Wheels within wheels at North Bennington's outdoor sculpture show
NORTH BENNINGTON -- Route 67A in the village of North Bennington will have a little more art and whimsy for the rest of the summer (and into the fall), thanks to the 30 artists participating in this year's North Bennington Outdoor Sculpture Show, returning for it's 17th year.
Open through Oct. 25, the show officially opened last Saturday with a community barbecue boasting hot dogs, burgers and live music from local musicians including Joe Chirchirillo, the show's organizer and curator.
Fund for North Bennington trustee Joe McGovern said the annual show began when local artist Anthony Cafritz approached him about installing sculptures on land owned by the Sage City Syndicate, a land preservation group based in North Bennington.
"It was kind of a lark at first. He was thumbing his nose at the wine-and-cheese art crowd, and that's why we have hot dogs and PBRs," McGovern said, referring to the laid-back attitude and unsophisticated refreshments at the show's opening party.
Train tracks and Route 67A intersect near the park, and many of the works are visible from the road, so visitors are invited to explore the park to see all the sculptures. Chirchirllo described the show as an art exhibition for everyone in the community to enjoy, including those who may not consider themselves fine art experts.
"A lot of people just don't get art," he said. "I think that they feel like it makes them feel dumb, because they don't understand it. And so therefore they don't like it. It makes them angry. I tell people a lot of times that the way to approach a sculpture is first -- what is the material? What is the thing made of? That's the first thing, if you don't know anything about art."
This year's sculpture show offers a diverse range of subjects, genres and materials, including works made of wood or sticks, steel, aluminum, copper, concrete and even household materials like window screening. There's even a 10-foot-tall replica of the Bennington Battle Monument built by Kevin Donegan, called "Bennington Battleship."
Chirchirillo said Donegan built the obelisk using marble from rejected gravestones.
This eclectic variety is part of the democratic vision Chirchirillo has for the show as it's curator.
"My opinion is that a lot of people come through to see the show, and some will like one thing and others will like something else," he said. "It's not about my tastes or what I think, and there's no real theme. It's an overview of outdoor sculpture."
He added that one of the most important factors he uses in choosing works for the show is durability.
"The criteria is that it's something that will last until October -- it's not going to fall apart with the first rainstorm," he said.
A sculptor himself, Chirchirillo said the show has been a great way for him to network with other artists interested in outdoor sculpture, and he hopes it will attract visitors to North Bennington and help build the artistic reputation of the area, which he said often seems overshadowed by the art scenes in the Burlington area, the Berkshires and Brattleboro.
While most of the artists in the show are based in Vermont or nearby New York, Chirchirillo said a few pieces have come from as far away as Washington, D.C., and the midwest.
One of the most intricate works in the show is "Folding + Asking," a mechanical tangle of steam-bent wood and antique metal hardware by University of Kansas sculpture professor Matthew Burke, who delivered the sculpture from Lawrence, Kan.
"He got in touch with me, then he stuck this thing in the back of his pickup and drove from Kansas, installed the piece and drove back," Chirchirillo said.
The show is installed on the lawn areas surrounding the North Bennington Train Depot, the North Bennington Post Office, Bennington College's Welling Townhouse and the yard of local resident Tabby Aldrich. Chirchirillo said the cooperation of landowners like Aldrich, Art Whitman and Bennington College make the show possible.
"One of the great things about North Bennington is that you can do stuff," he explained. "If you say to people ‘I want to do this, I have an idea,' they don't say no."
Harper Gany-Beitler, a Bennington College student living among the sculptures in the Welling Townhouse, said the students there are excited about the show opening.
"There are so many beautiful sculptures," she said. "I don't want to name a favorite, because they're all so different and interesting, but we're lucky to have a pop-up museum in our yard."
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