Clark W. Coe

 

COE, CLARK W.
(1847–1919)
was well-known to residents of the small town of Killingworth, Connecticut, where he produced his
Killingworth Images.
In 1915 local people regularly visited thefolk environment on the cow lot located across the road from 134 Green Hill Road, and enjoyed the ingenious creativity of Coe, a farmer and basket maker skilled incarving ax handles, which he sold in New Haven. Coe’s work is significant as being one of the earliest documented folk environments.About 1900 he built an environment consisting of approximately twenty-two animated, life-size figures with painted faces and simulated hair. They were propelled bywaterpower set in motion by a homemade waterwheel at the side of a stream that emptied into the Hammonassett River. The figures, many of them dressed in recycledclothing that became tattered from exposure to the elements, were constructed from bits of wood, barrel staves, basket slats, and the limbs and trunks of trees. Amongthe forms were a flirting man being beaten by his wife, a mother spanking a small child, a woman tugging at a recalcitrant pig, two wrestlers in combat, and a seatedmusician sawing away on his string instrument. A Ferris wheel in the center was filled with twenty-two dolls riding in the swinging chairs. Many visitors recalled hearingthe moving parts clanking and squeaking day and night through all seasons. Accounts differ as to Coe’s motivation for creating his wooden people and animals. Somesay he did it to relieve himself of insomnia; others said he created the environment to entertain his two grandchildren; and still others believe it was just a hobby.When Coe died, he left his personal property to his daughter Minnie Morse, but there was no mention of the wooden figures. The environment eventually went to aMr. Parmelee, who intended to keep it active. He replaced the torn clothing of the performers and in 1921 installed a contribution box for visitor donations. Mr.Parmelee moved about 1926, and a “No Trespassing” sign was put up on the property, signaling the end for the environment. Some figures were stolen, some fellapart, and the remaining six or seven were stored in the basement of the new owner’s house.In 1964 most of the Killlingworth figures that still existed were exhibited at the Stony Point Folk Art Gallery in Stony Point, New York, and at the Willard Gallery in New York City. Three of the figures are now part of the permanent collections of the American Folk Art Museum, the Smithsonian American Art Museum,and the Killingworth Historical Society.
See also
Environments, Folk
.
BIBLIOGRAPHY
Smith, Bertram R.A.
Three Town Tales.
Guilford, Conn., 1975.Stevens, Alfred. “The Images,”
Yankee Magazine,
vol. 79 (July 1969): 104–106