“We’re going to talk about the Stewart-Swift Research Center, which is part of the Sheldon Museum (in Middlebury), but really a wonderful place for Vermonters to learn more about their state,” Vermont Historical Society executive director Steve Perkins said. “It’s got a very rich collection, and this year, it’s celebrating its 50th anniversary. We’re going to go inside and we’re going to chat with the associate director of the Sheldon Museum, Mary (Ward) Manley.”
“Mary, one thing that has stood out to us about (the) archives — their namesake, Jessica Stewart Swift, was still alive when they were launched,” Mike Hoey said.
“Right! So, in 1972, our research center building was built,” Manley replied. “Jessica Swift was an amazing philanthropist here in Middlebury in general, and certainly supporting the Sheldon Museum. She lived to be 110.”
“(She was widely known in town as) ‘The Grand Dame of Middlebury’, from the 1930s until the early ’80s,” Hoey observed.
Perkins asked, “What sort of things would you find in the archives here?”
“Gosh — having experienced the diversity in Henry (Sheldon’s) three-dimensional collection and paintings, et cetera, I think you won’t be surprised to know he collected a little of everything,” Manley answered. “We have amazing historic photographs, maps, letters, diaries, journals, all of which mostly reflect his time. We have Civil War letters. He also created these — it was very popular at the time, anyway — these big scrapbooks where he would write away for autographs. He kept so many pieces of ephemera that relate to Middlebury and Addison County.”
“One of the pieces in the archives that I think has gotten a lot of press lately was recently sent to Washington,” Perkins noted.
“We have an amazing silhouette of two women, Charity (Bryant) and Sylvia (Blake), who lived in Weybridge,” Manley said. “They were the first documented same-sex couple in the United States, we believe, but certainly in this area. It has traveled both to Minneapolis and to D.C., to the National Portrait Gallery, for a show there.”
“Now, I’m fascinated by the gallery that we’re in right now,” Perkins added. “Because this is not what you would think (of as) a traditional use of archives.”
“Ric Kasini Kadour is the guest curator of the (art) show (currently being exhibited),” Manley said. “(He) worked in tandem with our archivist Eva Garcelon-Hart, and Taylor Rossini, who’s no longer working at the museum but was an intern here and later a staff member. Ric reached out to artists all around the world — he’s a collage artist; he reached out to collage artists — and invited them to participate. These are prints.
“We could never have done this before. This is one of those COVID silver linings because everybody was Zooming, and so they were able to reach out to these artists all over the world. We have Poland; we have Canada; we have Ireland — and Ukraine! And so, all of these artists participated and they would let Eva know anything that interested them. Eva and Taylor would pull examples from our ephemera, send them the images, and then they could select what they wanted to work their collage with.”
“And so you can see that exhibit — and buy the book — at the Sheldon Museum, and those have public hours,” Perkins continued.
“Yes, the museum is open Tuesday through Saturday, 10:00 to 4:00,” Manley answered. “The archives are open to the public on Thursdays and Fridays, 1:00 to 4:00, by appointment.”