“Art at the Kent” is an exhibition program that utilizes the historic Kent Tavern in Calais as a venue for contemporary visual and literary artists working in Vermont. The annual series is produced by Historic Kents’ Corner, Inc., a community-based volunteer organization, in partnership with the Vermont Division for Historic Preservation. The curators of the exhibition series, Calais residents Allyson Evans, Nel Emlen and David Schütz, have mounted ten unique exhibits since 2008 in the Kent Tavern. This innovative use of a historic building has raised awareness of its architecture and heritage and established a tangible benefit for the community in which the Kent Tavern is located. Owned by the Vermont Division for Historic Preservation, the Kent Tavern is typically only open to the public by appointment, and the “Art at the Kent” program each fall makes the building accessible to the many visitors who come to see the artwork. In addition, many of the exhibitions include demonstrations, readings, and other special events that further engage the artistic and literary community.
The Roadside Historic Site Marker at the Kent Tavern relates the history of the building:
This brick tavern was built by Abdiel Kent between 1833 and 1837. It served as his home, and from 1837 to 1846 was a stagecoach stop on the road from Montpelier to Canada. The Kent family settled in Calais in 1798 and this section of town is known as Kents Corners. One of Abdiel’s six brothers, Ira Kent, lived in the white clapboard house across the street. Together from 1837 until 1860 they operated I&A Kent Store in the two-story wooden addition on the tavern. The Kent family owned the property until 1916 and at various times and places in town made and sold shoes and boots, ran a brickyard and sawmill, and farmed. The barn is the only survivor of the several outbuildings that stood on this property. Louise Andrews Kent, the best-selling author of the “Mrs. Appleyard” series of books, convinced her cousin, A. Atwater Kent, the radio inventor and magnate, to purchase his great uncle’s home and restore it as a museum in 1930.
The Kent Tavern was given to the Vermont Historical Society in 1953, and subsequently transferred to the Vermont Division for Historic Preservation in 1990. The “Art at the Kent” program has played a key role in keeping the Kent Tavern relevant and in active use and attracts visitors to the building from around the state and beyond. Over the past decade, “Art at the Kent” has produced the following exhibitions:
2008: Calais Creates
2009: Calais Collects
2010: A Celebration of Susan Russell and A Lively Eye: The Art of Charles Woodard & Family
2011: Make Yourself at Home: Locally-Crafted Fine Furnishings
2012: Full Circle: Vermont Artists Give Round a New Shape
2013: Turning Points: The Art of Maureen Russell
2015: Verve: Art and Energy
2017: Refuge: Vermont Artists Respond