Robert Hull Fleming Museum to Open Quadricentennial Exhibition

Theodore Hopkins (American, 1828-1889), Burlington Bay, c. 1850. Oil on Panel. Gift of Walter Cerf, 1981

In celebration of the quadricentennial anniversary of French explorer and cartographer Samuel de Champlain’s travels to the lake that bears his name, the Fleming Museum has organized a new large-scale exhibition, A Beckoning Country: Art and Objects from the Lake Champlain Valley. For thousands of years, Lake Champlain has drawn people to its shores and to the land it nourishes. A Beckoning Country examines the features of the Champlain Valley landscape through the objects and art created from and inspired by them.

The title of the exhibition, “A Beckoning Country,” derives from a 1960s promotional campaign by the state of Vermont encouraging tourism. In this exhibition, the Museum examines some of the elements of the Lake Champlain landscape that have beckoned people to its shores and mountains. Organized within a geologic and natural history framework, art and artifacts are presented in sections focusing on earth, water, flora, and fauna. This framework connects the objects to the Lake and the land, identifying the sources of materials exhibited as well as the vistas represented in the paintings and prints. In this way, the Museum hopes to provide a map of the cultural and artistic patronage of the Champlain Valley.

Among the over 100 paintings and objects on display are works by 19th-century Vermont artist Charles Louis Heyde, as well as noted Hudson River School artists Sanford Gifford, Frederic Edwin Church, and Jasper Francis Cropsey. Historical artifacts include a 400-year-old Abenaki wooden dugout canoe salvaged from the waters of Shelburne Pond, a silver masonry trowel reportedly used by the Marquis de Lafayette to the lay the cornerstone of the University of Vermont’s first building, as well as ceramics, furniture, and clothing spanning the centuries of lakeside habitation.

Margaret Tamulonis, the Museum’s Manager of Exhibitions and Collections and one of the exhibition’s curators, said the process of pulling the exhibition together began some 18 months ago, and centered on the University’s large collection of Vermont-related artifacts. “One of our goals early on,” said Tamulonis, “was to highlight not only the Fleming Museum’s permanent collection of artifacts, but other University of Vermont collections as well.”

To that end the exhibition features artifacts collected by the Museum as well as objects from other University departments such as Bailey/Howe Library’s Special Collections, the Pringle Herbarium, and the Anthropology Department. The artifacts include both pre- and post-European contact material, such as stone tools, maps, furniture, textiles, and baskets.

According to the Fleming Museum’s Curator of Exhibitions and Collections Aimee Marcereau DeGalan, who joined Tamulonis in curating the exhibition after joining the Museum last year, having the art and artifacts displayed in tandem with one another helps to tie the objects to the physicality of the land. “People will really get a sense of how the Champlain Valley became important as a catalyst for artists,” she said, “They will experience a full range of things produced in or inspired by the Lake Champlain basin.”

Marcereau DeGalan, who curated the paintings, prints, and other two-dimensional work for this exhibition, was particularly interested in what drew mid-19th century artists from the then popular Hudson River Valley to the Green Mountains, and to have that reflected in the exhibition. To represent these artistic excursions to the Valley, the Museum borrowed relevant pieces of art –from the early-19th century to contemporary works– from private collectors and other institutions including Middlebury College and the Hudson River Museum.

A special component of the exhibition –entitled Treasures and Tales: Personal Connections to the Lake– opens in early July, when selected objects and stories from members of the community will be displayed throughout the exhibition alongside the Museum’s artifacts. Individuals, families, and organizations are encouraged to participate by sharing items of personal importance (objects, pictures, mementoes, etc.) that relate to their own experience of the Lake, its environs and history.

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