When it’s too cold to ski and you’re so over roasting chestnuts in an open fire, yet yearn for something to do that doesn’t involve staring at a device screen, pack the kids and the dog into the car and head to Saint Johnsbury, Vermont. Yes, it’s 50 miles and an hour from a Starbucks outpost, but the drive along snowy landscapes is meditative and worth every mile traveled when you get to your destination. This part of Vermont is called the Northeast Kingdom, for a reason.
Within walking distance on and around Main Street, you will find the Fairbanks Museum and Planetarium, the Athenaeum Library and Gallery and the Catamount Arts Center which is currently showing juried works by 76 regional artists in its Rankin and Fried Family galleries. Up the road is Stephen Huneck’s Dog Mountain Gallery, Studio and Dog Chapel.
The Fairbanks family left a legacy in Saint Johnsbury. The family made a fortune with the Fairbanks Scale Company in the late 1880s, and were generous philanthropists. Franklin Fairbanks was founder of the Fairbanks Museum and Planetarium and brother Horace (a one-time governor of Vermont) established the Athenaeum Library and Gallery which houses a wide selection of Hudson River School works by Durand, Cropsey, Gifford, Colman and Whittredge as well as a monumental painting, “The Domes of Yosemite” by Alfred Bierstadt, in a French Second Empire building.
The Catamount Arts Center is the hub of cultural activity with live performances, screenings of foreign and independent films and with exhibitions. The current show includes paintings, sculptures, works on paper, traditional and digital photography and works in wire and other new materials by established as well as emerging artists. The show was juried by Nick Capasso, director of the Fitchburg Art Museum in Fitchburg, Massachusetts.
Lisa Barthelson, a Rutland, Massachusetts artist, is showing an outsize mono-print entitled “Undercurrents Remix 3, Family Debris,” part of a series she has been working on for several years. Her work explores the deeper concerns and dilemmas that we all face in a consumeristic culture: What do we need or want, how much do we keep and how much do we trash? What memories and meaning are embedded in the objects we own and how do we discard things that contain a private and very personal history.
I was reminded of a similar exploration by the performance artist Marina Abramović, who had a show at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City a few years ago. One of the gallery walls was wallpapered with receipts from grocery stores, gas stations, clothing shops, cafes, bars, bookstores and rubber stamped governmental forms, all from the artist’s life in Soviet-dominated Eastern Europe. The receipts were part of her personal debris but at the same time a narrative of her daily existence. Without words or photographs, the viewer recreated an unsentimental personal history.