Paintings by Clay Coyle, Kurn Hattin history featured in River Garden's November art exhibits

BRATTLEBORO — November's exhibit in the Gallery at the Garden (Robert H. Gibson River Garden, 157 Main St.) features works by painter and set designer Clay Coyle in a show titled “Fresh Paint: Reflections of Color in Landscapes and Trees.”

Concurrently, the River Garden, home of Strolling of the Heifers, will host an exhibit of historical materials from the archives of Kurn Hattin Homes for Children, the Westminster residential school for children deemed at-risk or in need.

A public reception will be held for the exhibit opening at the River Garden on Thursday, Nov. 6 from 5:30 to 7 p.m. The reception will be hosted by Kurn Hattin Homes for Children Executive Director Connie Sanderson, and will feature a brief presentation and question and answer session.

Refreshments will be provided. All are welcome to attend.

Established in 1894, Kurn Hattin serves boys and girls aged 5-15 who are affected by tragedy, social or economic hardship, or other disruption in family life.

Now a resident of Venice, Fla., Coyle maintains a studio in Putney and recently moved from his South Londonderry homestead, which he had kept since 1980. He has painted and worked on set and lighting design since entering Williams College in 1968. He graduated in 1972, winning the Gilbert W. Gabriel Prize in Drama for his design and technical work.

From Williams he headed to New York City, where he designed sets for the Classic Stage Company, the New Dramatists Inc., the Producer's Association for Young America, the Spanish Repertory Company, and others.

Coyle's classical education came into play as he found himself designing for works by Shakespeare, Molière, Ibsen, Wedekind, and a host of contemporary playwrights who were at the forefront of New York's Off Broadway Theater.

He also worked for summer stock houses in New Hampshire and Pennsylvania, and with the Kanawaha Valley Players in his hometown of Charleston, W. Va.

Tiring of the hustle and bustle of New York City, Coyle sought a more tranquil life in South Londonderry, where once again he could “see the clouds sail by and marvel at the beauty of the stars at night.” In his 1880's farmhouse and attached barn, he found the space and time he needed to pursue his interest in painting more fully than he had been able to in New York.

After 10 years of focusing on his painting skills, Coyle once again turned to theater design and worked with Whetstone Theater Company in Brattleboro and later Lost Nation Theater in Montpelier, where he still designs scenery and lighting.

Coyle's paintings have been exhibited in diverse galleries such as the Wyland Gallery in Key West, Fla., the Tartan Pony Gallery in Santa Fe, N.M., and in Vermont at the Southern Vermont Arts Center and Vermont Woods Gallery in Manchester, the Chaffee Art Center in Rutland, and Vermont Artisan Designs in Brattleboro.

For his show at the River Garden, Coyle has gathered a selection of paintings that relate to the land. “I find it fascinating,” he says, “that one can put together a very abstract collection of dots and slashes of color on canvas or board and have a viewing mind see a world it recognizes and responds to.”

Created this year to celebrate the 120th anniversary of Kurn Hattin's founding, the historical exhibit, “A Legacy of Caring: Adapting to the Changing Needs of Children and Families,” features a curated selection of photos, records, and documents from Kurn Hattin Homes' archives, dating from the late 1800s through the present.

With firsthand accounts and audio-visual elements, the exhibit tells the story of Kurn Hattin's founding and development within the context of major events in Vermont and U.S. history, such as World Wars I and II, the Great Depression, and the Civil Rights Movement, as well as significant trends in the fields of child care, education, and social services since the turn of the 19th century that have helped to shape the organization's philosophy and approach.

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