George Laurence Nelson (American, 1887-1978) lived at Seven Hearths, in the Flanders section of Kent, from 1919 until his death in 1978. He wrote a small book about his love affair with the house, entitled New Life for Old Timber, which was published by the Kent Historical Society in 1982. At the end of the book, following Nelson's account of his years in the house, the society added the following text from the eulogy given at Nelson's funeral by his friend, the Rev.
William Dolan Fletcher: "February 6, 1978 marked the end of an era at 'Seven Hearths' because on that day George Laurence Nelson died. 'Seven Hearths' had seen many a tenant since its building in 1751 but none had been so devoted, none so interesting in personality, none so committed to everything that 'Seven Hearths' had meant over two centuries." "Nelson was born George Laurence Hirschberg in New Rochelle, NY, on September 26, 1887, the son of Carl and Alice Kerr-Nelson Hirschberg, and the youngest of three G. Laurence Nelson in his Studio at Seven Hearths brothers. His parents were artists of no little repute in both the American and European art scenes.
His father, Carl Hirschberg, born in Berlin, Germany, came to the United States where he started school in New York City at the age of six. Before he finished his education, he became one of the prime movers and shakers in the American Art movement, first as reorganizer of the Art Students League and then as co-founder of the Salmagundi Club in 1875. As a young man, he went to Paris to study under Alexandre Cabanel whose influence he would pass on to his youngest son - classical design, modern media, timeless mood. While in Paris he met another young artist, one from London, named Alice Kerr-Nelson, and in 1881 they were married. After the birth of their first son, Carl Nelson Hirschberg, they returned to the United States in 1884.
Working together as a team, the Carl Hirschbergs would set the pattern for American design in calendars, fashion literature, painting in oil and water color and etching." "Laurence's mother, Alice Kerr-Nelson Hirschberg, often referred to in American circles as THE Woman of the Century, was the one person who had the greatest influence upon him. By coincidence the day of Laurence's funeral was his mother's one hundred and twenty-eighth birthday. She was the daughter of George William Kerr-Nelson, Lord of Chaddleworth Manor in Northcutt, Middlesex, England - an estate going back to 1068 when it was conferred by William the Conqueror. It was lived in by Eleanor, Queen of Edward I, who in 1283 gave it to the Priory of Ambresbury in whose custody it remained until the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1544. In 1576 the Manor passed to William Nelson, Chief Prothonotary of the Court of England, and it stayed in Laurence's family until his mother's time." "Among the ancestors of Alice Hirschberg was Elizabeth Kerr, England's most noted painter of flowers, an artist who startled England with an art exhibit in London in 1763, daring to become a professional artist in a man's world.
After his death, Nelson's popularity waned considerably. His reputation now falls far short of what it was during his prolific career. The Kent Historical Society has embarked on a mission to restore him to his rightful place in the annals of American art. To that end, we have recently donated carefully selected pieces to The Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, CT, The Mattatuck Museum in Waterbury, CT, The New Britain (CT) Museum of American Art and the Newington-Cropsey Foundation in Hastings-on-Hudson, NY. In July, 2008, we had a fundraising exhibit of his work at the Morrison Gallery in Kent, where visitors previously unacquainted with his art were stunned by its beauty and genius. In addition, we are trying to increase our knowledge of the whereabouts of other Nelson pieces, and will welcome communication from owners of any his treasures. As of this writing in 2012, we have made the acquaintance of many knowledgeable members of the art community who are very enthusiastic about Nelson's work. We are assembling a task force of these advisors to guide us as we move forward with our mission. Stay tuned!