KHS 2013 Exhibits
Celebrating the Life of George Laurence Nelson
Seven Hearths, the Kent Historical Society museum, re-opened in the Summer of 2013 (after closing for two years for Historic Structures Report work) with a series of new art exhibits focusing on the life and work of George Laurence Nelson.
The first show started in July. “Who is GLN?” was the title of the show and it was a multi-faceted history and art exhibit featuring the art and lives of the talented Nelson/Hirschberg family, who owned the historic Seven Hearths house in Kent for much of the twentieth century.
Carl Hirschberg was a founding member of the Salmagundi Club and the Arts Students League in New York. His wife, Alice Kerr-Nelson Hirschberg, was considered by William Merritt Chase to be THE Woman Artist of the 19th century, and was a gifted portraitist of children.
Their son, George Laurence Nelson, trained at the Art Students League and the National Academy, and began teaching at the Art Students League in his early 20s. Carl and Laurence were among the founders of the Litchfield Hills Art Colony, and Laurence was later one of the nine founders of the Kent Art Association.
Never before had the works of the three artists been presented together with the fascinating story of their rich cultural lives. Set within Nelson’s beloved pre-Revolutionary Seven Hearths, which he donated to the Historical Society, this in-depth exhibit examined the roots of the art and culture movement that is so deeply embedded in the Northwest Hills today. The Litchfield Hills Art Colony would go on to play a meaningful role on a national scale in twentieth century American art. George Laurence Nelson’s studio in Seven Hearths is the only remnant of the colony that is open to the public today.
The second exhibit “In the Looking Glass: Portraits by GLN” ran during August, and featured many of the society portraits painted by Nelson when he lived in New York and subsequently here in the Litchfield Hills. During a time when preserving someone’s image was not as easy as touching the screen on a smartphone, portrait painters were valued for their ability capture a person’s essence using paint and canvas and a talented eye. George Laurence Nelson made a name for himself during the early 20th century for his ability to do just that.
Nelson trained at the Art Students League and the National Academy, and began teaching at the Art Students League in his early 20s. He was also one of the founders of the Litchfield Hills Art Colony and the Kent Art Association, which celebrated its 90th year during 2013.
The Kent Historical Society wanted to encourage the public to rediscover the work of Nelson and decided its vision for the future of the organization must include a focus on Nelson and his work.
Artist Bob Lenz of South Kent is one of the members of the Steering Committee who worked on organizing a series of events during 2013, celebrating Nelson and his work. Lenz has studied Nelson’s work and found it to be representational of the American art of the period.
“He was part of a group of artists that were working during the 1920s, 30s and 40s,” Lenz said. “He was a clear champion of that style of American early 20th century art.”
The third exhibit, “Florals from the Garden”, featured Nelson’s lovely floral paintings. He and his wife, Helen, were avid gardeners, and grew a wide variety of flowers that he then used in his paintings. Many of the flowers survive today and blossom annually with a riot of color in the backyard. The florals and landscape paintings were his favorites – much more enjoyable for him that painting portraits.
George Laurence Nelson was an early weekend resident of Kent who fell in love with the town so much that he moved here full-time in the 1940s. Known as an exceptional portrait painter of the early 20th century, he loved to display flowers through oil and watercolor images.
“He loved to paint flowers,” said Marge Smith, the curator/archivist of the Historical Society. “He focused on florals for much of the last part of his life.”
The final exhibit, which ran during October, featured a variety of Nelson works that we borrowed from the community. It gave our audience a chance to show off their own favorite Nelson pieces.