For his own delight and that of two young grandsons, farmer and woodworker Clark Coe constructed a larger-than-life mechanical tableau in a streamside clearing on his property in Killingworth, Connecticut. Applying personal ingenuity to vocational skills, Coe built approximately forty figures, a dam, a sluiceway, and a small water wheel. He fashioned each figure from scraps of baskets, barrels, and planks, or from tree limbs and trunks. He then added paint, makeshift hair, and old clothes.
Among Coe’s water-driven figures were a fiddler playing; a mother cradling a child; and a wife browbeating a flirtatious husband—identified by an accusatory sign. Their movements produced a cacophony of creaks, groans, and scrapes, which only drought or ice stilled.
Locally, Coe’s playful ensemble was dubbed the “Killingworth Images.” It attracted a regional audience until 1926 when the deteriorating site was dismantled and many of the figures were stored by the local historical society, where Robert Bishop found them during the early 1960s.
Lynda Roscoe Hartigan Made with Passion: The Hemphill Folk Art Collection in the National Museum of American Art (Washington, D.C. and London: National Museum of American Art with the Smithsonian Institution Press, 1990)