This Place in History: Bennington Museum

BENNINGTON, Vt.

At 'This Place in History' we visit the Bennington Museum with Executive Director of the Vermont Historical Society Steve Perkins.

"This is one of my favorite museums in the whole state of Vermont. This town anchors Vermont history. It was one of the first towns chartered in this state and the rich stories for everything that we consider Vermont really started here," introduced Perkins.

Robert Wolterstorff, Bennington Museum Executive Director, says, "The Bennington Museum began in 1852, so it's one of Vermont's ancient institutions. It was founded as the Bennington Historical Association. So from the beginning, we were about history and we were especially about the Revolutionary War history of Bennington. We have been pushing it in the modern and contemporary direction recently."

"I think it might not be outrageous to compare it to a Florence of the arts. It's this little town where arts flourished in the 20th century, especially around Bennington College, but Bennington more broadly. This was an amazing center for the arts in the 1960s and 1970s."

"I think a lot of people associate Bennington with pottery, so is that represented here?" asked Perkins.

"Oh yes, totally. The museum actually has a very deep collection in two areas, folk art and actually Vermont decorative arts and Bennington Pottery. What we call Bennington Pottery is 19th century salt-glazed stoneware. It kind of bridges both categories; you know it's a utilitarian functional art, but it's decorated in lavish style, hand-painted. It's over-the-top folk art and we have a deep, broad wonderful collection of that," answered Wolterstorff.

"It's a funny museum in that it's a big, small museum. When I give tours to people and I go through the whole museum at once, it dawns on me just how big it is. We have about 40,000 objects of our history. We have also been embracing the notion of innovation, which is what we think brings together art and history. This museum is about two things. It's very much about the locale, it's about Bennington and this broader region and the arts of Vermont, but it's also about history and art. What pulls them together is this notion of innovation, the innovation of Vermont and the innovation of the region."

"It's by intention that we're standing in the Gilded Age Vermont gallery. One of my favorite objects is the great Portrait of May Suydam Palmer by artist Frederic MacMonnies. It's an amazing painting. He's really known as a sculptor, so we're surprised that he was so good as a painter. It's a fabulous painting, painted in Monet's Garden of Giverny of an American woman painter who flourished in this area. It was finished in Bennington. It's kind of the centerpiece of the gallery," said Wolterstorff.

"The other object which is maybe my favorite in the museum if you can choose, a not well-guarded secret because a lot of people have heard, that is Snow's Patented Water Wheel Governor, which is a little patent model."

"When I came here, it was tucked away on a bottom shelf in the church gallery. You've probably had the same experience that there are things you latch onto and pull out of obscurity and shine a spotlight on them. I love that object, together in the same gallery. That's what this gallery is about; it's this idea of putting together art and history and in particular, what we think of as fine art. You know it's a loaded term, paintings and sculptures and presenting them on the same level with patent models and a motor car. In some ways we stumbled on this way of putting together art and history, but we love it and we're going to run with it."

"If they come in the summer, then we're open seven days a week. In the winter, it's six days a week. We're closed on Wednesdays," concluded Wolterstorff.

At 'This Place in History'!

To view more from our 'This Place in History' series, click here.

For a map of Vermont's roadside markers, click here.


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