The Bennington Museum is exhibiting a collection of local collections.
Jamie Franklin has been curator of the Bennington Museum in southern Vermont since 2005.
“I’ve been thinking about collecting for a really long time,” said Franklin.
Franklin has overseen four incarnations of the Bennington Collects series.
“You close your eyes and you imagine, what do people in Bennington collect?" said Franklin. "I don’t think you could have ever come up with the answers you find in this exhibition.”
From shelves of religious video games to a wall of belt buckles, the gallery exhibit open now allows museum visitors to peek inside the lives — and obsessions — of their neighbors.
“They teach us about individuals," said Franklin. "I like to think of collections as portraits of the people who have formed them.”
And beyond a single portrait, Franklin sees the collection of collections as something revelatory.
“There are a huge wide variety of psychological factors that drive individuals to collect, but if you take this exhibition as a cross section of the community, for me, one of the things I love about Bennington in particular and this region at large is how eclectic and how many different people there are,” Franklin said.
Take, for example, Gregg Swain.
“I am a mahjong collector, and mahjong is this wonderful game that actually is the most popular game in the whole wide world," said Swain.
Her collection of mahjong boxes is her contribution to the exhibition.
“So I’ve got lacquer boxes, some wooden boxes with bone inlay, a box that’s lacquer with mother of pearl, some deeply carved boxes and wonderful sculptural handles, so I wanted to give everyone an idea of what kind of work was going on in China in the 1920s,” said Swain.
Beyond the craft and beauty of the boxes, she says the collection tells a story of humanity.
“I look at the boxes and I appreciate the beauty of the boxes themselves, but I also know how those boxes and the tiles that they held made people very, very happy throughout history,” Swain said.
Bret Chenkin contributed his collection of first edition book covers, which he has accumulated over the past 30 years.
“It’s a bit of a quest — it’s kind of like a hunting trip,” said Chenkin.
He scours thrift stores, garage sales, and used bookshops to add to his collection. But there’s no governing rule behind it — he sees a book he finds beautiful, and it enters the Chenkin archive.
“It’s actually — you know, it’s pretty exciting. My adrenaline runs. I pick it up. I t’s really nice to get that and have something beautiful in the house. I think that’s the best thing about doing the book covers, is that it’s an inexpensive way to collect art so to speak, to get really nice covers, really nice designs, without having to spend thousands of dollars,” Chenkin said.
Many collectors have stories about that first piece that set them down the path to collect.
“My contribution are the small selection of my vintage snowboards," said Jarred Newell.
“I’d say the one that’s most meaningful to me was my first snowboard. It’s a little tiny 130-cenimeter Burton Elite, and that was the first snowboard that I ever strapped into. I purchased it up the road from a farmer in Ashfield, Massachusetts, where I grew up.”
Chenkin remembers his first book as well.
“The young England Scouts. It’s actually in the show, it features two boys in a biplane. It’s from 1916. I was about 11 or 12, I picked that one up and The Voyage of the Deutschland, these old turn of the century books, and I think those were the ones. They were just so interesting, they told so much of the story right on the cover,” Chenkin said.
Newell also sees reflections of his past in his collection.
“It’s getting reminiscent of my youth," said Newell. "Back when I was a teenager, I would look at snowboard magazines I got in the mail or videos that came out over the years, and you’d see these pro snowboarders riding their pro models and various other snowboards, and it was something you always wanted as a kid but didn’t necessarily have the money to purchase.”
Even in the disparate collections of deeply personal fascinations, curator Franklin has found unexpected commonalities.
“We have randomly, though not a 100 percent randomly, three collections that somehow reference the Titanic,” said Franklin.
Bennington Collects runs through June 13th. Each community contributor offers a personal statement alongside their respective collections.