Picnic, quilt, and pie bring community together

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BENNINGTON — There's nothing that says autumn quite like quilting, cider, and apple pie — and all three could be found at the Bennington Museum's Grandma Moses Picnic and Quilting Bee, held Saturday.

Coinciding with "Grandma Moses: American Modern" exhibition and the "1863 Stickle Quilt," both on view at the Bennington Museum, volunteers for the George Aiken Wildflower Trail held a community celebration at the Children's Sculpture Garden of the Hadwen Woods at the museum.

"It was organized by my wife Jackie Marro, alongside the people who volunteer to work on the Aiken Trail," said Tony Marro, who helped to organize the event. "There's a core of about eight to 10 people, most of them master gardeners but not all, working for almost nine years to transform the woodlot next to the museum."

The George Aiken Wildflower Trail has grown over the years to include a large and engaging garden adjacent to the Bennington Museum. The trail is named for two-term governor and six-term U.S. Senator George D. Aiken, who also owned a nursery in Putney and authored "Pioneering with Wildflowers."

The trail features all of the more than 300 species of native wildflowers and 40 native ferns that Aiken grew in his nursery, without the aid of a greenhouse, as well as a series of paths winding through more than six acres of woods and meadow.

The volunteers who worked fastidiously on the trail for the past nine years hoped to celebrate their efforts with an event that Grandma Moses herself may have enjoyed. To do so, they encouraged local families to bring a picnic lunch along for a variety of activities, supplemented with free apples, cider, and pie.

"The Museum's exhibiting the Jane Stickle Quilt [crafted by Jane A. Sickle of Shaftsbury in 1863], as well as one of the best known Moses paintings called The Quilting Bee [painted by Anna Mary Robertson, a.k.a "Grandma Moses," in 1950 at the age of 90]," said Marro. "We thought it'd be interesting to show off the work that's been done on the trail in the context of hosting a Grandma Moses-type picnic and quilting party."

Throughout the day, local children learned how to sew patchwork tote bags, potholders, or quilt squares depending on age and skill level. "Natural quilt squares" were also crafted, utilizing natural materials like tree branches, twigs, bark, and pine cones from the trail set into log frames.

"We got a big crowd despite the rain," said Marro. "We brought some sewing machines and fabric, and tried to introduce kids to quilting."

Visitors were serenaded by the Bennington Ukulele String Ensemble, playing tunes like "This Land is Your Land," under the leadership of Henry Simpatico. All participants were also given a free pass to the museum to see the Grandma Moses exhibit and the famous Jane Stickle quilt, only exhibited for a few weeks each year due to its fragility.

Perhaps the climax of the day, however, came during the "Best of Bennington" apple pie contest, which attracted 23 participants and provided free pie for all.

"We also staged a Best of Bennington Pie contest, and [Town Manager] Stu Hurd and his wife Justine Scanlon were the judges," said Marro. "Everybody got lots of pie."

Former Bennington Bookshop owner Rick Havlak walked away victorious, winning a copy of the "Grandma Moses Exhibit Catalog," richly illustrated with copies of her paintings and including scholarly essays on the iconic artist.

"The Bennington Museum Gift Shop put up the prize for the pie contest, and everyone who came got a one-day free pass to see the Grandma Moses exhibit," said Marro. "It was just a fun event for everyone."

Reach Cherise Madigan at 802-490-6471.

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