By Lydia Clemmons, Clemmons Family Farm
Many of you may remember the intriguing signs for Authentica African Art Imports located along Route 7, Ferry Road, and in front of the shop owned by Jack and Lydia Clemmons on Greenbush Road. Located in what was once an 18th century blacksmith shop, Authentica included an art gallery and an enthralling assortment of exotic treasures collected by the couple during their work and travels in Africa between the 1980s and early 2000s.
For more than 30 years, Lydia also traveled across Vermont to bring some of her collection into classrooms and to talk about the art, people and cultures of Africa. Local schools organized class trips to visit Lydia’s art gallery too. The family plans to reinstate an educational enrichment program that integrates the work of visiting African diaspora artists and local residents. “Charlotte has a lot of talented artists. We want to provide a space where they can meet, learn and create with artists of the African diaspora right here on the farm,” says Lydia and Jack’s eldest daughter (also named Lydia).
The farm’s collaboration with schools resumed last weekend with 12 Middlebury College freshmen visiting the old Authentica shop as part of their orientation to local communities. Led by seniors Maddie Dickenson and Shane Healy, the students carefully wrapped arts and crafts items for an upcoming fundraiser. “Funds raised through the sale of beautiful soapstone statues and other art will be used to restore the old shop,” explains Charlotte resident Katharine Cohen, who volunteered to oversee the students’ work at the farm. “I am excited to help out because I think the farm is such an asset to our community. Not only is it beautiful to visit but it has so much potential as a gathering place to explore art and other cultures. For me it’s a perfect fit—I love people and art from all over the world, especially Africa. Lucky me it’s right up the road!”
Renting the gallery and art studio space to local and visiting artists will generate revenue to help keep the farm available to the community. Already a finalist in the national ArtsPlace America grants competition, The Clemmons Family Farm will apply for more grants to help fund its programs. Other upcoming activities include creating a directory of local Charlotte artists and identifying African diaspora artists for future residencies on the farm. “We will be holding a community meeting this fall to involve Charlotte artists in planning an exciting arts and culture program here. Creating opportunities like this, that build a loving multicultural community, is part of what our parents’ legacy is all about,” says daughter Lydia.
Plans are also underway to remodel Jack and Lydia’s residence on the farm so that it remains safe and comfortable for them as they age. Upgrades will include a spacious downstairs bedroom with windows overlooking the Adirondacks and ground-level access to enable them to enter the house without having to use stairs. “Our dream is to remain in the home and community we love for the rest of our lives,” says Lydia Senior. “We want to be close by so that we can guide the farm’s transition… and, of course, so that we can also be part of all the fun!”