The mission of the Bennington Museum is to showcase and model the creativity of Vermont in all its forms and throughout its history, as well as serve as a venue for visual and performing arts that enrich our community and our world.
Incorporated in 1852 as the Bennington Historical Association, the Bennington Museum is one of only a few accredited museums in the state of Vermont. The Association was founded to commemorate the pivotal 1777 Revolutionary War battle fought near the town. Following the dedication of the 306-foot-tall Bennington Battle Monument in 1891, the Association turned its attention to a more comprehensive preservation of history, art and material culture in southern Vermont and nearby areas.
After years of searching for a permanent home, the Association in 1923 acquired the beautiful, native stone structure that had served as the first St Francis De Sales Catholic Church from 1855 to 1892. Following some functional renovations, the museum opened to the public in 1928 as the Bennington Historical Museum.
Expansions took place in 1938, 1960, 1974, and 1999. The Museum's name underwent changes as well, becoming the Bennington Historical Museum and Art Gallery in 1938, and then simply the Bennington Museum in 1954.
As the largest art and history repository in southern Vermont, the museum houses diverse collections reflecting the history of early Vermont and historically associated areas of New York and Massachusetts. Art and artifacts range in date from the early 18th century to the present. Items include the largest public collection of paintings by the great American folk artist Grandma Moses, which draws visitors from around the world.
Just opened in July,2013, Gilded Age Vermont reflects the industial boom in Bennington from the mid-nineteenth century through the mid-twentieth century. It features Frederick MacMonnies’ sumptuous portrait of May Suydam Palmer and the Martin Wasp, a luxury automobile made in Bennington by Karl Martin between 1920 and 1924, along with paintings by William Morris Hunt and glass and metal works by Lewis Comfort Tiffany. Collectively, these objects, among others, paint a vivid picture of innovation and prosperity from Vermont’s past. Drawn primarily from items in the museum's collection, Gilded Age Vermont is devoted to aspects of the permanent collection not cohesively celebrated in the past.
Another new gallery, Bennington Modernism features works from the early 1950s through the mid-1970s by a group of avant-garde artists working in and around Bennington who led the nation in artistic thought and innovation. Among the artists of national and international stature with local ties are Pat Adams, Willard Boepple, Anthony Caro, Paul Feeley, Helen Frankenthaler, Patricia Johanson, Vincent Longo, Kenneth Noland, Dan Shapiro, David Smith and Tony Smith. Collectively they explored such diverse strategies as Color Field painting, Minimalism, an early Conceptualism, and even proto-Pop.
Also on permanent exhibit is Vermont-made furniture, Ralph Earl’s painting of Bennington in 1798, and Bennington pottery featuring Norton pottery, Fenton pottery and Redware. The Textile Gallery features among other pieces, one of the oldest “stars and stripes” in existence – the Bennington Flag, and for six weeks each year, the 1863 Jane Stickle Quilt. The museum maintains a Research Library with a substantial nucleus of New England historical and genealogical materials, including over 8,000 books, documents and primary sources, its Military Gallery focusing on the Revolutionary War battle named after the town of Bennington, as well as six other gallery spaces.
Bennington Museum focuses on serving local and regional communities. In addition to its permanent exhibits, numerous temporary exhibits and public programs bring to the region a broad spectrum of cultural expression in the visual and performing arts. Temporary exhibits have ranged from photography by such prominent photographers as Friedlander, Stieglitz and Adams, to works by regional artists including sculpture, oil paintings and more. Concerts, Workshops, Antique Appraisals by guest appraisers, and engaging historical presentations by local and nationally acclaimed authors and historians, round out Bennington Museum’s offerings.
The property is further complimented by the Hadwen Woods and the George Aiken Wildflower Trail. This area is being developed to present the native species of wildflowers found in George Aiken’s book entitled “Pioneering with Wildflowers” This area is open to the public.