Kimball-Jenkins art exhibit finds inspiration in overgrown farm
One of the images from The Watson Farm Project.
Walking through the Carolyn Jenkins Gallery at the Kimball-Jenkins Estate, it’s hard to believe all the artwork drew inspiration from the same source. Some of the pieces are as playful as children’s book illustrations, others as somber as a Depression-era photographs. Some present sweeping expanses of nature, others an intimate view of a rusted car door or an old sap bucket. Some hew to stalwart realism, others ride off on imaginative tangents.
The Watson Farm Project, as it’s called, features the work of eight local artists who each spent time at the 250-year-old Watson Farm, a Belmont landmark that was once abuzz with seemingly every kind of agricultural activity and now sits largely vacant and overgrown. Each of the artists – all women – took something different from the experience.
“One of the women said, ‘Well, it’s not very pretty,’ and I said, ‘Are you kidding? It’s gorgeous,’ ” said Barbara Filleul, who helped organize the exhibit and has three pieces in it. “It does make you feel melancholy, though.”
For all their diversity, the pieces do share a mood of bittersweet beauty, whether it’s in the surprisingly rich hue of a rusty truck or the slightly exotic feel of a corncrib on a hill at dusk.
Filleul’s monotypes are downright jaunty. One zooms in on a flock of playful ducks in a pond; another imagines the farm in livelier days, spread thick with colorful crops and all manner of animals. “It’s my vision of what summer felt like, when there was plenty of
everything,” said Filleul, who has studied early agrarian life and has no romanticized illusions of what it entailed.
“It was a hard, hard life,” she said.
Still, there was and is dignity in such a life, and Filleul and her colleagues – all members of a group that gets together periodically to paint – wanted to highlight and honor it. Along with their artwork, each wrote some words about what the experience meant to them.
“I fell in love with the textures of the wood and materials of the buildings, the rust and grills of the vehicles and farm equipment, the grasses tall in autumn, the milkweeds bursting with silky seeds, the leaves and bark of the trees, the sap house, and the path,” wrote Teresa Taylor, whose carved stoneware pieces glorify those tactile elements.
In most of the artists’ works, there are ghosts of earlier times, when the 600-acre farm produced a bounty of vegetables and grains and was home to hundreds of cows and sheep. Established in 1760 in what was then Gilmanton, the farm was in the Huntoon family for four generations before being purchased by the Watson family. In its heyday, it produced yarn, shoes and maple syrup in addition to crops and beef.
Today, the farm sustains itself through the sale of Christmas trees. Their plucky beauty finds its way into the work of Anne Saunderson, who fondly recalls visiting the farm with her family in the windy chill of winter to pick out a tree.
The exhibit is on display through Nov. 30. For information call 225-3932 or visit kimballjenkins.com.