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It was nearly 195 years ago when John Frederick Kensett was born Cheshire, but many in town might not be familiar with the painter's name.
However, thanks in part to a grant from the Connecticut Community Foundation and the Friends of Artsplace, that could be changing. Recently, Artsplace and the Cheshire Performing and Fine Arts Committee received a $9,000 grant to produce Kensett instructional materials for third graders in Cheshire. The grant wasn't enough to cover all the expenses, so the Friends of CPFA/Artsplace donated money to the program as well, to ensure every third grader has a copy.
According to Joan Pilarczyk, director of Artsplace, the money will be used to produce instructional materials about Kensett and will be distributed to every third grader in Cheshire in the fall. The money will stretch far enough to keep the program going for three years, Pilarczyk said.
"We've had this idea for several years because this was his hometown, but people here do not know his name," she said. "It is a wonderful idea and, now that we have the money, we can continue on. We've been working really hard on this."
The instructional material will focus on Kensett's life in Cheshire as a 10-year-old boy in 1826. He grew up off Route 10, near where Alderson Funeral Home currently sits. Kensett painted scenes of Cheshire and the area for his entire life, creating works from the views of Roaring Brook Falls and Sleeping Giant State Park. Inside the instructional materials will be a narrative for teachers to follow during the local history lesson, in which all third graders will participate. Additionally, adult volunteers will also be able to assist in the lesson plan, Pilarczyk explained.
"We are known as the bedding plant capital of the world, but we also should be know as John Frederick Kensett's hometown," Pilarczyk stated. "This town inspired an artist to paint for the rest of his life."
Kensett attended Cheshire Academy and studied engraving. Pilarczyk explained that his father had an engraving business on Blacks Road and Kensett worked there until he began working in New York City. When he was about 25 years old, Kensett moved to Europe to study painting and stayed there for more than five years. Kensett died in 1872, but left behind many works.
"This was before cameras were really popular. Art was an important part of history," Pilarczyk explained. "It preserved a way of life we don't see now."
Donna Lodynsky, chair of the Cheshire Performing and Fine Arts Committee, said that Kensett paintings are "hung all over the world," from the museum at Yale University to larger buildings in Italy. Lodynsky explained that not a lot of people know of Kensett, but "he helped advance American painting."
"We hope the third graders will share what they learn with their parents and help educate them," Lodynsky said. "The instructional manual will be about his whole life. His paintings are certainly a portion of it, but it will be about his life and Cheshire back then."
Years ago, CFPA/Artsplace also put together a program called “Picture This,” which is still in existence in the elementary schools today. The program focuses on famous artwork and has been sustained with help off the different parent-teacher associations in town. Lodynsky hoped a similar relationship would be formed with the different PTAs for the Kensett program as well, after the three years of funding runs its course.
“We've been waiting quite awhile and are thrilled. We are very excited to have this part of the town and part of the curriculum," Lodynsky said. "Hopefully, it will sustain itself eventually."
Pilarczyk said they only received a portion of the grant money they had requested, so the second part of the Kensett program will have to wait. She explained that the second part of the grant, for which she would be applying in the future, would have allowed CPFA/Artsplace to put together a multimedia presentation about the "life and times" of Kensett through his artwork.
"We'll continue to work on that," she said, "but we're really excited to get (the first part) of the grant."
For more information, visit www.cpfa-artsplace.org or call Artsplace at (203) 272-2787.