An installation view of Jessica Straus’s “Stemming the Tide,” which is one of several new exhibits opening on June 22 at Brattleboro Museum & Art Center.
Will Howcroft
An installation view of Jessica Straus’s “Stemming the Tide,” which is one of several new exhibits opening on June 22 at Brattleboro Museum & Art Center.

Brattleboro Museum to open eight new exhibits

Opening celebration with the artists and curators on June 22

BRATTLEBORO-Eight new exhibits open at the Brattleboro Museum & Art Center (BMAC) on Saturday, June 22, featuring diverse artmaking techniques, media, and themes, including "Sci-fi Sufism," the power of water, mythic qualities of animals, and environmental wake-up calls.

Five different curators have brought these exhibits to life, including BMAC Director of Exhibitions Sarah Freeman, who described the new line-up of art and artists in a news release as "one of abundance and offering."

The exhibits include "The In Between" by Susan Brearey and Duane Slick, "SpaceMosque" by Saks Afridi, "The River Between" by Ilana Manolson, "Stemming the Tide" by Jessica Straus, "Personal Nature" by Mishel An Valenton and Benedict Scheuer, and "From Home/To Home" by Sandglass Theater.

Two new outdoor exhibits -"A Night at the Garden" by Vanessa Compton and "The Wounding" by Lee Williams- opened in May.

All are welcome to attend an opening celebration with the artists and curators on June 22, at 5:30 p.m. DJ Wooly Mar will spin tunes, Taza Afghan Foods will offer free food, and Stone Church will provide beverages. Folk musicians Tim Eriksen and Peter Irvine will play a set at 7:30 p.m.

The diversity of work in these exhibits, and the potential for surprise, wonder, and encountering the unfamiliar, is typical of BMAC, according to Freeman.

"I think people will be excited and impressed by the wide variety of media and artistic and curatorial approaches," she says. "Having multiple curators enables us to bring in more voices and points of view, which means a broader tent and more art to celebrate."

The two new outdoor exhibits have already drawn viewers to collage artist Vanessa Compton's "surreal, dream-like landscapes" that fill the large panels on the museum's front and side walls, and sculptor Lee Williams's colorful sculptures that occupy the front lawn. Both artists use pre-existing and recycled materials to create new worlds that, according to Freeman, "question our perception of what is familiar and what is uncanny or unexpected."

Inside, "The In Between" pairs the longtime friends Brearey and Slick, who share a feeling of deep connection to the mythic qualities of animals.

Slick is a Meskwaki painter and printmaker who often depicts the archetypal trickster animal, the coyote, which often appears in North American tribal folklore and is known for its elusive nature. Slick is also interested in narratives previously excluded from colonial histories, as well as nonlinear storytelling techniques that build understanding without depending on chronology.

Brearey, who taught art for many years at The Putney School, "is known for capturing, with precise detail, fleeting moments that evoke the connections among humans, animals, and the wilderness." Brearey says she is especially delighted by ravens, which her French-Canadian grandmother taught her were important messengers and bringers of good luck.

"The River Between" and "Stemming the Tide"- separate solo exhibits by Manolson and Straus, respectively - both explore the impact humans have on the natural world, albeit in very different ways.

Manolson is a landscape painter, but "she breaks the convention of framing a scene and instead plays with both paint and space, allowing her images to flow in richly colored layers across the gallery walls," comment organizers. Her compositions depict water, "the essential resource of life with the power to both heal and destroy." Manolson's paintings illustrate the constant change that exists in nature and in bodies of water, as well as the role that humans play in that change.

Straus tells a more specific story about water and change in "Stemming the Tide," focusing on the collapse of the cod-fishing industry in Newfoundland in the wake of a 1990s-era government moratorium. Straus's immersive installation, supported in part by BMAC's Wolf Kahn & Emily Mason Exhibition Endowment Fund, includes a large, segmented map of the North Atlantic Ocean that drapes from ceiling to floor.

"A school of carved, ghostly white cod swims out from the map, and a series of photographs, partly obscured by hand-knotted fishing nets, shows pieces of the map floating in the sea," describe organizers. "The overall effect is one of loss, mourning the rich natural environments that seem to be slipping away, but there is also a feeling of hope and potential action: What can the viewer do to protect the environment?"

BMAC's curator emerita Mara Williams, who worked with both Manolson and Straus, says, "Because the health of rivers and oceans are so connected and so critical to our well-being as a society, Ilana's and Jessica's immersive works are in dialogue with each other as well as with viewers who experience their richness and beauty."

From the water to the sky: "SpaceMosque" looks upward with a fantastical tale told by Afridi, who coined the term "Sci-fi Sufism" to describe his multimedia work. He asks viewers to imagine a spectacular space-traveling vessel that arrives from the future and grants each human on Earth one prayer every 24 hours.

The photographs and objects in "SpaceMosque" tell the story of this vessel, which is first seen over Pakistan, where Afridi was born, and becomes visible around the world, but it appears differently in the eyes of each beholder. "Afridi's unique parafiction combines Islamic mysticism with technology, exploring the intersections of capitalism and spirituality, historical record and futuristic imagination," say organizers.

Contemplation and improvisation form the intersection between Mishel Valenton and Benedict Scheuer in the dual exhibit "Personal Nature," according to the news release.

Valenton's paintings invite viewers into her internal landscape of momentary needs and desires, as she reflects on her own vulnerability and the simplicity and fleeting nature of everyday life. Scheuer's works on paper and silk are primarily inspired by his garden, he says, as well as by feelings of belonging and interconnectedness. Like Valenton, he aims for fluidity, allowing his subject matter and pursuit of color and shape to shift from day to day.

Ideas of interconnectedness figure prominently in Sandglass Theater's exhibit, "From Home/To Home," which highlights two of their past music- and puppet-focused productions. The first, "All Weather Ballads," tells a story rooted in Vermont's landscape and seasons, highlighting ice fishing shanties, muddy roads, apple ladders, and wood piles, as well as the roles they play in the lives of two main characters as they age.

That sense of place and home takes on different dimensions in "Babylon," a production that documents the lives of six refugees fleeing war and violence around the world. Sandglass developed "Babylon" in 2016, but it is particularly resonant today, as more refugees continue to resettle in southern Vermont.

All six new indoor exhibits will remain on view through Oct. 19; "A Night at the Garden'' will remain on view through April 2025, and "The Wounding" will be on view until Nov. 3, 2024. Learn more at

This Arts item was submitted to The Commons.

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