BENNINGTON>> The Bennington Museum's annual holiday exhibit has a new look and a new focus on local, contemporary artists.
The Festival Reimagined, a different take on the now 20-year-old Festival of Trees, is on display until Dec. 29.
The exhibition and accompanying sealed-bid auction is still the museum's biggest annual fundraiser, according to Executive Director Robert Wolterstorff. He said the changes are in line with recent efforts by the museum to be "more up to date, relevant and embedded in the community."
"Mostly, it's a change done in the spirit of reinvention," Wolterstorff told the Banner this week. The change in theme connects with Bennington's rich manufacturing history.
"What unites history and art is invention and creation," Wolterstorff continued. "That is something we've been focussing on around all of our programming and we wanted to apply it to the festival, too."
The museum still sees it as a holiday festival, he said. It's just one of the museum's events celebrating the season, in addition to the annual "cocktail hour" and Gala, Family and Children's Shopping Day and holiday-themed pieces around the museum.
Each entry represents the 22 artists' responses to Stephen C. Warren's Memory Ware Tower: A four-foot sculpture of metal and wood adorned with found objects including buttons, shells and glass.
"Most of the artists have combined the visual and conceptual — the idea of how objects can manifest personal histories," Jamie Franklin, museum curator, said during a tour of the exhibition Thursday. "A lot of the conceptual pieces revolve around very personal ideas of memory, or more abstract ideas like the history of a life."
The result is an exhibition of 28 pieces created with a variety of mediums. Some are original pieces created in direct response to Warren's 1894 piece, while others were works an artist already created and related in some way.
Among them are: A vintage photograph of an unknown woman in white and painted onto the photo by the artist, items found in Warren's tower; a wooden, multi-tiered structure topped with hundreds of action figures; and a punch bowl made of stoneware that features cherubs and assault rifles, representing the artist's response to the Sandy Hook tragedy.
The latter, a piece by Chatham, N.Y. artist and Bennington College Professor Barry Bartlett, is "an interesting object because it is so intense in terms of its social commentary," Franklin said.
The festival had traditionally featured festive displays of decorated full-size trees and vignettes created by area businesses, organizations and community members.
The change came in part from strategic planning, Wolterstorff said, that strived to position the museum as an entity for the whole community.
"There was some concern that the festival wasn't inclusive enough," Wolterstorff said, noting that many community members and museum visitors don't celebrate Christmas.
"We want the museum to be a place that's living, where the past can speak to the present and even impact the future," Franklin.
This year's festival will also support working artists, he said. Half of the proceeds from each object's bid will benefit the museum, while the other half will go to the artist.
Three works by Laura Christensen, an artist residing in the Berkshires, feature vintage photographs with backgrounds and foregrounds painted onto them. At least one photograph is on the spiral staircase of Warren's tower.
"In old photographs, people look out from the past," she wrote in her artist statement. "They make eye contact. But they are not here. They are illusions on paper or metal, arrangements of shapes and tones reflected from a camera. Each unique individual's image can become like an every-person or a character in a myth."
"White Pine" is made from broken and dead branches of the titular tree collected by Bill Botzow, a visual artist who also serves as state representative for Pownal and Woodford. He noticed "the inscrutable markings of the engraver beetles that indent the branches" and purposely used the most elaborately marked pieces for the sculpture, he wrote in his artist statement.
Other works include: "Maya VII" by Jarvis Rockwell, one piece in a series created with deliberately-placed action figures, toys and ceramics; "SEASON of the WITCH," one of three necklaces by Ingrid-Alejandra Noguera-Garcés, which is made from hand cast bronze, stained Vermont pinewood, an assortment of cruelty free feathers and vegan leather; and Jon Gitelson's print titled "Reunion," depicting the artist's vehicle parked in front of a titular Chicago nightclub with a hand-sewed car cover made from hundreds of nightclub flyers he often found under his windshield wipers.
Additional participating artists are: Michael Bonadio, Kevin Bubriski, Katie Cleaver, Michael Egan, Emily Gold, Marcy Hermansader, Brian Hewitt, Michelle Holzapfel, Lodiza LePore, Angus Mc-Cullough, Jack Metzger, Leslie Parke, Michele Ratté, Tony Schwartz, Tulianna Garces-Serbousek, and Arthur Yanoff.
The event is sponsored by the Bennington Banner and Manchester Journal, both owned by parent company New England Newspapers Inc.
People can visit the exhibition to place a bid free of admission charge. Bids can also be sent by email to email@example.com or by fax at 802-442-8305.
To see all 28 pieces and read the artists' statements, visit http://www.benningtonmuseum.org/the-festival-reimagined1.html.