Art exhibit reveals wealth of talent

MIDDLEBURY — When Jo Birnbaum proposed an art show at her home, the Lodge at Otter Creek in Middlebury, she expected to get just a few submissions from the creative people she knew lived in the complex.
But the outpouring of enthusiasm for the exhibit, which went up in mid-May, brought in 84 submissions from residents and staff, who could each submit two works.
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Art at the lodge
“What was exciting about the whole show was that as things came in, we’d say, ‘Oh! we didn’t know she did that!’” Birnbaum said.
The artwork is on display throughout the lobby, the hallways and a bright, couch-filled room at the Lodge. Works run the gamut from photography, sculpture, etchings, watercolors, oil painting and needlework to woven scarves and wooden furniture.
The exhibition was originally planned to be a one-week show, but it was extended first to two weeks and then to three. Now the exhibit will be on display to the public through Monday, June 20.
The attention to the arts from the residents at the Lodge at Otter Creek isn’t new. Two experienced painters, Jim Borden and Virginia Folino — both of whom have artwork on display in the exhibition — teach drawing classes to other residents every Friday.
Many of the art pieces are from the time before residents arrived at the Lodge. Birnbaum’s two polished wooden sculptures are from many years ago, when she began attending classes at an art studio in Westchester, N.Y.
“I lost my daughter, who was my youngest child, at 17 in a plane crash,” said Birnbaum. “After that I had to do something.”
She quickly progressed from drawing to sculpting — clay, stone, wood and bronze casting — which became a lifelong endeavor. Now she does wax with bronze casting.
“Art is my great love,” she said.
Like Birnbaum’s carved sculptures, many of the submissions reflect the artists’ pasts — their hometowns, their travels and their past occupations. Folino submitted two paintings that she did many years ago, one of the Stonington, Maine, a fishing village where she made her home, and one still-life of a yellow room with flowers and a bowl of fruit.
And Borden submitted two watercolors as well, one of a barn door that he remembered from his uncle’s farm growing up, and a colorful, angular one of downtown Middlebury.
“I think this is about the 10th time I’ve done Middlebury,” he said. “It’s a favorite subject of mine.”
For some residents of the Lodge, retirement has been an opportunity to push forward with artistic endeavors. Beth Toor’s small loom is on display in the lobby, alongside a deep green woven scarf with a peacock-feather design.
Toor said she tries to spend a couple hours a day weaving, though life at the Lodge does tend to fill up with activities. But now that she’s not working full-time and raising a family, she’s more flexible. She estimated that the intricate scarf took her between 30 and 40 hours to craft, but she said that hardly gives the full picture — she’s had lots of practice.
“It’s also the 30 years beforehand,” she said. “If I were trying to make money off it, I would have to keep records. But I give them as Christmas presents.”
And some artwork is on display in memory of residents who have passed away, on loan from friends and family. On display in a place of honor are two sunset pastels by Murray Snyder, who did artwork as a side hobby while he was a practicing doctor. And an intricately painted wooden duck rocker holds a photo of Al Berens, another resident who has died. Berens made toys like these for his grandchildren in retirement.
The best part of the show, said Birnbaum, was seeing the wide variety of talent present at the Lodge.
“We knew we had a lot of talented people here, and we thought, wouldn’t it be fun to share our gifts with our neighbors?” said Birnbaum. “We were very surprised at what came out. It was amazing.”
Reporter Andrea Suozzo is at [email protected].

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