The Bennington Museum
The Bennington Museum represents the largest collection of art and history from Southern Vermont and the historically associated areas of New York, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire by Heather DiLeo
Situated between two other major cultural hubs—the Berkshires and New York’s Capital Region—Bennington has often been defined by its neighboring draws and less often by its own creative pull. In 2017 that changed when the National Center for the Arts ranked Bennington the third most vibrant arts community in the U.S. for its size.
Bennington’s artistic vitality owes considerably to the way area arts organizations share objects from their respective collections, synchronize shows, and think about how their programming can complement one another’s. Then, there’s the symbiotic relationship these organizations have with the College.
When you pair College faculty and student artists, the start and stop of these collaborations between institutions can be difficult to distinguish. Members of the College community curate for, perform, exhibit, volunteer, and intern with nearly all of the cultural organizations in the area. The history of specific College-institutional collaborations would fill several volumes. Underlying all of them is a common vision of the vital role the arts play in the community.
Anne Thompson, inaugural director and curator of Bennington College’s Suzanne Lumberg Usdan Gallery, came to Bennington drawn to the local/campus permeability. She sees her role as curator inside and outside of the Usdan Gallery—one that will build on the myriad of developing partnerships with arts organizations locally, regionally, and globally.
“Bennington has a rich history and stunning landscape,” Thompson says. “I’m talking with a lot of people, looking at campus, looking at the region, seeing what opportunities there are to work in a context-specific way here in Vermont. The College’s history of innovation lends itself really well to thinking in an experimental way about how art gets exhibited on and off campus and in collaboration with institutions in the region and around the country,” she says.
While the area is saturated with a growing art scene, here are some of the current cultural exchanges between arts organizations and the Bennington College community.
75 Main St., Bennington, VT 05201
The Bennington Museum represents the largest collection of art and history from Southern Vermont and the historically associated areas of New York, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire. Its vast collection includes paintings, sculpture, photography, rare books and manuscripts, pottery, furniture, and textiles. Among the objects on permanent view are the works of folk artist Anna Mary Robertson Moses, known as Grandma Moses, Ralph Earl’s painting of Bennington in 1798, and one of the oldest “stars and stripes” in existence–the Bennington Flag.
In 2013, the Museum added the Bennington Modernism Gallery, which features works from the 1950s through the 1970s created by nationally and internationally known avant-garde artists, most with ties to Bennington College. Included are works from former faculty members Pat Adams, Willard Boepple, Sir Anthony Caro, and Paul Feeley, as well as the work of prominent alums like Helen Frankenthaler ’49, Patricia Johanson ’62, and visiting artists and faculty members Vincent Longo, Kenneth Noland, Jules Olitski, Dan Shapiro, David Smith, and Tony Smith.
The Modernism exhibition places Paul Feeley’s influence at its center: “As head of Bennington College’s art department—recognized as one of the most dynamic hubs of creativity in the country—[Feeley] created an atmosphere that buzzed with the energy of probing thoughtfulness and bold experimentation.”
And that’s just one exhibition. Under executive director Robert Wolterstorff’s leadership, the Museum has engaged students and the community with an eye toward the future, says faculty member Jon Isherwood.
One such engagement was the recent “3D Digital: Here and Now” exhibition. The show led to several discoveries, Isherwood says. “One of the main things is that there are incredible advanced technologies being explored and put into action in manufacturing in this region. It was wonderful to have students observe those processes and material handling and recognize what is happening here.”
The show included alumni and student work in areas ranging from public sculpture to furniture design, and
explored “relationships with potential between the College and industries in the region.”