A quiet man in a hoodie closes his eyes as though he’s praying, and in the meadow above him a man with rainbowed wings turns in the sun. Meadow flowers are in bloom around them — at Bennington Museum in Southern Vermont, the art is moving, and it’s coming out.
Outdoor sculpture is growing across the region this summer, as museums reach out to people eager for safe ways to find color and creativity. New collaborations and expansions are emerging.
In Vermont, the North Bennington Outdoor Sculpture Show partners with Bennington Museum, and Salem Art Works comes to the Southern Vermont Arts Center. These shows gather more than 100 works between them, said Jamie Franklin, curator at the Bennington Museum.
For the second year in a row, the North Bennington Sculpture Show will flow into the Bennington Museum grounds and through their wildflower garden, uphill to the high meadow and the cemetery where Robert Frost is guried.
The museum has been thinking and talking about sculpture on the grounds for several years, Franklin said, and he has long known Joe Chirchirillo, the curator and director of NBOSS for more than nine years.
Last year, when the pandemic hit and Bennington Museum closed for part of the summer, Franklin and Chirchirillo brought NBOSS artists to the grounds for an extension of the annual outdoor show.
This summer, with more time to plan, Franklin has reached out to sculptors across Vermont. Their work appears in settings across the grounds, on the lawn and up the hill to the trails along Jennings Brook, he said. The museum has a wildflower trail and 10 acres of land, and many visitors have never seen it.
The artworks begin close to home. Matthew Perry’s sculpture of a young man dedicated to Treyvon Martin stands in the courtyard. He is speaking to national debates, Franklin said, conversations about equity and freedom.
Mary Admasian from Brattleboro, Vt., shapes Weighted Tears from aluminum rods, wire, and barbed wire, recalling for Franklin the mourning everyone has gone through in this last year. Each one holds a light, and the museum will keep them always glowing.
Red Oculist creates an oval space surrounded by all-weather material, something like a tent but open to the sky. People can look upward and inward here, Franklin said, and reflect on this last intense year, Franklin said, and record thoughts and ideas about what they have gone through — on an old-fashioned tape cassette player.
Outdoor sculpture shows have become more and more popular, Franklin said, and artists find innovative ways to make sculpture from materials near at hand that can stand up to the weather. Traditional metal and stone can be heavy, expensive and hard to move. He sees sculptors today working as often in natural wood, welded steel, cast cement, found metal or wood or scrap, or elements foraged in the woods.
More than one artist in this year’s show will work with and for the earth.
Near a 19th-century dam, Erica Smith Miller considers water flowing free and contained. Bill Botzow, a southern Vermont artist known for his work in natural landscapes, will create new work with grape vines and buckthorn he harvests from the woods here.
He is planning a kind of memorial, Franklin said, to rest near the pathway between the museum and the cemetery that holds Robert Frost’s grave.
The museum has opened the Robert Frost exhibit originally planned for last summer, and Franklin expects the trail to his grave will be well-traveled this summer, as visitors walk through the meadows and remember his words.
‘Over ruined fences the grape-vines shield,
the woods come back to the mowing field.
The orchard tree has grown one copse
of new wood and old where the woodpecker chops.
The footpath down to the well is healed …’