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Vermont Gothic? ‘In the Shadow of the Hills’ is on view at the Bennington Museum

In case you haven’t heard, Bennington is a very dark place—at least to the imagination.

Bennington, Vt. — For the Bennington Museum’s eighth annual December show, Curator Jamie Franklin invited 27 artists from the greater Bennington region to contribute work exploring what is disquieting and mysterious inside and around them. The inspired results are on view at the museum through the end of the month and for sale by closed-bid auction at the museum and online through the 19th.

In case you haven’t heard, Bennington is a very dark place—at least to the imagination. The show’s presiding spirit is writer Shirley Jackson, who published deeply unsettling works such as “The Haunting of Hill House” and “The Lottery” while living in North Bennington for 20 mid-century years. Portraits of Jackson show up in a number of the works on view.

Ceramic heads by Madalyn Olson; Shirley Jackson at upper left. Photo Phil Holland.

The darkness isn’t all Jackson’s doing, however. The widow Krieger was tried as a witch in the town of Pownal in the 1780s. Middie Rivers disappeared in 1945 while hunting in the disincorporated ghost town of Glastenbury that borders Bennington, and Paula Welden, a Bennington College student, took a walk on the Long Trail in 1946 and was never seen again. Three other disappearances followed in the same general vicinity. Then came an airplane crash, and the “Bennington Triangle” was born. Bennington College grad Donna Tartt’s 1992 novel “The Secret History” added to the noir mystique. In 2018, the Travel Channel included Bennington among the Most Terrifying Places in America—and the locals chuckled.

“Respite at a Ghoulish Event,” by Lodiza LePore. Photo courtesy of The Bennington Museum.

Against this backdrop of unease, the artists worked in many media, each taking to the shadows in their own way. Some, like George O. Stadnik, evoke spectral presences, and some ward off dread with whimsy, as in Rhonda Ratray’s little paintings of dwellings gone wrong and the BenningTwins’ clever takeoffs on paranormal tourism. Portia Wassick, who grew up in the actual shadow of Glastenbury Mountain, inks a ghostly stair and a smoking lantern, among other ominous images. Photographs by Lodiza LePore and Shanta Lee diffuse a quiet menace, while Madalyn Olson’s ceramic heads come right out of the wall at you. A very modern darkness stands behind Vivian Gonzalez’s “The Book of Cancer,” with its illustrated transcriptions of documents and news reports regarding PFOA contamination of wells in North Bennington by a factory that once manufactured Teflon coatings. Jeweler Katie Cleaver is back with an exquisite moonstone-and-gold pendant that could be used as an amulet.

The floor for bids varies from work to work and ranges from the tens to the thousands of dollars. Proceeds from sales are split between the museum and the artists.

“The Lost,” by Hugh Joudry. Photo courtesy of The Bennington Museum.

Artist statements are also part of the fun. The curious will learn that sculptor Hugh Joudry spent most of the summer of 1968 as a fire lookout atop the Stratton Mountain fire tower (in pre-development days) and how that experience has shaped his art. Joudry lives and works at the base of Stratton to this day, carving in wood and marble. His enigmatic “The Lost” in white Vermont marble gazes in two directions from a pedestal.

The exhibition is intended to foreshadow next summer’s historically-based Haunted Vermont show at the museum. Remember, just because there are no ghosts doesn’t mean that people can’t see them.

Phil Holland writes from a hillside in widow Krieger’s home town of Pownal, Vt.

“Spirit Portrait of Shirley Jackson,” by George O. Stadnik. Photo courtesy of The Bennington Museum.

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But Not To Produce.