Kent Center School and The Kent Historical Society
For many years, we have worked with Kent Center School art teacher, Al Coffill, as we acquaint his students with various aspects of the history of their town. In 2001, Mr. Coffill was awarded a grant, “A Village Through the Eyes of its Artists”, that has allowed the KCS students to travel to different parts of town, where they listen, learn and draw. The little 2nd graders walk from Kent Center School to the Swift House, where they discover the differences (and some similarities) between the school days they experience and the days of the one room schoolhouse students. After this lesson, they go back to Kent Center and draw pictures of some of the favorite new-found facts about school. The 3rd graders are bused up to the top of Skiff Mountain, where we spend about an hour inside our pre-Revolutionary one room school house, showing them the ancient text books, the desks, the water bucket and the merit cards. We practice a spelling bee and answer questions, after which they go outside and settle down on the lawn to sketch the old schoolhouse.
The 3rd graders also walk to the Swift House again to learn about the integral part the Schaghticoke Indians have played in the tapestry of Kent. Ancient artifacts are carefully displayed along with photos of some of Kent’s Native American residents. Stories of arrowheads and rattlesnakes are enthusiastically swapped, before the students walk back to school, where they once again put their new knowledge into picture form, often with some amusing comments as well. The 4th graders ride the bus up to Seven Hearths, where they learn about one of the most significant buildings from Kent’s earliest days, as well as the life and artwork of its former owner, George Laurence Nelson.
Having seen a number of his floral still-lifes, they head out into his gardens to create some artistic masterpieces of their own. The 5th graders welcome KHS Curator Marge Smith to the large art room at Kent Center, where the topic of discussion is the history of the relationship between the town and the Housatonic River. Beginning with the basic attraction of the river to the earliest settlers, then moving on to the challenge of simply crossing the river, then learning about the all-important iron industry that depended so much on water power, they gain a better understanding of the river that flows past their classroom window as well as a better appreciation for the quality of life they enjoy today.
Finally, the 8th graders return once more to Seven Hearths, this time to focus a bit more on Nelson and his artwork. Withdrawing skills considerably polished after four years of skilled instruction from Mr. Coffill, they once again settle onto the lawn to draw the house or the flowers in the gardens behind it. The results are usually quite lovely! The KCS/KHS collaborative history and art program is one of which we are quite proud, and we are honored to be a part of the education of our town’s young people!