Early Vermont Gallery to open at Bennington Museum


BENNINGTON - It has been said that one photograph can tell an entire life story, or a story of just one moment which could define a lifetime.

The Bennington Museum is banking on both notions in its current exhibition "Photographs by Laura Gilpin and Her Circle: Gertrude K sebier, Clarence H. White, and Clara Sipprell."

Laura Gilpin (1891-1979) was one of the leading photographers of the American West from the 1920s through the middle of the 20th century. After she passed away in 1979 most of her negatives, photographs, and letters went to the Amon Carter Museum in Fort Worth, Texas.

However, according to the museum's curator of collections, Jamie Franklin, three portfolios of photographs were kept by her family. This show includes a cross section of work from that collection of Gilpin's and that of her friends and mentors Gertrude K sebier and Clarence H. White.

"We are also very pleased to supplement these fine examples with photographs by Clara Sipprell from the Bennington Museum's collection," Franklin said.

The curator added that the museum has a partner in this show - Bennington College - which is a joint effort to share with the public a selection from these portfolios.

"The show was a close collaboration between Jonathan Kline, who teaches photography at Bennington College, his students, and the museum," Franklin said. "[Kline] made connections with Brooke Allen, who is Gilpin's great-niece. [She] owned these portfolios of works by Gilpin and her two friends and mentors, Gertrude Kasebier and Clarence H. White."

Several of Kline's students from his class "Laura Gilpin and the Platinum Print" also had a hand in the show. For his part, Kline agreed that the photos presented in the exhibition, which number more than 30 in total, were indicative of Gilpin's links to several luminaries of the craft.

"We hope this connection to her subjects is evident in our selection here, but also representative of the lasting friendship she cherished with some of the early 20th century's greatest American photographers," Kline said.

That connection is pivotal to the exhibition. K sebier and White were pioneers in Photo-Secession, a movement which promoted photography as a fine art at the turn of the 20th century.

"K sebier became Gilpin's mentor when the latter was still a teenager," Franklin said.

In 1916, at K sebier `s recommendation, Gilpin set off to New York from her native Colorado to study photography at the Clarence H. White School. White's school espoused a broad democratic ideal of photography with a high number of women attending, many of whom went on to successful professional careers.

In White's school, there was a local connection, the curator added.

"Among those was Clara Sipprell, who later lived and worked in Manchester, [Vermont]," Franklin explained.

Gilpin returned to Colorado, where, in addition to sensitive portraits, she recorded the Navajo Nation and the scenery of the desert southwest, also authoring four books on the subject.

The curator called the exhibition grouping "truly a world class body of work," as Kasebier and White are considered two of the most important American photographers from the early decades of the 20th century, and Gilpin went on to her well-known accolades with capturing the American West.

Aesthetics also matter, as Franklin concluded that for both photographers and admirers, the show's platinum prints are well worth seeing because of their "rich, velvety blacks, and soft, atmospheric lighting."

"The Gilpin show is a real delight for lovers of photography history and just about anyone who loves a beautiful old photograph," Franklin said. "Gilpin demonstrated for over 50 years that her work drew expressive power from her compassionate connection to her chosen subjects, and an honest respect for the medium of photography. It's a treat to be able to share such a significant body of work with our visitors and the community at large."

"Photographs by Laura Gilpin and Her Circle: Gertrude K sebier, Clarence H. White, and Clara Sipprell" will run through Dec. 30 at Bennington Museum, 75 Main St., Bennington, Vt. Info: 802-447-1571, or visit: benningtonmuseum.org

Reach award-winning freelance journalist at tchalkias@aol.com, or on Twitter: @Telly Halkias


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