Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Fairbanks Museum in St. Johnsbury, Vermont

I've made entries here about a number of small, idiosyncratic museums of science and anthropology in Europe--in Bologna, outside of Odense Denmark and in Lucerne Switzerland. There's something very odd and wonderful about these places. One really gets the sense that some obsessive aristocrat with scientific pretensions just started amassing objects in the 18th or 19th century and never stopped until he died. The divisions between the disciplines were still extremely blurred, so one gets sculptures of human anatomy in wax right next to unusual rocks. They also date from before science separated itself clearly from art, so the aesthetics of the exhibits are highly refined. The cabinets and display cases are as beautiful as the exhibits themselves. I'd never really seen quite the same thing in the U.S. The Field Museum here in Chicago and the Museum of natural History in New York City have a vaguely similar feel, but they date from later, and are more rigorously scientific and ambitious. This Summer, while I was in New Hampshire at my dad's, I went for the first time to The Fairbanks Museum in St. Johnsbury and found the closest thing to those little museums that I can recall seeing here in the states. Below are some of the artifacts and exhibits, including some live local plants in glass jars, various dolls, childrens books and toys, stuffed birds and a few jelly fish that were just on a shelf in the basement.

Down the street from the Fairbanks is the Atheneum, a public Library and art gallery. The art is mostly old, not very interesting landscape painting. though I sort of liked this one:

But they also have Albert Bierstadt's Domes of Yosemite, a massive, 10 by 15 foot landscape painting. Bierstadt was sort of the main guy in the Hudson River School Painters, the first artists to treat the American landscape as beautiful and grandiose rather than just wild and unkempt, as it had been seen previously. Albert really went for it. the painting is pretty amazing in person. It's almost comical in it's grandiosity, but the guy could paint like a Motherf----r, and it really makes me want to see some more. Needless to say, the photo here doesn't even come close to doing it justice.

I tried to get a photo of it with the context of the frame and the room, but the custodian yelled at me.


submarinesubmarine said...

Hey Anders,
I paid a visit to the Fairbanks Museum a few years ago as part of a class assignment while I was in CCS, and I also thought it was pretty amazing.
Here's my photo set of the trip:

Sam Gas Can said...

I drew a picture of that weird police doll with the huge hand when I was there. Not "the long arm of the law"..."the swelled hand of justice"?