The Bull's Bridge Inn
John Scofield Puts Touches on Kent Village Barns
By Bob Deakin
(One of the structures comprising the Kent Village Barns in the center of Kent, CT.)
Kent artist John Scofield is displaying an increasing, yet ever-so-subtle effect on the look of his town.
Mr. Scofield, who has applied his skills to sculpture, furniture, architectural design and other formats, is adding some of the finer details to Jim Preston’s Village Shopping Barns as the project slowly develops.
The barns are the creation of the Bridgeport Design Group, including architects Matthew Preston and Nils Weisenmullar, with help from Laura Wendt-Mieser, Umberto Cordero and colorist Janice Malone.
“It’s a nice way to work with a lot of talented people,” Mr. Scofield said on Thursday.
Concentrating on blending the look of the complex to its natural surroundings, he spent last winter under a tarp, creating the housing for the mechanicals outside one of the buildings. He calls the piece “Mountain Waves.” Few would spend as much time on a visual barrier for an air conditioning unit, but such is the attention to detail at the barns.
The concept includes painted and sculpted walls that mimic long grasses blowing in the breeze. At its base, 16-to-18 inch blue stem grass will be planted, blending fantasy with reality.
“The whole motif is something that I’ve borrowed from a really beautiful church façade in Florence, Italy; the Santa Maria Novella. It doesn’t have waves like this but does have alternating panels and colors in the pillars. The whole façade is like stripes of green and white,” he said.
The grass will be maintained high and the surround areas will begin to take on concepts borrowed from art forms and nature, sometimes confusing the two.
“Since this is a north-south valley, as just about all the valleys are around here, you’re constantly getting a little stirring breeze, which makes Litchfield County attractive in the summer,” he noted. “As it swoops through here, as the grasses wave, I’m hoping that it’s going to be very attractive in concert with the static waves on the piece.”
A small group of electrical meters stand alone in another out-of-the-way section of the village, backed by another of his creations. Made of concrete, the wall is sculpted with a motif of crisscrossing grasses, fallen debris and deep-grained hemlock.
“This is one of the great things about the Preston job, the attention to detail all over this property is kind of staggering,” he said. “Even though the architect knew that this thing was going to be here, they wanted an interesting backdrop for it. Most guys would have left the wall blank, but it just shows you what they’re interested in doing.”
Mr. Scofield’s touches will appear more noticeably as the year progresses and many of them, such as a lathe railing on a stone pillar for a handicapped parking space, will be appreciated for years to come, particularly by those with an experienced eye.
Mr. Scofield grew up in Stamford and Greenwich, attended the Rochester Institute of Technology and majored in woodworking and furniture design at the School for American Craftsmen.
Under a Tiffany Foundation grant he was a studio assistant to American furniture artist Wendell Castle and in 1972 he applied for and was awarded one of only two Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation Grants given out that year.
After his apprenticeship with Mr. Castle he took work in New York building art galleries and loft spaces before heading to West Africa (Sierra Leone) as a member of the Peace Corps in 1974.
In the later 1970s he assisted the late abstract expressionist painter Robert Motherwell. He worked for a year with the artist on a painting that has been at the National Gallery in Washington D.C. for 25 years called “Reconciliation Elegy.” The work is 31 feet long, 10 feet high and took the two men all of 1978 to complete.
“That was sort of the completion of my formal education,” he said of his work with Mr. Motherwell. “Even though you don’t get a degree by working with an artist, when you worked for Motherwell you basically had a reading list that you had to stay on top of in order to make it through lunch. At the end of three years of having lunch with him you felt like you’d been through a graduate seminar.”
A wooden sheetmusic stand that Mr. Scofield created in his younger days provided a harbinger of his talents when it won first prize in an international design competition sponsored by Progressive Architecture Magazine. He produced a limited number and one is still on display at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
“Within 60 days of that piece being on display I had $50,000 in deposits,” he remembers. “That’s the power of that place.”
Another piece of his is on display at the Nutmeg Gallery in Kent called “Equestrian Bench” and is constructed of many pieces of mahogany glued together and painted with more than a half dozen semi-transparent glazes and clear-coated to lock the look in.
He was one of 5,000 entrants in the World Trade Center Site Memorial competition last year. The winning design featured a simplistic and colorless layout with a field of trees with two voids where the towers stood. Michael Arad of New York submitted the design and the jury (Lower Manhattan Development Corporation) quickly secured the services of a landscape architect to buttress the design.
Mr. Scofield’s plan called for 3,000 rose bushes to summon an image of a fallen American flag. He also used extensive pink blossom cherry trees and shadblow trees. The design had traits of a sculpture he created along the shore in Branford in the 1980s that featured a line of 30 shadblow trees.
“All the neighbors complained, ‘Isn’t that stupid massing all these shadblows together?’” he remembers. “Now every time they bloom the neighbors walk through this adjacent property and say, ‘Isn’t that great.’”
Having been familiar with the works of a few of the jury members in the competition, Mr. Scofield reasoned that a design such as his, featuring lots of color, would not have been chosen.
“My feeling is that life is for the living,” he said, indicating no bitterness, “and this park is for living people. All the winning things were so ultra-minimalist and so restrained, especially color wise, that you would say that their motto would not have been ‘life is for the living.’”
Mr. Scofield and his wife, Karen Bussolini, a professional garden photographer, moved to Kent in the late 1980s after he had been hospitalized battling Lyme disease. They found a run-down home in South Kent and decided to move in and do a fix-up.
He described a bizarre introduction to the home when the two of them arrived to find the occupants burning garbage in the yard. His first vision of Kent was a couple tubes of toothpaste smoldering in the rubble. Despite that, the couple bought the house and have since renovated it. They have a teenage son.
In one more local artistic endeavor, he is taking part in the town-wide ArtDogs event where 50 or more artists are decorating bisque statues of dogs.
“There were four of us who said that we didn’t paint dogs,” he remembered from a conversation with ArtDogs organizer Jill Zinzi. “She said fine; you’re going to make dog houses.”
And he did. His will be on display in the shopping barns for those who can find it. The doghouse is sponsored by Meg McMorrow and Brad Harding, who will be the tenants in the newest structure behind Lily’s.
As for the barns, Mr. Scofield can be seen strolling through the area in the role of liaison between architect and construction. When pressed for subtle artistic references in the complex he offered one possibility.
“We’re taking cues from all over the place,” he said. “In that sense there’s an aspect of the postmodern because we’re referencing such a grab bag of prior [works].”
The combined talents of the architects, artists and contractors have made for an enviable team. Jonathan Draper’s Corporate Construction is the construction manager turning dreams into reality.
Mr. Scofield would not be surprised if the collective creation pulled together by Jim Preston may become an inspiration for others.
“I think whether he wants it to be or not, it will be,” he concluded.
Originally published in the Litchfield County Times in 2004
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