Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Literary and Other Treasures at The Bennington Museum

When last I toured the Bennington Museum at the eastern gateway to the beautiful city of Bennington, Vermont, it was a darker, cluttered, dusty sort of place. This was probably twenty years ago. I remember a lot of cases full of brown and yellow Bennington Pottery poodles and jugs and lots of brightly painted works by just-across-the-border artist Grandma Moses. I always thought Grandma Moses herself was pretty darn cute,

but her artwork just never caught my fancy.

There are still lots of Grandma Moses paintings in the museum collection, an interactive schoolhouse where kids can touch and play with reproduction items that comprise a schoolhouse circa Moses' childhood, and even an exhibition of Moses-inspired paintings of the bucolic upstate New York and Vermont hills transformed into a post-industrial apocalypse over  years of potential hydro-fracking by Linda Finch.

A case of print type and pamphlets and books printed in Vermont
A couple of rooms are still devoted to examples of Bennington Pottery and those weird pottery poodles, but the Museum is so much larger and brighter now and has so many new rooms of all kinds of art and historical objects. There are wonderful folk art portraits, maps, a room of cool household furnishings, Victorian hair jewelry, antique toys, patent medicine bottles and cabinets, scientific and musical instruments of all kinds,

Medicine cases, home pharmacies and an 1862 broadside advertising the the medical talents of  Mrs. Richardson, the "celebrated doctress", who had spent many years ministering to the Indians. 

Bibliophiles and history geeks will enjoy the display cases featured many early Vermont imprints on religious, historical and educational subjects, and there were two shelves devoted to hymnals and other music books, including some very interesting shape note singing books.
 Other galleries featured artwork of Vermont and by Vermont artists, including this scene of Mount Equinox by Old Saratoga Books favorite, Rockwell Kent.

There is currently a special exhibition of artwork by various Bennington College art professors, including Dan Shapiro, who also merited a small showing of his prints in a new gallery space adjacent to the Museum gift shop.
Another exhibition focused on Alcohol in Vermont, from temperance banners and court documents to photos of gently inebriated Green Mountain State residents, syllabub glassware and one of Ethan Allen's hefty bar tabs.

Why is the man on the right posing with a shredded umbrella? Apparently this accessory was de rigueur at this well-marinated Labor Day Clambake.

Dan was lusting over the lines of this antique Martin-Wasp automobile

but I most loved this painting of "Charley Smith and His Barn" by Francis Colburn, circa 1939.

The Bennington Museum also maintains a library of Vermont history and genealogy, so this really is quite a splendid museum.

Hours: Thursday through Tuesday, 10 am to 5 pm.

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