pattern of a wind turbine.

A sculpture by the artists of Flywheel Industrial Collective at the Kent Museum in Calais.

The artists of Flywheel Industrial Arts, a design and fabrication collaborative in Montpelier, have created three life-size clothspins hastily scattered on the grass, perhaps neatly fallen from the giant golden sheets hanging on a nearby clothesline by the barn.

Other works that catch the eye are the bright vibrant reds of Cindy Blakeslee’s branches in unexpected places and Christopher Curtis’ imposing granite block with cliff-dwelling windows.

Also outdoors are three permanent sculptures by other Vermont artists including the slate step-stones of Chris Miller’s full size labyrinth, good for meditative walking and contemplation.

Each year, Art at the Kent also celebrates the written word with Words Out Loud during several Sunday gatherings at the Old West Church down the road from the museum. In this atypical year, the celebration of words becomes “Outside Broadside,” a literary installation featuring verse by Putney poet Megan Buchanan. Currently on display is Buchanan’s “Two Odes” in a limited edition letterpress broadside, the work of printmaker Kelly McMahon of May Day Studio.

A poem by Megan Buchanan on display at the Kent Museums outdoor sculpture garden in Calais.

Art at the Kent is a partnership between Historic Kents’ Corner Inc., the Vermont State Curator’s Office and the Vermont Division for Historic Preservation. Nel Emlen and Allyson Evans collaborate with David Schutz to co-curate Art at the Kent each year.

The museum is located at 7 Old W. Church Rd., Calais, VT. Visitors should note that the building is closed and public facilities are not available. Visitors are welcome during daylight hours. There is limited parking on Old West Church Road, opposite the museum. Please also wear a mask and maintain at least a six-foot distance from other visitors.

Read about 2020 Creation Grant recipient Otto Muller’s upcoming hybrid performance at Kents Corner.