Kent Artist’s Wife Brought Area News To Newtown— George Laurence Nelson Feted By Kent Historical Society

On Saturday and Sunday, November 2 and 3, the Kent Historical Society will present its final campaign this year to increase awareness of former Kent resident and early 20th Century artist George Laurence Nelson. On both days, from noon to 4 pm, the Kent Community House, at 93 Main Street, will be filled with student artwork from local schools, all original works with a George Laurence Nelson theme. Also on Saturday and Sunday, from noon to 4 pm, there will be an art show at the Swift House, 10 Maple Street, featuring paintings by members of the Kent Art Association and other artists inspired by Nelson.

Saturday afternoon at 2 pm, at the Good Gallery, 13 Railroad Street, Chris Naples of Naples Fine Art Restoration in Kent, will speak about the restoration that has been done to Nelson’s art, and art restoration in general.

A fundraising dinner will take place Saturday, at 7 pm, at the Fife ’n Drum Restaurant on Main Street. Stephanie Plunkett, chief curator of the Norman Rockwell Museum, will be the guest of honor. There will be a live auction of two original Nelson paintings, as well as one giclee print.

Nelson artwork will be on display in some of Kent’s art galleries, and products featuring his work — note cards, calendars, and giclee prints — will be available for purchase in select shops in town.

Kent Historical Society Executive Director Margaret Smith and Good Gallery owner Tim Good shared a little-known Nelson link to Newtown that may pique the interest of local residents, as much as his artwork, though.

The artist was born George Laurence Hirschberg on September 26, 1887, in New Rochelle, N.Y. His career as an artist began in 1905, when he entered a contest by the Binney & Smith Company to illustrate its national campaign for Crayola Crayons, according to information in the new Kent Historical Society book George Laurence Nelson: Painting a Portrait of His Life.

The book goes on, “In 1906, he exhibited a painting at the National Academy of Design, signing it George Laurence Nelson, not Hirschberg. ‘Nelson’ was part of his mother’s maiden name, derived from an illustrious ancestor of hers, the British artist John Henry Nelson, and his use of it soon became permanent.”

In 1910, Mr Nelson came to Kent to visit fellow artist Robert Nisbet and his wife, Marguerite. At about the same time, he met and fell in love with Hermine “Helen” Charlotta Redgrave. An art critic on the staff of the New York Globe, Ms Redgrave’s assignment was to interview the artist, but she soon became “his wife, partner, and inspiration for the next fifty-six years.”

In 1919, a shabby, ancient old house came on the market in Kent. Thanks to a mortgage held by a friend, the Nelsons moved into the house they dubbed “Seven Hearths,” and stayed there for the rest of their lives.

The new Mrs Nelson had supported herself posing for fashion photographers and as a “Gibson Girl” model for artist Charles Dana Gibson, following a previous divorce as a very young woman. She gave up posing, except for her husband, but continued to write professionally, including pieces for a number of art publications.

Mrs Nelson interjected herself into the lives of Newtown Bee readers, beginning in February of 1954, when the byline of Mrs G. Laurence Nelson first appears as correspondent from Kent.

The February 19 article was a more in-depth look at life in Kent than had been offered in earlier years by her Bee predecessor, Miss Phylliss Currie. Reporting on the new postmaster, the garden club activities, church events, marriages and other “tweets” of the day, Mrs Nelson filled nearly two columns.

She continued to contribute regularly to The Newtown Bee until February 23, 1968, the last time her byline appears in an issue of the paper. After that date, The Bee solicited direct submissions from Kent for publication. By the 1980s, no reports from Kent are published. It would appear that Mrs Nelson, who would have been 83 years old at the time of her final article, was the last Bee correspondent from Kent.

Mrs Nelson died January 22, 1973, and according to Margaret Smith, is buried in Kent, next to her beloved husband.

George Laurence Nelson: Painting a Portrait of His Life will be available for purchase at the House of Books in Kent, at the Kent Historical Society office, or at www.kenthistorical.org. A free copy will be given to anyone who purchases tickets for the November 2 fundraiser at the Fife ’n Drum. Advance registration is required for the dinner. For more information, call 860-927-4587 or e-mail kenthistorical@att.net.

Seven Hearths, the home to George and Helen Nelson, now serves as the Kent Historical Society. The museum closes for the season November 3, but a tour can be arranged at any time during the year by appointment.

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