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Editorial: Create a holiday tradition; spend an hour at a museum

Middlebury’s museums are an overlooked, but very enjoyable, pastime. The art museum at Middlebury College offers some stunning and educational exhibits throughout the year; the Jackson Gallery on the lower floor of the Town Hall Theater prominently features area artists and is open for guests throughout the week — not just when attending a show upstairs; and you can spend the better part of an hour (or a day) at the excellent exhibits of the Vermont Folklife Center (next to Two Brothers Tavern), which currently features an exhibit on NOFA’s Vermont Farm Kids and another on Growing Food, Growing Farmers. The quality work in each of these exhibits exceeds one’s expectations at almost every turn (and don’t miss the Ginger Bread House exhibit going on at the Folklife Center these next couple of weeks before Christmas.)
But it’s the Sheldon Museum’s current exhibit on the holiday season that is of particular interest — and not just because it’s seasonal. It’s also fun, informative and uniquely focused on Middlebury and Addison County.
Trains are one of the themes of the Sheldon’s current exhibit, which is too good to try to put into words or capture in pictures. Set aside in one of the upstairs rooms, the miniature train exhibit is now in its 26th year and the train village and set gets better and better with each passing year. The big project this year was rebuilding the “old mountain” and replacing it with a new version — complete with a working gondola, mountain climbers scaling the faces or rappelling down, and skiers and snowboarders cruising down a slope that looks like it could pass for the famed Allen run at the Snow Bowl (with just a little imagination).
Dozens of volunteers have contributed over 250 hours of their time and, along with over $1,000 in improvements, to putting together this year’s exhibit — and already it’s a huge hit. One family came back four times in a single day because the family’s kids were so enthralled, Museum Associate Director Mary Manley told me this past Friday, and even Mary couldn’t resist the urge to turn on the trains — watching them go round and round the tracks and through the village scenes simply makes you smile — for a quick demo before the real engineers arrived later that day.
The Addison Independent featured a story about the exhibit in this past Thursday’s Arts + Leisure section, honing in on the work done by New Haven residents Larry Maier and Ed McGuire to rebuild the massive mountain with its mandatory tunnels and impressive cliffs, and also about the train exhibit’s history, starting as it did back in 1992. 
But what’s so cool about the Sheldon’s exhibit is that the museum connects it to history of trains in the Middlebury area. Old photos adorn the walls showing various trains roaring through Middlebury’s downtown, stopping at the old train depot and, in one photo, carrying Calvin Coolidge through town during his presidency. Other nearby train stations are captured in photos as well, putting the area’s train history in context with today’s work on the train tracks through town — exactly the kind of curating that makes the Sheldon so unique.
But before you even get to the train exhibit, enjoy a selection of miniature Christmas trees made by area artists (part of a raffle to benefit the museum), and two wonderful rooms exhibiting Christmas cards and greetings of old, as well as holiday artifacts belonging to the museum (and some loaned to the museum) for this special occasion.
It’s an exhibit not to miss just for the simple fact that it will make you smile. But more than that, taking the time to walk through a museum, gazing and talking about the artifacts — preferably with friends or family — will bring a joy to your heart because it gives us all reason to move at a slower pace and reflect on those things around us with a more introspective purpose. That’s a gift priceless in itself.

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