Bennington Museum and Southern Vermont Arts Center present 'For the Love of Vermont: The Lyman Orton Collection'

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Bennington Museum and Southern Vermont Arts Center present 'For the Love of Vermont: The Lyman Orton Collection'
Lyman Orton, pictured in 2022, with a selection of the art he has collected since the mid 1970s. Image Credit Courtesy of The Vermont Country Store From the Lyman Orton Collection.

WESTON, VT.- More than 200 works of art that capture Vermont’s unique character, people, traditions and landscape prior to the 1970’s from the collection of Lyman Orton, proprietor of the Vermont Country Store, are being unveiled to the public in an unprecedented collaboration by two of Vermont’s most celebrated museums — Bennington Museum and Southern Vermont Arts Center, Manchester. The collection came together for one reason: Lyman Orton, a man on a mission who believes art is history and has curated a living time capsule of life in Vermont and the painters who painted Vermont over decades. He is now sharing his collection with Vermonters and all who love Vermont. Bennington Museum is displaying 50 works of Vermont art from The Orton Collection, and at the same time, Southern Vermont Arts Center is showing nearly 200 more paintings, drawings, prints, and mixed media works from Lyman Orton’s collection of Vermont Art.

The Orton Collection focuses primarily on work from 1920 to 1960 and includes many of the artists who set the stage for the Southern Vermont Arts Center. Many of these artists also had solo exhibitions at Bennington Museum between 1930 and 1960. The exhibition includes works on canvas, board, paper, and mixed media, everything from oil paintings to wood engravings to originals of Saturday Evening Post magazine cover illustrations.

According to Jamie Franklin, curator, Bennington Museum, “Lyman Orton’s collection is the largest collection of historic Vermont art in private hands -- that is to say, not in a museum or academic collection. Because Vermont is rural, and because it is a place that is culture-rich but money-poor, there haven’t been a lot of independent efforts to focus on the artists who lived in Vermont and who depicted this place and the people who live here. Orton’s collection is the collection of Vermont art of the 20th century.”

More than 65 artists will be represented including Rockwell Kent, John Clymer, Churchill Ettinger, Paul Sample, Mead Schaeffer, John Atherton, Marion Huse, Luigi Lucioni, Kyra Markham, Bernadine Custer, Milton Avery, and others. Many applied for work with the New Deal and the Federal Arts Project during the Great Depression. A significant part of the collection, about one-fifth, is artworks by Vermont women, as well as by women who journeyed into the mountains to draw and paint.

The exhibition showcases works by artists who became famous in their lifetimes, as well as artists that did not reach that level of achievement, yet they produced paintings of their time in Vermont and that, Orton notes, “is the point of my collection. It’s more about capturing the essence of a place, learning from that.”
A “Vermonty” Experience: Orton believes art should be enjoyed and accessible to all — walking into a museum or art gallery should not be an intimidating experience. Museum goers will experience a yesteryear coziness with contemporary artifacts and environments that illustrate the context of some of the paintings—all to bring additional dimension and history to the artworks with explanatory descriptions posted in everyday language.

“It’s been rewarding to work with a collector who’s as passionate about the art as he is with making sure it’s presented in ways that will appeal and resonate with today’s audiences,” says Alison Crites, Manager of Exhibitions & Interpretive Engagement, SVAC. “His instincts and commitment align with trends in the broader museum field to redefine what effective exhibitions look and feel like in order to stay relevant.”

The Book: Along with the opening of the exhibition, a 220-page book tells the story of how Orton assembled the collection over many years while still running The Vermont Country Store. It is also packed with photographs of the paintings, as well as stories of the artists and their love of Vermont. For the Love of Vermont: The Lyman Orton Collection, authored in collaboration with Orton, by Anita Rafael, a writer living and working in Wardsboro, VT, will be available in the spring at the Vermont Country Store and both museums.

Museums Embrace for the Love of Vermont

Although facing an array of 21st century economic, technological, and societal challenges, the two museums have been dedicated to the state’s artistic and creative traditions for generations. An example of this —the museums are devoting their prime showing space to this exhibition which runs through the key tourist seasons— summer and fall foliage, closing on November 5, 2023. The exhibition For the Love of Vermont: The Lyman Orton Collection is about their love story, too.

Lyman Orton has spent his life building The Vermont Country Store, collecting the art of Vermont, supporting Vermont non-profits, and exploring Vermont’s nature on cross-country skis and bicycles. His three sons, Cabot, Gardner, and Eliot have taken over the business that Lyman’s parents, Vrest Orton and Mildred Wilcox, founded in 1946. Lyman lives in Manchester, VT with his girlfriend Janice Izzi. The two of them work together on Community Heart & Soul, a non-profit devoted to helping small cities and towns across America discover, articulate, and act from each town’s Heart & Soul, those elements that matter most to the residents. This bottom-up practice guides the future of towns.

For the Love of Vermont: The Lyman Orton Collection of Vermont’s Art Golden Era 1920–1960
Bennington Museum
July 1–November 5 • Opening Reception & Meet the Collector: July 15, 4–6 p.m.
Southern Vermont Arts Center
July 22–November 5 • Opening Reception & Meet the Collector: July 22, 3:30–6 p.m.

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