It certainly has been a long, strange trip for Carolyn West, the owner of the in Stratford.
After graduating from Bunnell High School, West spent the Summer of Love on a farm in Vermont, where she made friends with a woman who, in addition to being neighbors with Janis Joplin, was dating rocker Steve Miller.
"To get her going to sing, they'd have her drink," West said of the raw blues vocalist and her well-publicized tendencies.
In the early-70s, when the Stratford native wished for a warmer climate, she moved to Santa Cruz, Calif. There, she said she enrolled in an art program at Cabrillo College and began seeing a man whose sister was having an affair with Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart.
"The Dead had a 22-acre ranch," West recalled. "Mickey Hart gave us a white stallion because [the sister] lived on the farm we had."
West met many famous people in the music business through her future sister-in-law.
"My life has been peppered with these incredible people," she said. To name a few more: Carlos Santana, Mick Jagger and Jerry Garcia, whose music camp in the redwood forests of Northern California would inspire West to open her own art and music school in Stratford.
'A MISSION FROM GOD'
"I'm on a mission from God with this school," said West, who debuted Little Red School on Main Street in 1993. "Everybody’s calling me, they say my reputation precedes me."
Before opening the school, West had her work featured in art galleries around the world, including an exhibition in Switzerland. She also spoke for several schools and groups, such as the National League of American Pen Women.
Young students come to the Little Red School from all over, West said. And in addition to classes inside the confines of the school, West teaches at five area schools, including in Stratford, St. Lawrence School in Shelton and St. Catherine of Siena School in Trumbull.
"I'm teaching at five schools, five more are calling me," she said.
Miss Fun. That's what her students call her, said West, whose approach to teaching is apparently somewhat clairvoyant.
"I can feel their need to create," she said. "It's almost like I have ESP."
West said she's lucky in that when she was an 11-year-old girl her grandfather sent her to a "special school" in Westport, which was run by American illustrator and painter Norman Rockwell. Now, for creative kids who aren't fortunate enough to attend such a school, it's tough for them to think outside the box, she said.
"Nowadays, kids got their cliques, their iPods, I have to shake them up," said West, adding that it takes some opening up on her part to get her kids to start thinking creatively.
"When I open up, it heals," she said. "It's like a religion."
For more information on classes at the Little Red School or to sign up for their popular summer camp, please visit their website. (Link may not open in Firefox.)