“I think people may get a clue from the sign next to us that we’re at the Fleming Museum of Art here on the University of Vermont,” Vermont Historical Society executive director Steve Perkins said. “(It’s) one of Vermont’s oldest art museums, and I think it’s in this day and age maybe a bit of a hidden gem.”
“It’s named for Robert Hull Fleming, who was a graduate of the University of Vermont in the 1860s,” museum collections and exhibitions manager Margaret Tamulonis said. “His niece, Katherine Wolcott, donated money to the university for a memorial for him.”
“Initially, her gift was not for a museum,” museum assistant director Chris Dissinger said. “Guy Bailey, who was the president (of UVM) at the time, actually orchestrated a sort of combination of gifts from also James Wilbur, benefactor of the Ira Allen Chapel, so they kind of coordinated the gifts together to build a museum. And we still have on view one of the earliest acquisitions, which is the Colchester Jar.
“When the museum first opened, there were geological samples here; there were zoological examples here and things of that nature. I guess it was in about the 1950s when there started being a shift towards more art.”
“It’s a striking building,” Perkins said. “When you’re driving down Colchester Avenue (in Burlington) and you’ve got this big old — old! A big, modern, NEW hospital over here! — and all these modern buildings, this building stands out. Can you tell me a little bit about the architecture and the choices made about it — and then, this beautiful marble hall?”
“Initially, the design that (New York City architectural firm) McKim, Mead & White had prepared was not satisfactory to Katherine Wolcott,” Dissinger said. “And so, she ended up drawing a little diagram on hotel stationery of what she wanted the marble court to look like. The court actually looked very similar to that drawing!”
“She wanted a sculpture area,” Tamulonis said. “What I think is really wonderful is that that the very first headlines about the museum when it opened in 1931 were about it as a place of lifelong learning. We have it in old scrapbooks; it’s really great to see and I think that’s what we continue to be.”
“This particular room that we’re in right now has a very vibrant, very active educational purpose,” Mike Hoey said. “And it’s called the Learning Studio for that reason.”
“I love this space because as a collections manager, I like being able to make the collections of a museum as accessible as possible,” Tamulonis added. “One great way is in kind of an informal space where people can look at objects closely — and maybe not without a lot of labels, but spaces to talk about them and to examine them.”
“Our visitation is actually divided almost equally between the community and the campus, and it’s rooms and spaces like these that really have helped to grow that integration within the campus community,” Dissinger noted. “Just recently we had, for example, a natural resources class here, and I think there were 80-some students that did a lab over a series of four days here in this space. Margaret selected and pulled objects that were related to their studies.”
“And now, we have a selection of silkscreens and screen prints that have been studied by a studio art class,” Tamulonis said.
Perkins asked, “If the general public sees this and decides, ‘I’m going to go see the Fleming Museum’, what are they going to see here right now? What kinds of exhibits are they going to see and what can they do?”
“Well, first of all, they can see this space,” Tamulonis said. “Because our hope is to have this space open as much as possible and we’re able to staff it so they can see what the classes are looking at, and you never quite know week to week what you might see.”
Admission to the Fleming Museum of Art is free of charge.