New England has always been known for its myriad outdoor activities in all seasons, from gentle hiking to technical climbing, an easy lake paddle or whitewater rafting, cross-country and downhill skiing, and much more. But there’s a large cultural component to life in northern New England, as evidenced by the many museums throughout the region.
The fall season is a great time to explore them. You can start in southern Vermont, work your way farther north, then cross over into New Hampshire to view exhibits from sculptures to traditional art, modern art to specialized exhibits of just a single phase of our culture.
Bennington Museum in Bennington, Vt., has a number of ongoing exhibits continuing through the fall and into winter. Some of the best sculptors from Vermont and the Northeast are featured in an outdoor sculpture exhibit scattered throughout North Bennington village as well as on the 10-acre grounds of the museum itself in Old Bennington. They are displayed in a natural setting, along trails and in the meadow, offering a pleasant stroll as you view them. Robert Frost lived, farmed, and wrote poetry in Bennington County from 1920 to 1938. You can explore Frost’s relationships with the landscapes and the people of southern Vermont throughout the exhibit.
The exhibit, “We Are Still Here,” showcases Abenaki cultural traditions and features the work of these people who have inhabited the region for centuries. The world’s largest public collection of 20th-century folk artist Grandma Moses is housed here as an ongoing exhibit. Many artists of national and international stature who led the art world in modern thought and expression are featured in the Bennington Modernism Gallery. Works from the 1950s through the 1970s showcase these avant-garde leaders who lived and worked in the surrounding area. The Early Vermont Gallery presents life in the state from the mid-1700s to the early 1800s with both major pieces and smaller items in the permanent collection.
Traveling north brings you to Middlebury College and the Museum of Art. From mid-September to mid-December, check out the exhibition, “Art & Protest: Artists As Agents of Social Change.” This exhibition was created “to shed light on injustice and inequity, challenge hierarchies, and advocate for progress.” Highlighted in the exhibition are topics such as women’s suffrage, the Civil Rights movement, AIDS awareness, climate change, gun violence, and homelessness. Artists push the boundaries of traditional and static media as they use video and animation to ignite the viewers’ imagination in the exhibit, “A New Lens: Contemporary Video and Animation.” All of these works have been produced in the past decade. There also are permanent collections of both Asian and Western art from earliest times through the present.
On a plateau off Route 100 in Waitsfield is the Bundy Modern, a contemporary structure built of four materials — wood, glass, brick, and slate. It was designed to take advantage of its natural surroundings with expansive mountain views, including Lincoln Peak. The landscape around it was designed as a sculpture garden and includes a reflecting pool that circles the building. The original mission was “to offer a space for modern and contemporary artists and sculptors to show their work within a setting of serene rural beauty, while offering the public an unusually pure example of modern architecture for inspiration and study.” Today, the Bundy continues that mission by offering visitors a view of modern and contemporary design in craft, art, and furniture. This is truly a unique museum/gallery and well worth a visit. Another feature is an exhibit of landscapes and impressionistic art by contemporary artists Adolf and Virginia Dehn, open by appointment only.
Across the river in New Hampshire, the Hopkins Center for the Arts at Dartmouth College provides an outstanding array of music, dance, theater, film, and more throughout the year. Music this season includes performances by the Dartmouth Glee Club, Handel Society, Coast Jazz Orchestra, Dartmouth Dance Ensemble, and Dartmouth Symphony Orchestra. The Metropolitan Opera comes to the ‘Hop’ via high-definition video satellite with nine performances throughout the year. Dance productions, play and poetry readings, lectures, and films are all ongoing with both professional companies and student-led productions.
Dartmouth also is home to the Hood Museum of Art with its many ongoing exhibitions and collections that cover a broad range of cultures and periods. The workshops and lectures are open to the public, with topics ranging from Native American culture to contemporary drawing. There are several exhibits running into the spring of 2022 including paintings, ceramics, film/video, and sculpture.
Not far from Dartmouth is the Enfield Shaker Museum, dedicated to preserving and communicating the history of the Shakers. You can tour restored Shaker buildings and the museum’s collections of Shaker history and artifacts, explore the herb gardens, and learn about the plants and herbs cultivated, not only by Shakers, but also by other 19th-century American settlers for both medicinal and culinary uses. Workshops and special events are part of the museum’s programming. You can learn how to make a Shaker-style basket or an herbal wreath, tour the water system, learn how early Shakers used waterpower in the village, and discover their classic barns. Individuals or groups can reserve a night or more in the Great Stone Dwelling, where each room features authentic Shaker architecture, built-ins, and reproduction Shaker furniture. Hiking and snowshoeing on the museum’s grounds provide outdoor recreation opportunities.
The McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center in Concord, N.H., named for astronauts Christa McAuliffe and Alan Shepard, is a living memorial to these two American heroes. The tagline, “The Sky Is No Limit, It’s Just The Beginning,” invites people to experience the wonder of space and exploration. Interactive exhibits explore aviation, astronomy, earth science and space travel. Exhibitions include how life would be on a lunar colony, a large-scale model of a space shuttle, the Mercury capsule — Shepard’s ride into space — and many other lunar, solar, and universe-related topics. The Planetarium presents shows on a regular basis and the observatory is open at certain times.
Skiers will enjoy the New England Ski Museum in Franconia Notch at the base of the tram at Cannon Mountain. The museum’s permanent exhibit, “From First Tracks to the Fall Line,” traces 8,000 years of ski history from its early development to the advent of shaped skis. It follows skiing from its very beginnings in Europe to its arrival in North America, the development of ski instruction, the rise of ski resorts, the increasing popularity of nordic skiing, and the development of freestyle and snowboarding. In 2018, an additional branch was opened in North Conway. Each year the museum also creates a new exhibition focusing on a different aspect of skiing history.