Bennington Museum offers 'prelude' to 2020 Robert Frost exhibit


BENNINGTON — The first seven lines of "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" — the famous Robert Frost poem in which the narrator one night admires "lovely, dark and deep" woods despite having "miles to go before I sleep" — appear, letter by letter, on a spruce cone in an exhibition opening Friday at the Bennington Museum.

The work, titled "Darkest Evening," a phrase from the poem's eighth line, was created by artist Erin McKenny, who is also director of the Robert Frost Stone House Museum at Bennington College in Shaftsbury, where Frost wrote "Stopping by Woods" in 1922.

Published the following year, the poem did not enter the public domain until the start of this year, fortuitous timing for a new exhibit featuring works that evoke — or, in McKenny's case, borrow from — Frost's words and life.

The exhibit is one part of the museum's annual festival, which includes a gala on Dec. 14 and a "family day" with discounted or waived admission fees and special activities on Dec. 7.

The pieces that McKenny and more than two dozen other artists with ties to the region contributed to the exhibition will be available in a closed-bid auction from Nov. 29 through Dec. 22 at 4 p.m. Winning bids will be split between the artist and museum. A full list of works is available on the museum's website, Bids may be placed at the museum, by email to or by fax to 802-442-8305.

McKenny said the idea of somehow "returning" works about landscape to the natural environment led her to complete a series of poems on pine cones in 2003. She used poems by Emily Dickinson, Wallace Stevens, Robert Frost and others, but avoided "Stopping by Woods" because of its then-extant copyright protection.

When museum curator Jamie Franklin invited her to contribute to the exhibit, she decided to revisit the series and use the classic poem, which she painted on a cone culled from the Stone House grounds.

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"It's literally bringing his poetry and connecting it to the landscape in which he was working when he wrote it," Franklin said.

The auction precedes a major exhibition, set to start next summer, that will mark the centennial of Frost's move to Shaftsbury. "Robert Frost: 'At Present in Vermont'" will consider the poet's two decades in Bennington County.

Franklin said he has established the show's rough framework and soon will seek to secure loans of key materials from other institutions. He expects the exhibition to feature approximately a dozen Frost manuscripts, several poems published or written during the poet's Shaftsbury spell and works by some of his contemporaries, including paintings by Rockwell Kent and writings by Dorothy Canfield Fisher.

The exhibit will be on view from June 27 through Nov. 3, 2020.

Franklin described Frost's poetry as meaty but accessible, balancing moments in nature with larger questions about humankind's fate. The work "still resonates," Franklin said, an opinion McKenny shares.

"As Director of the Robert Frost Stone House, I've been struck by how important ["Stopping by Woods"] is and has been to our visitors," she wrote in an email. "Many learned it in school ... and some even recite the poem when they visit the House."

She added, "I think in Southern Vermont and throughout New England where winters are long, the spirit and setting of the poem still resonate."

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