North Bennington Outdoor Sculpture Show celebrates art, community
NORTH BENNINGTON — Walking the roads of ancient Rome, one could see sculptures, standing like ghosts in tribute to the gods, the dearly departed, or celebrated citizens.
But time travel is not required to experience a similar vibe. All you need do is drive to North Bennington, where for the 22nd year running, the North Bennington Outdoor Sculpture Show offers up a creative take on the statues of years past, linked by the common thread of creativity.
"I've been involved with NBOSS for  years and have curated it [for the last seven]," show director Joe Chirchirillo said. "It has become an event that the people of North Bennington and those beyond who contribute [to it] expect and look forward to each summer. I think it's a testament to the town that everyone has been able to cooperate and get this show done."
The sculpture show, Chrirchirillo continued, is a true North Bennington staple. Sculptures are posted throughout the village at places such as Vermont Arts Exchange, at the North Bennington train station, and the landmark Welling townhouse.
"We also have works stationed on [engineer and well-known local inventor] Stuart Aldrich's property, which is right next to the Welling townhouse," Chirchirillo said. "And for those who just want to spend a part of their day roaming around the works and feel like adding a drink or a meal to the experience, we also have a piece at Powers Market, and one at Pangea restaurant."
From roots to blossoms
The show got its start when a local mason, Joe McGovern, asked Willard Boepple, a local sculptor, to install several works on open land in town. Boepple, an assistant professor of sculpture at Bennington College from 1969 to 1973, also involved his students.
Those nascent years were marked by locally based whimsy and experimentation. Today, works for the show increasingly come from outside the area, as the show has steadily gained regional and national attention.
This year's show has also been recognized as a Vermont Arts 2019 event and will feature more than 40 artists from the surrounding region and beyond. Fifteen of those have participated for multiple years.
There are also new wrinkles.
In addition to showing seasoned and celebrated artists' work, one of the aims of the show is to make art accessible. To this end, the event is featuring some collaborative community sculptures that were created as part of a workshop with school-age children from the Village School of North Bennington, Bennington College sculpture professors Jon Isherwood and John Umphlett, Bennington College students, and Matthew Perry, director of the Vermont Arts Exchange.
In addition, a $500 prize will be awarded by the Village of North Bennington Board of Trustees, and the winning work will remain in front of the train station for one year.
A growing reputation
As the event has grown in size, it has also expanded its reach. Just two years ago, Michelle Post of New Jersey held the distinction of being the artist whose work traveled the farthest to be included. Now, artists are coming from as far away as Texas and Alberta, Canada, Chirchirillo said.
Post, who also has a studio in Whitingham, said her involvement with Chirchirillo and the show started four years ago, when she and her husband, artist Dave Carrow, heard about the show and drove to North Bennington to check it out.
"We were impressed with the quality of the work and recognized a fellow sculptor's piece, that being Jay Gibson," Post said. "I contacted him to find out how one gets included in the show. The rest is history."
Post laughed when asked if her popular Tronies would be featured in this year's show, replying she would not miss a chance to bring one of them to North Bennington.
What's a Tronie? Post gladly explained.
"In the later 16th and 17th centuries, a Tronie referred to heads, faces, or expressions of anonymous people depicted in [art]," Post said. "[These] works were not intended to be formal portraits but rather used as studies of interesting expressions or facial character. Frans Hals' painting `Jester with a Lute,' in the Louvre, is a good example of this genre, as are well known works by Rembrandt and Vermeer."
This year, Post's offering is named "Buckaroo." Its interpretation is up to the viewer, she said.
"[It could be ] a young boy, playing on his toy chest, pretending to be a grown-up cowboy riding a bucking bronco in the rodeo," Post said. "Or, a grown-up rodeo cowboy reliving his childhood after finding his toy chest in the attic.He could also be something else, from your scenario and imagination."
"Buckaroo" is carved in Styrofoam and covered with plaster gauze — "the same stuff used for your broken leg," Post said. "It's coated with resin and fiberglass cloth, and painted with exterior satin enamel. The horse toy chest is a handmade relic of a bygone year purchased at a yard sale and is what generated the idea for this piece."
An expression of community
For Bennington Museum curator of collections Jamie Franklin, the sculpture show is "one of my favorite cultural summer events in Vermont."
"What I love about it is as much as the incredible sculptures and artists that are brought to town is the sense of community," Franklin said. "It's the idea of community coming together and enjoying each other, walking around enjoying art. It's the human interactions as much as the art."
"It's just you being there and taking part in it," Franklin said. "I would say that anybody who enjoys the arts would be willing to make the trip here and also see a multitude of other sculpture and art venues, all within a one-hour radius. It's community the way we know it here in Vermont."
The 22nd North Bennington Outdoor Sculpture Show is on view through Nov. 1. For more information, see facebook.com/NBoutdoorsculptureshow.
Reach freelance journalist Telly Halkias at email@example.com, or on Twitter @Telly Halkias
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