’Tom Fels: Cyanotypes from the Arbor’ series at the Benn. Museum

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BENNINGTON -- On view through Sept. 2 at the Bennington Museum is Tom Fels: Cyanotypes from the Arbor Series, the first public exhibition of a series of large-scale cyanotypes by the North Bennington artist and writer. Each piece in this exhibit is 2 x 3 feet and ranges in tones from brilliant white to a unique deep blue, called cyan. The cyanotype is an early photographic printing process of great simplicity. Typically, the process was employed to produce silhouettes - of leaves, for example, as in the botanical illustrations of the pioneer British photographer Anna Atkins (1799-1871) - but the same process was also used for photographs and to make architectural blueprints.

Fels’ cyanotypes are camera-less photographs, popularly called "shadow prints." No negative is involved. Each print is therefore unique, and yet they are all variations on a single theme, in this case depictions of the shadows cast by leaves and branches. The Arbor Series stems from Fels’ lengthy engagement with a single subject he has observed over many years: a tree in his backyard. As part of the photographer’s own home environment, "the subject was familiar from daily viewing and numerous efforts to draw it in pencil by hand. The discovery of the availability of large-scale cyanotype paper took those experiences in a new direction," states the artist.

About the Artist

For more than thirty years, Fels of North Bennington, Vermont has been a curator and writer specializing in the history of photography and early photographic processes. He has organized exhibitions at the van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, and the Getty Museum in California, as well as a number of other venues throughout the country, especially here in the Northeast. His books on the subject include O Say Can You See: American Photographs 1839-1939 (1989), Fire and Ice: Treasures from the Photographic Collection of Frederic Church (2002), and Sotheby’s Guide to Photographs (1998). He has also written two highly-acclaimed books on the 1960s, Farm Friends: From the Late Sixties to the West Seventies and Beyond (2008) and Buying the Farm: Peace and War on a Sixties Commune (2012).

About the Museum

The Bennington Museum, located at 75 Main St. (Route 9), in The Shires of Southwestern Vermont has a wide-ranging collection of American art, focusing on the arts of Vermont, ranging from 18th-century portraits and decorative arts to Folk Art, Vermont landscape paintings, and 20th-century Modernism. Here visitors encounter the largest public collection of Grandma Moses paintings in the world as well as the largest collection of 19th-century Bennington pottery. In its remaining galleries, the museum presents a 1924 Wasp Touring Car, one of only twenty produced, one of the earliest ‘Stars and Stripes’ in existence, artifacts and documents relating to the Battle of Bennington, and much more. In addition to Tom Fels: Cyanotypes from the Arbor Series, the museum is also presenting Southwestern Vermont and the Civil War, on view through Oct.27. Opening on July 20 are two new permanent galleries: Gilded Age Vermont and Bennington Modernism. Bennington Museum is open Thursday through Tuesday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. From July through Oct., the museum is open every day of the week. Regular admission is $10 for adults, $9 for seniors and students over 18. Children, students 18 or younger, and visitors to the Museum Shop are admitted free. Visit the museum’s website www.benningtonmuseum.org or call 802-447-1571 for more information.

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