BENNINGTON -- When The Bennington Center for the Arts opened its doors in 1994 the very first exhibition on display was the 34th annual exhibition of the Society of Animal Artists. The group is back, now with its 53rd annual show, and artists from around the country will be coming in for the opening reception and weekend activities Oct. 4 and 5.

This prestigious group came together in the 1950s when a group of nine artists mounted an exhibition titled Animals in the Bronx Zoo, sponsored by the New York Zoological Society. The enthusiastic public response to their exhibition inspired Patricia Allen Bott and Guido Borghi to form the Society of Animal Artists. Today there are almost 500 members residing in the United States, Africa, Australia, Canada, Europe, South America, Asia and Japan.

The Society is dedicated to the portrayal of living heritage and its preservation through demonstrations, education and exhibitions such as the one at the center.

Membership to this highly-respected group continues to grow. Twice per year the membership committee meets to review the work of artists that would like to be included in the society. Signature members are recognized as having attained the highest level of ability in the field of animal art and consistently uphold the Society's standards of excellence. Artists that are welcomed into the group as associate members are granted many of the privileges of Society membership and are eligible to submit work to all exhibitions but they may not vote on Society matters or use the initials "S.A.A." when signing artwork. New members help keep the group fresh, pushing the boundaries of what has traditionally been viewed as ‘animal art'. They express themselves with a contemporary flair, with new concepts and techniques, motivating the group as a whole to be creative and relevant.

Each exhibition is a visual feast in terms of subject matter, media, and stylistic interpretation. Animal lovers and art aficionados are in for an entertaining and inspiring tour through the animal kingdom as depicted by the talented artists in the group.

Each year the subjects range from the African "Big Five" to garden butterflies, North American wild game to domestic pets, and this year is no exception.

Visitors can also expect to see a wide variety of styles in the show from artists of differing backgrounds. There are pieces that are very contemporary, such as the stylized bronze bison by Sandy Graves from Colorado or Tokyo native Sadao Naito's modern interpretation of a hawk study. Those that lean to the romantic style of painting will not be disappointed. Jeff Gandert's Out from Under is just one of these paintings. Depicting a giraffe, the painting has the warm glow and soft touch reminiscent of the European masters.

While the show opened at The Bennington in September, the opening events take place this weekend, Oct. 4-5.

Artists will be in attendance Friday evening from 7 to 9 p.m. at a reception that is open to the public and throughout the day on Saturday.

Lectures geared toward artist education will take place Saturday afternoon. The public is welcome to all events free of charge.

The exhibition and sale runs through Thursday, Oct. 31, after which time it will beginning its national tour.

The Bennington Center for the Arts is located just west of Bennington on Vermont Route 9.

For more information go to www.TheBennington.org or call 802-742-7158.