Gem-themed Festival of Trees set to sparkle at Bennington Museum


BENNINGTON -- The theme this year is one of "Hidden Gems."

The Bennington Museum will once again host a series of vignettes designed by local businesses and nonprofits, for the 17th annual Festival of Trees, on display from Nov. 29 to Dec. 30.

This year for the first time, designers and creators of the holiday trees were given a tour of the more than 60,000 items not currently on display at the museum and asked to choose one which they would use for inspiration.

Keith Casey and his staff at Gamers Grotto chose a painting that pictures a playing card of a jack and a queen.

"We wanted something more creative and more artistic this year," said Casey, who gives creative freedom on the project to employee and designer Jon Kenyon.

While tight-lipped on what visitors can expect to see in the display, Casey said it is a good way to reach out to the community. "It lets us show that we don't just do video games," he said, of the Main Street shop that also carries board games and, more recently, toys.

More than 20 trees will grace the galleries of the museum this holiday season, and can be seen alongside silent auction items which will also be on display -- all to benefit the largest art and heritage collection in southern Vermont. The winners of the auction items will be drawn at the annual gala, to be held on Saturday, Dec. 14, from 7 to 10 p.m.

"Anytime before the gala people will be allowed to come in and check on the status of the bidding," said Susan Strano, marketing director at the museum.

"The festival is really something that is a great time for everyone in the family," said Strano, noting that small children ages 4 to 12 especially appreciate the magic of the season.

Galleries will also be adorned with the museum's more traditional trees, and tabletop firs decorated by elementary school classes from Bennington, Shaftsbury, Woodford, North Bennington and Pownal.

Family Day, to be held Dec. 7, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., will offer children an opportunity to shop for gifts and receive help wrapping and labeling their presents. Visits with Santa will be held from 1 to 4 p.m., along with crafts and activities.

Family Day admission is offered at a reduced rate of $3 per person. Children who donate a personal care item for a child or adult in need will be admitted for free. All items will be donated to the Bennington-Rutland Opportunity Council for distribution.

Another local community organization, the Bennington Coalition for the Homeless will participate in the festival by designing a tree around both an antique photograph and the Rolling Stones song, "Gimme Shelter."

"It's very exciting this year," said Stacey New, president of the board at BCH. "It was kind of challenging for us to find something that would work for the coalition, but we pulled a rack of photographs out and there it was, it spoke to us."

Describing the photo as featuring a rustic outdoorsman, sitting by his handmade, wooden shelter, New said the tree will feature different versions of shelter for all God's creatures.

Designed by Nora Lantz, also a member of the board, families can expect to see a large tree house and an igloo with a polar bear, among others.

"We try to be whimsical and we try to be uplifting," said New, who appreciates the opportunity to reach members of the community who normally might not cross the path of the nonprofit.

"It's a tough conversation to have about homeless people, especially at this time of the year," said New, who served as chairperson for the festival in 2010.

"It's good to remind people that this problem exists within our community, but with this we're able to do it in a really fun, engaging way."

Tickets to the Dec. 14 gala are $65 per person, or $50 if purchased by Dec. 2. Call the museum at 802-447-1571. Sweet and savory foods, fine wine and signature drinks will be served, along with a performance of holiday music by Catbird Trio.

Auction items include the opportunity to learn the art of brewing ale from the brewers at Madison Brewing Co., antique chairs from the Owls Nest, a mirror from Bennington Furniture, ski passes to Stratton Mountain, a weekend in northern Vermont including passes to Shelburne Museum and ECHO Lake Aquarium and Science Center, as well as a one-night stay and dinner for two at the North Hero House.

The Bennington Banner is a lead sponsor for the event.

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Contact Khynna at and follow her on Twitter @khynnakat.


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