The Shires of Vermont: A hotbed of art vibrancy.

For 2014, the National Center for Arts Research (NCAR) at SMU ranked Bennington County, Vermont as the 15th most vibrant arts community in the US for areas under 1 million people. Although Bennington County, the Shires of Vermont, has less than 50,000 people, when driving the Shires Byway (route 7A) from Bennington to Manchester it becomes clear why it is number 15 in the US.

Starting at the North Bennington train station area (route 67) there are sculptures everywhere thanks to the North Bennington Outdoor Sculpture Show. It’s free; simply drive around and enjoy horses, people and other diverse & creative objects. See the art and activities posted at the Vermont Arts Exchange (802-442-5549) located near the train station on Route 67.

A short drive to the Bennington Museum on Route 9 (75 Main Street; 802-447-157) will open another cornucopia of art both inside and outside. The museum has historic art of old Bennington(Vermont’s first town) including an amazing 1930s 12 x 6 foot color mural of Old Bennington showing the soldiers and prisoners from the Battle of Bennington. You will be able to walk into the same actual school house once used by Grandma Moses, the artist who started painting late in life. There is a large collection of original Grandma Moses paintings. The old cemetery next to Bennington Museum has many examples of old-fashioned gravestone art. The Bennington Center for the Arts (44 Gypsy Lane; 802-442-7158) about 1 mile west on route 9 from the Bennington Museum has various art exhibits including wildlife, Native American, and more. They also have a free audio tour.

As you drive around Bennington, you will see painted moose and catamounts. A fund raising event for charity, moose and catamounts (a species in the panther/lynx family) were painted by various artists. Funds from the sales went to non-profits.

Further up route 7A (the Shires Byway) in Arlington you can take route 313 west for about 4 miles and see the home and studio of Norman Rockwell, the famous illustrator who lived in Arlington from 1939 until 1952. His home and studio are now part of the Inn at the Covered Bridge Green. Be sure to stop at the Sugar Shack (802-375-6747) in Arlington on 7A; they have a complete collection of the Rockwell prints, a history of his paintings and a wonderful film about Rockwell’s life.

Moving on to Manchester, be sure to visit the Southern Vermont Arts Center (802-362-1405) on West Road. The road to the complex of galleries at SVAC has many unique sculptures. The Art Center’s Arkell Pavilion is the site of many performing arts events. There are also many spots in Manchester with visual arts including the Reader’s Park next to the Northshire Bookstore.

To determine times and current exhibits, either call each venue or call the Bennington Chamber of Commerce ( 802-447-3311) or the Manchester Chamber of Commerce (802-362-2100).

Dick Smith is best-selling author on Vermont history and lives in Manchester with his wife, Sharon.

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