Thursday, November 25, 2021

Inside and Back Outside the Bennington Museum

Friday August 27, 2021                                            Most Recent Posts:
Camping on the Battenkill                    Bennington – Why Did I Wait So Late?
Arlington, Vermont                                                   Prospect Rock

Happy Thanksgiving to those of you reading this post today.  I hope you’ll enjoy going back to the warmer weather of late August.  I apologize again for being so far behind.

In my previous blog I talked about some of the wonderful things on the outside grounds of the Bennington Museum.  Now it’s time to go inside.  As I said before,  after visiting, I wish I had gone to the Museum at least twice during my month stay nearby but I seemed always to have a hike or a kayak I wanted to do and not enough foul weather to make me want to be inside.


I know my friend Pam will appreciate the dalmation statues guarding the entrance.  I’m not sure if they were part of the sculpture exhibit on grounds or are a permanent feature.  I forgot to ask.


I’m definitely not a shopper so it doesn’t take me long to take a turn around a museum shop which I usually do first to get a sense of the place.


These two caught my eye and I could imagine them on the wall of the kitchen in a Vermont home.  Clearly the effort here is to discourage relocation to the state.  HA!


On the ground floor of the museum was an exhibition entitled Love, Marriage and Divorce.  The information provided was very interesting.  Apparently the nature of marriage has changed a lot since the first settlers arrived in Bennington in 1761.  The idea of marrying for love was a new concept.

Survival in colonial America required “help meets”.  It wasn’t until the Victorian era with Vicky and Albert that the idea of romantic love and “soul mates” came about particularly for the more well to do.

IMG_9706The industrial age seems to have changed marriage as women moved away from their rural homes to work in factories. Weddings might not be arranged for them.  Marriage might be for love.  These two wedding dresses were both worn by women associated with the Bradford Mill.  White wedding gowns were not universal.  The wedding dress on the left was worn in 1896 by a woman who worked at the mill.  The one on the right was worn 10 years earlier by a woman who married one of the owners.  Both dresses were the height of fashion for the day.  If you could sew, you could craft whatever you wanted from material you might have saved up to buy.

Not sure we can assume Mary Colton who wore the dress below for her January 14 1879 wedding married for love but apparently Queen Victoria’s white wedding dress made white gowns very popular.


IMG_9703But all was not always happily ever after.  It was customary for the groom’s family to provide land and a house for the couple while the bride’s family provided furniture, linens, silver and other household items suitable for her station. This toilet case was given to Ann Amelia Day by her parents when she married George Whitney in 1859.  Whitney had a reputation for being what was termed “erratic”.   I thought that was a cute Victorian description for a man who abandoned his wife at a train station and disappeared for several weeks.  The couple divorced and Ann married someone else in 1869.  Not sure why I was surprised to find that in Vermont you could get divorced in the 1860’s.

In contrast, in the early 1800’s Charity Bryant and Sylvia Drake lived together in Weybridge Vermont in what was widely recognized as a same sex marriage.  Charity’s nephew, poet William Cullen Bryant, wrote about their relationship after a visit in 1843.  “In their youthful days, they took each other as companions for life…this union, no less sacred to them than the tie of marriage, has subsisted, in uninterrupted harmony for more than 40 years…they slept on the same pillow and had a common purse, and adopted each other’s relations”.   The women were good business partners and valued members of the community.  Their neighbors understood the women were lovers as well as friends and partners and simply ignored what they did not want to acknowledge.

On the other hand, Mary Sanford and Mary Safford were another same sex couple living together in the late 1800’s in Vermont.  They were not working women. The two parted ways in 1910.  No need for a divorce.  Wealthy women living together independently was not unusual at the time.  Such independence would not have been forfeited as in a traditional marriage.  The arrangement was called a “Boston Marriage” from a popular play depicting such a relationship.  I loved the description of the “Boston Marriage”.  “They often kissed and hugged, wrote passionate letters and shared beds.  Such intimacy was not necessarily seen as sexual by society since women were assumed not to have the physical desires of men.”   What do you think about that girls?

In 2000, Vermont was the first state to introduce Civil Unions with the same legal rights and obligations as marriage.  Assumedly that would enable same sex couples would be considered next of kin in medical and inheritance circumstances.  In 2009, Vermont was the first state to introduce same sex marriage and in 2015 it became Federal Law.

At this point it was time for lunch.  I asked the museum staff if there was somewhere I could walk for lunch and they directed me down the street.  Lovely mountain views on my way.


The name of the restaurant made me laugh out loud.  I’ve known some people who could be called loose cannons I hope they aren’t in the restaurant or among its staff.


Looked like a little converted house with seating both inside and on its porch.


Order at the counter and they deliver to your table.


I had a delicious salad and would definitely return for other dishes on their interesting breakfast and lunch menu.


Walking back up the hill to work off my lunch, the mountains were just as beautiful.

IMG_9729Before reentering the museum I was drawn by what looked like what I know as a wickiup but this one was red.  In the northeast these rounded domed Native American huts are known as Wigwams. 

This one was part of a sculpture exhibit which was on the grounds at this time and which I sadly did not have time to explore. It was placed right next to the one room schoolhouse attended by Mary Anna Robertson Moses better known as Grandma Moses.  Her formal education took places here as did that of many of her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.  In 1966 the building was opened as a historical site by Grandma Moses’s son Forrest and his wife Mary, featuring an exhibit of Grandma Moses’s personal belongings.  In order to preserve the building and its contents, the schoolhouse was moved twelve miles to the Bennington Museum grounds in 1972.

Today it is accessed from the Moses Gallery and serves as a place for student and teacher art exhibitions, and sometimes as a meeting space.  I found children’s books and games there today.


The sculpture was entitled Red Oculus: Our Year of the Preposterous and had a scan code for more information.  I think all the sculptures did.

I passed a second sculpture on my way back inside.  The rest were further away on the grounds.


I could have checked out the sculptures after the museum was closed but by then I was exhausted from such a full day.  Bad on me for not doing this much earlier in my stay so I might have returned.

IMG_9713 (2)Back inside I headed for the Grandma Moses Gallery.  The exhibit is permanent and includes the largest public collection of her pieces.  She lived a very long life (1860-1961) and began painting at 77 years old as something to do “to keep busy and out of mischief” after the death of her husband.  Perhaps there is hope for Laurel though I doubt for me.  Grandma Moses had been a very hard working farm wife and it appears she was bored.

She lived the majority of her life on a farm in Eagle Bridge NY near the Vermont Border and about 10 miles from the museum.  Her paintings included scenes from Bennington and one included the museum though I didn’t see that one here.

Don’t they bring out the nostalgia for a simpler time and place.  Try not to think about how hard they all worked.

There were several other exhibits in the museum but I limited myself two downstairs and two upstairs. 

Although the Jane Stickle quilt mentioned in the previous post (see link under Most Recent Posts) was no longer being shown, upstairs there was one dated 1873. Sadly the maker is unknown.

A block in the center advertises “a calico hop” held in Factory Point Vermont February 21, 1873.  A calico hop was an informal dance  where women wear simple cotton dresses rather than the silks or satins normally worn for evening entertainment.  The variety of fabrics used in the quilt is impressive.  The 3 D effect was amazing.

I was quite surprised and pleased to find that there was a temporary exhibit on Robert Frost’s time in Bennington County at the Stone House about which I’ve already done two posts.  If you would like to read them the first link can be accessed by clicking the highlighted Stone House above and the second can be found here.

IMG_9738Frost arrived at what is known as The Stone House in South Shaftsbury located very near the campground where I’m staying just over 100 years ago and lived in the house from 1920 to 1938.  This exhibition is all about that time in his life.  Frost wrote many of his most famous poems and won 3 of his unprecedented 4 Pulitzer Prizes while living here. 

“Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening” which he called “my best bid for remembrance” and “New Hampshire” in which he lays out his personal theory of poetry and his deep affection for New England were composed in the same all night writing session in 1922.  “New Hampshire” ends with the ironic line, “At present I am living in Vermont” which was adapted as the title for this exhibition as you can see in the photograph above.  The exhibition explores Frost’s relationship with the landscape and people of this area.

It was interesting to see copies of his published works on display, as well as his handwriting on signed copies of books by Frost to his local friends as well as letters to them.  I found his letters to be particularly fun and this one written on October 23, 1920 made me laugh.  He writes that he has moved to the stone cottage where “if I have any money left after repairing the roof in the spring I mean to plant a new Garden of Eden with a thousand apple trees of some unforbidden variety.”

IMG_9752This copy of his book Mountain Interval which contains 16 poems was inscribed to his friend Edith McCullough with the last line in the famous poem “The Road Not Taken” the first poem in the book.

What I personally found equally interesting were the numerous woodcuts of J.J. Lankes which illustrated many of Frost’s poems over the length of his career. The men were collaborators and close friends, each greatly admiring the others work.  I am sorry for one of the real drawbacks of museums and my photographs, the reflections of the lights.  I’d love any solutions to this problem you may have.

Lankes’ detail is simply amazing.  I can’t imagine carving this into a block.  I’m showing only a few of the many on display here.  They were mesmerizing to me.

October (Moonlight and Apple Tree) is one of Lankes first attempts to capture the essence of Frost’s poetry pictorially.  Lankes said this woodcut was an attempt to do the poem “After Apple Picking” “in another medium”.

This one was published in Frost’s Pulitzer winning book New Hampshire.

The woodcut below was created as a tailpiece for Frost’s poem “The Star Splitter” when it was published along with 4 other images in the September 1923 issue of Century Magazine. 


Lankes designed this bookplate as a gift to Frost in the afterglow of the publication of the book New Hampshire.

Lankes created a gorgeous woodcut of Frost’s Stone House which was published in the periodical Bookman in December 1922 along with an interesting article about Frost and the house by his fellow writer, neighbor and friend Dorothy Canfield Fisher.  You can read Canfield’s entire piece here.



It was fun also to see some of Frost’s possessions in the exhibit.  His assistant during the last 25 years of his life wrote that the greater part of his poetry was written using his writing chair and board.  I love the inscription on the wall above the radio, sweater and chair.  Those of an age that they were forced to memorize the poem “Breathes there a Man” by Sir Walter Scott in grade school will recognize the reference.

“On Being Chosen Poet of Vermont”

Breathes there a bard who isn’t moved
When he finds his verse is understood
And not entirely disapproved
By his country and his neighborhood?

Also on display was this signature quilt, an unusual artifact, made in 1910 but signed in the 1930’s. It documents the concentration of literary and artistic talent that lived, worked and summered in southern Vermont during the 30’s and 40’s. 

Many of these were friends of Frost and of Lady Beatrice Gosford who lived in Shaftsbury and collected signatures on the quilt.  I didn’t recognize all the signatures but among those I did were  the ones pictured below as well as Sinclair Lewis, Sarah Cleghorn, Grandma Moses and Norman Rockwell.  There were many more.

I closed the museum down of course and when they locked the doors, I walked up the road to the The First Congregational Church.  Known as The First Church it was built on the green in 1765 and replaced by this second and larger church  in 1805.   It is the oldest organized church in Vermont from 1763.  The church yard is directly behind the museum property but they are not connected so you have to walk around.

White New England Congregational Churches seem to be in every town and often the first church built there.   They just say New England.  I love the architecture both inside and out.



Looking from the front of the boxes to the rear, the two docents are visible downstairs as is the wonderful church organ off to the right on the second landing.



Like many people who visit the church, I’d come to see the grave of Robert Frost.  There were clear signs leading to it though it was not in a particularly prominent place despite his fame throughout his life.


Of course like everywhere there is anything related to Frost, there was a poem.



In keeping with the age of the church, there were many grave stones much older than Frost’s.


I’d had a very long day here at the museum and I was tired as I took the sidewalk along the beautifully maintained white picket fence from the church and back to the museum and my car.



  1. Happy Thanksgiving to you also. Kathy wanted you to know she really enjoyed your last post. Are you near St Augustine now? This was a very informative post and I love that Church. Take care.

    1. Thanks Tom and thank Kathy for me too. Tell her she should comment and tell me what she enjoyed about the post. I should be near St. Augustine now. I should be moving to Anastasia on Sunday but I'm stuck in Virginia. More on that to come. Where are you.

    2. We are at our Cabana on Merritt Island Florida. The weather has been cool and dry so far. This is year 11 for us and we did not make a 3 year plan as in the past due to the SARS-2 situation. We are now just making 3 month plans and staying flexible. A trip to St Augustine in December to see the lights and perhaps a few flights for me. We both like the town and light house.

  2. Hope you're having a good Thanksgiving, too!
    The museum looks really interesting, especially the Love, Marriage and Divorce exhibit. It sounded like same sex couples, at least women anyway, were very much accepted in society back then. Who knew?

    1. I thought the same thing about both same sex couples and marriage. Who knew?

  3. Replies
    1. It was a beautiful museum William and very well done with interesting exhibits both inside and out.

  4. What an interesting museum. Long been a fan of Grandma Moses, her work is so simple. Of course love the old quilts, and to answer your question, I do have lots of my mom, and grandmother's quilts.
    Happy Thanksgiving!

    1. Lucky you Laurie to have had quilting relatives and to have inherited this beautiful art. Thanks for the comment.

  5. Interesting post. I liked the line in Dorothy Canfield's article describing Frost's house. "Nothing had happened (there). It was the kind of house which can afford to wait and turn all the riper and sweeter for it." She personified the house. People thought the woodcut of his house was "grim, sombre, depressed look." Locals thought it was "homey,strong and cheerful." It's interesting to see an author's work in their own handwriting. I was surprised that there was divorce in the 1800's. I don't particularly care for Grandma Mose's work but have to give er kudos for starting to paint when she was 77. I like the imagery in the poem "Until the sun's sullen flame stained the low window where I read." That church was impressive with the curved windows and all white. I thought it was strange that people signed that quilt. xxxooo

    1. What a wonderful comment Pam. Thank you! I'm impressed you read the Canfield link.

  6. One wonders what kind of mischief a 77 year old woman could get into. Glad Grandma Moses directed her energy into painting her wonderful works.

    1. I thought that very thing Paul and it made me laugh.

  7. Waking to freezing I'd rather it was August. Vermont weather sounds like everywhere these days. I am surprised the women were allowed to divorce and that Vermont was, and is, so "progressive". Love the combination of art and poetry. An awesome museum definitely worth more visits. Church is very pretty also.

    1. I was very sorry once I got there that I hadn't planned multiple visits. Note to self for future travels. I knew Vermont was progressive now given Bernie Sanders 5 but I had no idea they had such a progressive history.

  8. LOL!!! You know that Grandma Moses gives me hope and inspiration in my quest to improve my drawing and painting skills!

    That museum looks fascinating. Vermont was obviously progressive even back in the 1800s! If it wasn't so darned cold there for SO long, I would live there.


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