Urban Art in Rural Kent

This article was originally published in The Berkshire View in December 2015.


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Behind the scenes in Kent, Conn. — a diminutive yet prosperous town in western Litchfield County — is a dilapidated concrete structure at the end of Railroad Street. This is not a common site in Kent, marked by tidy lawns and charming businesses.

It’s tucked away downtown across the tracks behind the Village Barn Shops, appearing in a parcel of land on Google Maps with the two-story barn that houses St. John’s Bridge furniture at 27 Railroad Street. If you drop a pin on the abandoned edifice, however, Google Maps generates a new address: 98 Railroad Street.

Nevertheless, the lot matches up in a 2014 tax map accessed through the assessor’s office at http://www.townofkentct.org. It’s an acre on Map 19, Block 42, Lot 20. According to arivify.com, a website that provides property data from public records, the parcel was purchased by Rock Hill Associates LLC for $260,000 in 1999.

So, what’s the old mess still doing there? The Kent Historical Society says it was once a creamery servicing Borden’s Condensed Milk Factory in neighboring Wassaic, N.Y., post-Civil War. Other than that, its recent history, including ruination, is unclear.

If it’s indeed part of the lot, it’s a wonder any owner hasn’t demolished it yet. This crumbling concrete jungle has virtually no infrastructure, let alone roofs, for a traditional repurpose.

While it stands, though, some are creating use, and the key word there is creating. Kent might be the last Litchfield town one would expect graffiti, but the structure — we’ll call it by its once teenaged smokers-given nickname, “The Kiln” — has all the right welcomings for street artists.

Overgrown weeds indicate neglect, a full survey exposes lack of surveillance and, as icing on the cake, the “no trespassing” sign bears inadvertent (the best kind) temptation.

The work ranges from tagging — gaudy writing — to developed visual messages. In one example of the latter, an artist depicts the Republican and Democratic Party mascots with a U.S. dollar sign emblazoned on a badge in between them.

Wavering somewhere in the middle of those approaches are stenciled graphics — not as rudimentary as the tagging though not as resolute as the communicative work. Nonetheless, some of these, too, are political, like peace signs and portraits of Martin Luther King, Jr. and John Lennon. Others suggest an attempt to beautify the eyesore; music notes and trails of hearts are reminiscent of the kind of urban art that’s authorized to brighten up city neighborhoods. Others are consistent with the art genre’s trend of representing its musical counterpart, hip-hop, as demonstrated by Wu-Tang Clan logos and a cassette tape.

If this really is meditated practice to give something obsolete and unsightly a purpose, there is work to be done. Where some may find appeal, others might not see past vandalism. Perhaps someday, though, Kent will know The Kiln as a place to express and appreciate art.

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