New director settles in at Robert Frost's Stone House

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SHAFTSBURY — Robert Frost loved baseball.

That's something Erin McKenny, new director of the Robert Frost Stone House Museum at Bennington College, learned recently about the poet, who made the house his home from 1920 to 1929.

"I've been doing a lot of reading and researching about Frost," she said. "It's been really, really fun."

McKenny's first day was July 1, the start of the college's academic and fiscal year.

Her position involves planning, particularly for events at the house, and a lot of reaching out to area organizations about "connecting points" — that is, possible collaborations.

The director position was created when the house was donated to the college by the Friends of Robert Frost. The college officially took ownership on Dec. 1, 2017.

The house's first director, Megan Mayhew-Bergman, will continue to act in an advisory role at the museum, said Alex Dery Snider, director of media relations and public affairs at the college.

Before moving back to Vermont, McKenny worked in the education departments of the children's museum in Boston and the City Museum in St. Louis.

McKenny is originally from the Northeast Kingdom. She attended the University of New Hampshire, receiving a Bachelor of Arts in studio art, and earned a Master of Fine Arts in printmaking and drawing at Washington University in St. Louis, according to a media release from the college.

McKenny has deep roots in the community, and the college wants the house to serve the community, Snider said. Her art background and work with students also made her a great fit, she said.

The position has not changed with Mayhew-Bergman's departure, Snider said.

"It's only our second year, so we're figuring out what works," she said.

McKenny has worked for Bennington College for 16 years, most recently as the Design and Planning Coordinator, and she also manages the college's art collection. She is set to continue serving in these roles along with her new position, according to the release.

"Over the years, my work has evolved to work more with students, and more with faculty," McKenny said. "I really enjoy that aspect of my job."

In her time living in the area, she said, she's become more and more involved in the community.

She serves on the boards of the Bennington Museum and the Village School of North Bennington, and is a trustee of the Village of North Bennington.

"This seemed like a really nice way of kind of connecting the college and my sort of community life," she said of her new position. "This just seemed like an extension of the things that I was doing already. And I really like the idea of engaging, I think, with the community in new ways. And building on some of the relationships that I've made in the community."

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McKenny said she would like to build on Mayhew-Bergman's "amazing job" of engaging with the community.

"It's such a special place, and I think there's a lot of pride in this house within the community," McKenny said. "Frost has such an important legacy in this area, and in writing."

Frost was also an innovative educator, and in that way, it really makes sense that his home is connected to an educational institution, she said.

"I think it's a really great way for the college to connect even more with the community," she said.

McKenny said she has already spoken with different faculty members about how their classes might be able to use the house or its grounds.

"I think there's a lot of interesting ways that the college can activate this house," she said. "And that it's a really nice way for the community to see things that are happening at the college in a way that they may not always see on campus."

Right now, she said, officials are working on the Poetry Trail — a planned quarter-mile free poetry walking trail to open in May 2020 that will feature signage with four of Frost's best-known poems, integrated into landscape that inspired him as he wrote.

She said she also plans to continue concert and education series at the house.

"One thing I really want to think about is educational opportunities with local schools," she said. "I want to think about how we can engage schools in learning about writing and poetry, and Robert Frost. Definitely having students come visit the house. That's something I'm really interested in."

She said she is also interested in partnerships, and to that end, she's spoken with officials from the Bennington Museum and Vermont Arts Exchange.

The scale of the Frost house is also great for art exhibition, she said.

"The intimacy of the house and these rooms really lends itself to some of the smaller pieces in the [college's art] collection," she said.

There's currently an exhibition up in the house from the college's art collection, in connection with themes of landscape and place, using Frost's history and biography as a lens.

McKenny said she is still figuring out her hours, but she plans to be on-site Thursdays and Fridays. A fellow and recent graduate of the college will be on-site during open hours, Wednesdays through Sundays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Frost purchased the cira-1769 house in 1920. There, he wrote one of his most famous poems, "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" in June 1922, and he was also living there when he won his first Pulitzer Prize. The property was first preserved and opened as a house museum 15 years ago.

The house is open June to Oct. 31. Admission is $10 for adults, $6 for seniors and students, and $5 for those under 18. It is free to children under 10 and active duty military personnel.

Patricia LeBoeuf can be reached at pleboeuf@benningtonbanner.com, at @BAN_pleboeuf on Twitter and 802-447-7567, ext. 118.


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