BY ELSIE LYNN PARINI
Crossing from her home, through the breezeway and into her barn-studio, Robin Kent doesn’t even need to put on boots for her daily commute. Shoes, however, are recommended. Kent’s Brandon studio is where she has crafted her folk art for the past 25 years, and the history shows.
“I have a huge mountain of shards of pieces I don’t use,” she said in an interview a few weeks ago. “There are hammers, screws, nails and remnants of cut outs from the band saw all around the studio.”
Kent remembered one year she participated in Open Studio Weekend. “My studio was a mess,” she said happily. “I wanted people to see this as a space where someone had just stopped working to answer the door. It really is a workshop.”
Yes, it’s her workshop. The place that she’s been creating art since she moved to Brandon a quarter century ago.
“Coming to Brandon was my change of life,” she explained. “I was 47 years old when I landed in Brandon. Everything I held dear changed.”
Kent was coming from a life working for a textbook publisher in Massachusetts. Before that, she had earned her college degree in art education and tried teaching — but that didn’t work out. Then she helped low-income people on Cape Cod sell their art at local galleries. And then she tried her hand at commercial art, advertising and magazine production.
Though her career path was varied, her passion for art was clear. And just as this New Jersey native knew she wasn’t an urban person from the start, she also always knew she wanted to be an artist.
“I’ve never had the angst of ‘what am I gonna do when I grow up,’” Kent said, remembering the giant piece of slate in her childhood kitchen where she would draw. “I always knew what my calling was.”
Her family had vacationed at Lake Hortonia in the summers and so when the time came for Kent to make the move, she knew where she wanted to go.
“I always liked Brandon,” she said. “I just knew Brandon was where I wanted to be.”
When Kent arrived, she connected with Warren Kimble and “got his two cents” about how to be a folk artist living in Vermont. The two ended up collaborating and founded the Brandon Artists Guild. Kent went on to establish her own rhythm and style and has carved her own niche in the Vermont folk art scene. She currently has work displayed at BAG and the Vermont Folk Art Gallery in Brandon, Frog Hollow in Burlington, Remarkable Things at Stowe Craft, and Shelburne Museum. The American Folk Art Museum in New York City even commissioned Kent’s work for their shop.
“Folk art is a nice umbrella,” she explained. “It’s the kind of thing where you really don’t have to subscribe to something to be considered successful or not by other standards; it’s a practice that will take you where you want to go.”
For Kent that has meant a continual course to loosen and soften.
“When I was a kid I needed glasses,” she remembered. “When I got them, I remember seeing every single blade of grass, and it hurt my eyes. Ever since, I’ve always been one to soften things.”
Kent uses bristle brushes and blends her colors with a soft blur on canvas or plywood.
“I got into painting wood, because my former partner used to do furniture repair,” Kent explained. “I used to be a plywood snob; I liked using nice wood. But then I found you can’t cut against the grain of the fancy wood and plywood allows you to do anything.”
You guessed it, Kent’s no longer a plywood snob.
And there’s nothing less than fancy about her plywood either. The pieced-together wooden shapes are as dynamic in their depth as they are in personality.
“I can personify anything,” Kent said smiling. “When I grew up there was this tulip tree outside my bedroom window… The leaves would shake and I would see nodding heads, applauding me… I tend to do pieces with two eyes looking at you. I like to have a connection — alive or not — something I can talk to or relate to.”
When she needs inspiration, Kent digs in the piles of wooden cut outs around her studio.
“It feels like I’m a 5 year old again,” she said. “If I see a leg, arm or something, then I’ll go find other things to make a complete piece. Those are the ones that are much looser.”
Kent will work on her cuts, assembly and painting, then put her work aside and come back to it a few days later to “fix it” until the piece says “I’m done.”
“I’m in my studio with the shards of wood and the house paint that I use,” Kent said. And her cat, don’t forget Callie. “Sometimes my cat gets jealous; she’s my shadow.”
Kent said she works in waves, taking time off to refuel herself and then working nonstop. Sometimes, the 72-year-old has trouble with her shoulder from all the hammering and nailing, so she takes a break and switches over to painting on canvas, which is gentler on her body. Kent also uses her recovery time to read about the lives of other artists.
“It’s very interesting,” she said. “It gives me good perspective on how artists have lived… and how so many of them loosen up and become more expansive; it’s a validation of what I’ve come to on my own.”
To see more work by Robin Kent visit one of the local galleries or email her directly at Artisans2@comcast.net.