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The Hartford Area

June 2024
1min read

Enoch Kelsey’s crumbling house was scheduled for demolition when in 1979 the advance guard of the recently constituted Newington (Connecticut) Historical Society and Trust asked if it could try to uncover some unusual wall paintings rumored to be there. The members, most in their mid- to late sixties at the time, could hardly have envisioned the work ahead.

The group’s first foray into the simple, circa 1799 dwelling uncovered remarkable floral sprays and garlands that had been lying dormant under a half-dozen layers of wallpaper. This led to a thirty-day reprieve for the house, a successful first stab at fundraising, and the gift of a meadow to re-site the structure from Dr. Gideon Wells. Its roof temporarily removed, the old house made an overnight journey to a new setting.

About fifteen minutes’ drive from Hartford, the restored Kelsey House is well worth a visit, if only for the sparkling paintings that appear in every room. Even more remarkable than the unusual freehand floral trellises that climb whole walls and the garlands that border the windows are four oval landscapes painted onto the walls of the southwest parlor. Here the unknown artist added trompe l’oeil frames and, to complete a primitive illusion, painted the very nails from which they appear to hang. The folk art authority Nina Fletcher Little visited the house and pronounced these works a major find.

Enoch Kelsey House, 1702 Main Street, Newington, Connecticut, is open on weekends May through October from 1:00 to 4:00 P.M. and by appointment (203-666-7118).

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