Blaine Kruger(picture, right: Blaine Kruger explains his illustration "P.T. Barnum" to three 6th-grade St. Ann students. From left to right: Blaine, Ashton Cowell, Kari Martin and Michaela Pelletier. contributed photo)

Artist draws bridge to Bridgeport kids


Article Last Updated: 05/16/2008 11:50:09 PM EDT


BRIDGEPORT — Every artist hopes to connect with an audience that's appreciative of his or her work.

New Haven artist Blaine Kruger has found just such an audience in Bridgeport.

Kruger, a public relations associate at Housatonic Community College, recently donated three of his colored-pencil drawings to St. Ann Elementary School in Bridgeport. The pictures — titled "The Original Mad Hatter," "Wiffle Ball" and "P.T. Barnum" — were part of a recent exhibit at the Housatonic Museum of Art.

St. Ann Principal Theresa Tillinger said the school was moved by Kruger's generosity. "We were obviously very thrilled that he decided to do this," she said.

Kruger said he gave the pictures to the school because he'd noticed a group of St. Ann sixth graders had taken a particular interest in them while they were on display in the Housatonic exhibit titled "Illustrating Connecticut: People, Places and Things."

The children were students in the sixth-grade class of Dawn Pilotti, also an associate curator at the Housatonic Museum. Pilotti and St. Ann art teacher Elizabeth James had been taking students to art exhibits throughout the region. Pilotti has a background in art history, and tries to teach all subjects, including math, through art. The kids seem to respond to that, she said. "This is a class that really latches onto art," Pilotti said.

The Housatonic show focused on Connecticut history, and Pilotti and James decided to base an educational workshop

around the exhibit. They took a group of about eight students to the Housatonic show's opening night, where the kids met the artists, including Kruger.

Though he primarily draws as a sideline, Kruger has been creating art for years. He'd done the three drawings specifically for the show, at the request of museum director Robbin Zella.

All his drawings depict certain aspects of the state's history — something Kruger admits he knew little about before he was asked to participate in the show. "I didn't grow up in Connecticut, and didn't know that much about its history," he said.

So, he decided to have some fun with the assignment. He'd been told to do a piece depicting Danbury's history as the Hat City. His drawing depicts hat manufacturer Zadoc Benedict as resembling the Mad Hatter from "Alice in Wonderland."

His colorful, cartoon-like style caught the eye of the St. Ann students, Pilotti said. "They loved his paintings," she said. "They're very colorful and very vibrant."

They particularly liked the "Mad Hatter" piece, she said. "They've all seen 'Alice in Wonderland,' and they all said 'Oh — that's the Mad Hatter!' "

Sixth-grader Michaela Pelletier, 11, of Bridgeport, was especially taken with the "P.T. Barnum" drawing. The house where she lived used to be owned by Barnum so "I liked that one the most."

But Pelletier said she liked the other pieces, too. "I thought they were amazing," she said. "I really liked the way he did them."

After opening night, Pilotti and James decided to create a documentary for the Housatonic museum about arts and education. The goal is for the film to eventually be shown in schools and libraries across the state.

While filming the movie, the students made several trips to the museum, and got to know Krueger and his art. "He took to the kids, and they took to him," Pilotti said.

Kruger was so impressed with the kids, he decided to donate the paintings to the school after the show closed. "Those pictures didn't exactly fit in with the dcor of my home," Kruger joked. The school's staff and students were so pleased, they held a reception in Kruger's honor. Tillinger said the drawings fit in perfectly with one of the school's initiatives.

"We're trying very hard to integrate the arts into our curriculum," she said.

Amanda Cuda, who covers feature news, can be reached at 330-6290.