Art as inspiration guides new show in Little Compton

By Paige Shapiro
Posted 6/29/23

Those particularly cynical few may say there’s nothing new under the sun. That might well be. But true or not, the Little Compton Historical Society embraces the claim this year, giving people …

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Art as inspiration guides new show in Little Compton


Those particularly cynical few may say there’s nothing new under the sun. That might well be. But true or not, the Little Compton Historical Society embraces the claim this year, giving people with ties to the town an opportunity to explore the power of derivation.

In an exhibit that will open this weekend, a collection entitled ‘Inspired Crafts’ will be displayed in the Society’s archival barn. All are inspired in some way to one of 30 historical objects, a curated collection of items that vary in age, origin and purpose.

One of them is a shoe buckle mold carved into gray stone dated back to the turn of the twentieth century. In fact, it is the item that started it all. The mold, found in 1900, had been used by to create shoe buckles some time in the 18th century and was eventually given to the Town Hall by Rev. Edgar F. Clark in 1904 in the hopes of sparking interest in a historical organization. The Historical Society was founded in 1937, and the buckle-mold sought its residency there nearly 50 years later.

Another of the selected items is the No-GWEN Quilt. Significantly younger in age, the quilt serves a purpose both political and practical. It was sewn by a group of activist women in 1989 to protest the U.S. Air Force’s planned construction of a GWEN, or Ground Wave Emergency Network, a military communications tower off Long Highway. The quilt was sold in a raffle, and the money it earned was used to try and put a stop the tower. The quilters' efforts were fruitful; the tower was never built.

The Peggoty Crow, a third item from the collection, was inspiration to a surprising abundance of craft submissions. Insipid in appearance, the wooden crow was a makeshift weathervane once mounted to the top of artist Sydney Burleigh’s famous boat studio around a century ago. Regardless of its simplicity, it seems to have struck a sonorous chord among local crafters. Three submissions were prompted by the piece.

Dozens of other items were selected for the exhibit by the Historical Society’s Board of Directors. To them, it’s all about the story.

“We didn’t necessarily pick the best looking items in our collection,” explained Marjory O’Toole, the Society’s Executive Director. “Sometimes we chose an item because it is just spectacular and would attract a lot of attention — we couldn’t resist. But other times we chose more humble things because the stories that they tell us are really inspirational.”

Many, O'Toole among them, hoped that such stories would whet the creative appetite.

"One of the items we selected was a dish towel. Not very exciting,” she admitted. “But it was made by Hannah Winchell Grey right after the birth of her first baby, and the reason she was able to weave that dish towel was because her mother-in-law watched the baby.”

The exhibit was announced last September and began accepting submissions in January from crafters with any tie to the town — whether as cursory as an eager consumership of Little Compton’s prized beaches or as inextricable as the generations of farmland and family living within its borders. Despite having five months to submit their work, and in “true artist fashion” as one submitter joked, the final days before the June 1 deadline saw a bombardment of breakneck crafters.

The resulting exhibit will be displayed at the Historical Society’s Exhibit Preview Party on Friday, June 30. Purchase a ticket by calling 401-635-4035.

Just a day after the Exhibit Preview Party, Family Day — Saturday, July 1 — is free to the public. From 12 to 4 p.m., families can visit the Historical Society to enjoy free admission to the Wilbor House, old-fashioned games like the famed skillet throwing contest, and prizes, food and music.

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