BRATTLEBORO, Vt. -- On first consideration, the Smith sonian Museum in Washington, D.C., and the Brattleboro Mu seum & Art Center (BMAC) don't seem to have much in common. One is a venerable national stalwart, a multi-venue flagship against which arguably all American museums are compared. The other is a relatively young contemporary art museum tucked in Vermont's southeastern corner along the Con necticut River, just over the Massa chusetts border.

But on Saturday, the BMAC will join hundreds of institutions nationwide to offer free admission in a celebration of Museum Day Live, a Smith sonian Magazine initiative.

BMAC operations manager Teta Hilsdon said her museum is looking forward to joining in the annual tribute.

"BMAC is one of more than 1,400 participating venues taking part in Smithsonian Mu seum Day," Hilsdon said. "We offer free admission on that day to anyone bringing the Smith sonian's downloadable coupon with them."

A Berkshire flavor

BMAC's a variety of exhibitions all will be available for viewing on National Museum Day, but the signature show has deep Berkshires roots running through it.

Six paintings of the Con necticut River's famous Oxbow near Northampton are part of the exhibition "Gathering Light: The Art of Stephen Hannock," on view through Oct. 21. It gathers 25 works -- paintings, drawings, prints and photographs spanning the past 33 years of the Hannock's creative output, as well as a wall installation and process room that explains Han nock's technique of creating layered, luminous canvases.

Now based in North Adams, Hannock attended Deer field Academy, then Bow doin Col lege and Smith Col lege, where he apprenticed with Leonard Baskin, before graduating from Hampshire College in 1976. He lived and worked in North ampton until 1982, when he moved to New York City.

Hannock has work in the collections of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Smithsonian American Art Mu seum, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and the National Gallery of Art.

Most of the pieces in "Gath ering Light" are on loan to BMAC from the artist's personal collection, and several others came to the museum at Han nock's request.

BMAC director Danny Lich tenfeld said the artist's hands-on involvement in the exhibition stems from his relationship with the late S. Lane Faison, Jr., the Williams College art historian and longtime mentor to Han nock, to whom "Gathering Light" is dedicated. Faison's son, Gordon, is a BMAC trustee.

"To present an exhibition of this scope and depth of work by an artist of Stephen Hannock's stature represents a real coup for us," Lichtenfeld said.

No previous exhibition of Hannock's work, Lichtenfeld added, ever has included as many as six examples of the Oxbow paintings. A subject for American artists over the past two centuries, the Oxbow captivated Hannock during his ap prenticeship with Baskin.

Thoughtful play

Among the other five shows at BMAC, "Your Space" is a newly-designed interactive area that focuses on a particular medium or artistic concept and offers hands-on materials for visitors of all ages to make and exhibit their own artwork.

The current theme in "Your Space" is collage, which links to some of Hannock's work in "Gathering Light," according to education curator Susan Cala bria. On view are works of collage by Vermont artists Helene J. Henry and Mary Welsh.

"Thoughtful play is at the heart of Henry's works, in which tiny bits of paper interact with carefully balanced white areas," Calabria said. "Henry orchestrates each shape, space, em bossing or fleck of color to serve the entire composition.

"Welsh creates densely pieced, luminous collages of houses, rows of buildings, or cross-sections of interiors. She creates façades with a different light and action taking place behind every window. Her work celebrates art, architecture, history and place."

In all, Lichtenfeld emphasized BMAC is ready to welcome visitors on Saturday, both regulars and first-timers.

"We are delighted to take part in National Museum Day and to welcome new visitors to our museum, where they will en counter a diverse presentation of contemporary artwork, both inside and outside the museum, and an activity space, where visitors young and old can create and display their own work," he said.



What: Brattleboro Museum & Art Center

Where: Founded in 1972 in historic Union Station in downtown Brattleboro, at Main Street (Route 5) and Routes 119 and 142

When: Museum hours Thursday to Monday, 11 a.m.to 5 p.m.; on the first Friday of the month, open until 8:30 p.m. with free admission after 5:30

Wheelchair accessible: Yes

Admission: Free on Saturday with a National Museum Day downloadable ticket.

Regular admission: $8 for adults, $6 for seniors, $4 for students and free for children under 6

For a free ticket on Saturday: www.smithsonianmag.com/museumday

Information: (802) 257-0124, www.brattleboromuseum.org