Mad about the Hatter
Sixth-grade students visited the museum with their teacher, Dawn Pilloti, who also is an associate curator at the Housatonic Museum of Art. Students were immediately drawn to drawings by Kruger and "ran up to him as if he was a movie star," said Pilloti.
After seeing the students' reactions, Kruger decided to donate his three drawings to St. Ann Elementary School.
"I noticed the students looking at my pictures one day, and a couple days later, the same students were back again and they wanted to know more about the drawings," Kruger said about his reason for donating his work to the school. Kruger, who has children of his own and refers to himself as a "grandfather type," also said he wanted the students to have the drawings to learn about Connecticut history and in turn teach future students about important historical sites around Connecticut.
According to Pilloti, when the students learned of Kruger's generosity, they "squealed with joy and called their principal, Theresa Tillinger, right away." Kruger's donated drawings include "The Original Mad Hatter," which is based on famous hat maker Zoe Benedict from Danbury, once known as the Hat City. The two other pencil drawings are entitled "Wiffleball" and "P.T. Barnum."
Anson Smith, public relations coordinator at Housatonic Community College, was able to interview some of the sixth-graders and said that student Michaela Pelletier told him she had a special connection to the P.T. Barnum drawing because she lives in one of the homes P.T. Barnum once owned. A reception was held in Kruger's honor at St. Ann Elementary Schoo, where he spoke to students about "The Original Mad Hatter" and the use of mercury in the original production of hats, which was eventually banned because it causes serious illness in those exposed to it. History is incorporated into each painting in subtle ways, he said. For example, the man in the hat drawing has a hole in his shoe stuffed with rabbit fur. Zoe Benedict invented the pliable material known as felt, initially created from rabbit fur and condensation, and which he used to make popular hats in the late 1700s.
Kruger, 59, who has lived in New Haven since 1985, earned his Bachelor of Art degree at North Dakota State University. Though he had once planned to become an art teacher, he is a graphic designer at Housatonic, and also does freelance work in the field.
"I was always the kid in school who could draw a horse," he noted of his own experience in grade school.
Pilotti and fellow St. Ann teacher Elizabeth James are producing an educational film based on the exhibit and the history of Connecticut. They brought the students to the museum during filming. The film is currently being edited and will be shown in school libraries across the state.
All three of Kruger's drawings will now be displayed in the St. Ann Elementary School library. Molly Rosner is a New Haven Register intern.