The Heart of New England
Palette-ing Around in Bennington, Vermont

Note: This story is about an exhibition from the summer of 2006

By Lorianne DiSabato

Earlier this year on my way back to New Hampshire from the Midwest, I
passed through Bennington, Vermont and wondered what an apparent
laggard from last year's
MooseFest was doing on Main Street. A closer look
revealed that Mister Moose wasn't advertising last year's community art event
but this year's equivalent: the Bennington PaletteFest 2006, a local incarnation
of the statewide
Palettes of Vermont.

Many cities and towns around the country have had community art events
featuring colorful objects displayed on downtown streets and then auctioned
for charity. Toledo, Ohio has had frogs; Columbus, Ohio has had corn; and
Brandon, Vermont has had pigs. Not to be outdone, Boston will be hosting this
summer a parade of cows, which raises the inevitable question, "Why cows?"
Both Chicago and Houston have hosted herds of art cows, and both cities have
justifiable reason to celebrate bovines with their respective histories of
meat-packing and cowboys...but Boston? Had someone asked me to plan a
community art event for Beantown, I would have chosen something other than
cows to represent the Hub of the Universe: how about painted beans, or
lobsters, or Make-Way-for-Ducklings-style quackers?

Although Boston's been more than a bit derivative in their choice of art-walk
material, Bennington, Vermont yet again has proven to be both creative and
original in its thematic choice. There's nothing more quintessentially Vermont
than a gangly, antlered quadruped...and there's nothing more quintessentially
arty than a simple painter's palette. Like blank canvasses, palettes lend
themselves to just about anything you want to put upon them, and their
rounding curves and curious thumb-hole provide just enough whimsy to
allow for even the craziest inspirations.

By now, art-cows have attained a status of "been there, done that": what can
even the most creative Boston artist do with the bovine form that hasn't already
been done by artists in Chicago and Houston? A bare palette, on the other
hand, is blank, but it is not bland; instead, a bare palette provides a
deceptively simple and evocatively empty expanse upon which an artist's
imagination can run wild.

Already impressed with the creative minds who envisioned the notion of
palettes to parade on the heels of last year's moose, I was even more amazed to
learn about Vermont's state-wide palette project. The large, professionally
sponsored palettes on display in downtown Bennington are only part of a
larger community art endeavor. Sponsored by the Vermont Arts Council, the
Palettes of Vermont is distributing free maple palettes to Vermont artists and
free paper palettes for Vermont school-children in an attempt to compile the
world's largest art exhibition with more than 30,000 Vermont artists
contributing works to be displayed across the state's 3,900 square miles.

Both cows and moose are big, but the Palettes of Vermont promise to be huge:
a community art event that not only encourages people to get out and mingle
amongst artworks but also to contribute a work or two of their own.

And in case you're wondering what a creative mind might do with a blank
palette, check out these whimsical creations:

And in case this glimpse of some of the palettes of Vermont piques your
acquisitive fancy, don't think you can breeze into Bennington and help
yourself to one: as one sign explains, at least some of these artworks are under
24-hour video surveillance, so you'll have to paint your own palette if you
want live with art on a permanent basis.

As much as I loved last year's moose, I'm just as enchanted with this year's
palettes...and who knows what the town of Bennington and the state of
Vermont has up their artful sleeves for next year.

About the author:

Lorianne DiSabato, who lives in Keene, NH, is an adjunct professor of English
at Keene State College.  This story was excerpted from her blog about her life
in the Monadnock Region of New Hampshire,
Hoarded Ordinaries
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