New Haven Independent Reviews EPC’s Art Show and Interviews Vicki Huffman

Jamil Ragland reviews the recent art show held at the Garmany Visitor Center and interviewed Visitor Center employee Vicki Huffman about the history of Elizabeth Park.

March 14, 2024

Spring Art Exhibit
Garmany Visitor Center
Elizabeth Park
March 7, 2024

When I go to galleries, I’m usually self-guided and left to contemplate the artwork by myself. That’s what I was expecting when I went to the Garmany Visitor Center in Elizabeth Park to see the Spring Art Exhibit.

The exhibit features the artwork of participants of the Litchfield County Studio of Betsy Rogers-Knox. Christine Doty, President and CEO of the Elizabeth Park Conservancy, is a member of that group, so she provided the gallery space.

Bumble Bees on Dahlias by Christine Doty

The artwork is beautiful, and a great complement to the flowers that Elizabeth Park is known throughout the United States for. But on this visit, the main attraction was the lady sitting behind the desk who knew everything about the park.

I’ve seen the video that explains this place a million times,” said Vicki Huffman, a volunteer who mans the visitor center. ​It’s too bad that it’s not running now, because it can tell you all about this place.”

Northern Catalpa Tree and Catalpa by Elizabeth Manolfi

I didn’t need the video, though, because Vicki is an expert on the history of Elizabeth Park. Whether by design or by accident, she’s become a de facto historian when it comes to learning about one of the natural treasures of Hartford.

This building used to be a bathhouse until 1898, when Charles Pond donated the land and $100,000 to the city on the condition that it be named for his wife, Elizabeth Pond,” Vicki explained. We found an inflation calculator and figured out that Pond donated more than $3 million in 2024 dollars.

Symbiotic Harmony, Asclepias Syriaca, by Betsy Rogers-Knox

Even that amount of money wasn’t enough to maintain the park forever, though. By 1977 the money had run out and the park was set to be bulldozed.

The Pond mansion used to be located up the street from here, but it was destroyed just before the park was scheduled for demolition too,” she said. ​That’s when Helen Kaman formed the Friends of Elizabeth Park to save the park. Yes, that Kaman — in addition to being a philanthropist and horticulturist, Kaman was also an aerospace engineer.

Vicki went on about the history of the park, dazzling me with her encyclopedic knowledge of the place I’d visited a hundred times before but knew next to nothing about. She radiated warmth and kindness as she excitedly shared about the upcoming concerts and performances the park would host once the season truly began in June.

Clearwing Hummingbird Moth Feeding on Phlox Nectar, by Kim Doyle

As it turns out, Vicki used to be a children’s pastor for her day job before recently retiring. Now she volunteers at the welcome center, where she proudly declares that she ​spends much more than I make.” She showed me pictures from her son’s wedding, and jokingly lamented that he doesn’t visit her as much anymore. ​I guess because he has a wife now,” she said laughing.

Art and history go hand in hand, and it’s no coincidence that such wonderful artwork found a home in a historic place like Elizabeth Park. But art and history don’t speak for themselves. They need someone to tie them together with expert storytelling and genuine joy. That’s what Vicki does at the welcome center, and she’s as important to the place as all the flowers that people enjoy. So even if you don’t make it out to this gallery, make sure you go to Elizabeth Park sometime this summer and say hello to Vicki.

And to Vicki’s son — visit your dear old mom.

The Spring Art Exhibit at Garmany Visitor Center continues through March 9th.