Portraits paint a positive picture in Middlebury
These days it’s all too easy to get a little depressed when you think about the trajectory of the pandemic. We’re missing friends and family. We’re yearning to get out of the house and mingle, to be free of restrictions, to enjoy the theater and the arts.
We’re all going through a lot of pressure. It’s enough to make you wish some hero or heroine would take center stage and give us some reprieve.
Doug Lazarus, a longtime Middlebury resident and artist who recently relocated to Forest Dale, may not be a knight on a white horse, but he has put up a portrait installation in downtown Middlebury that helps divert our attention away from the pandemic’s dreariness and provide us a reason to trust in humanity’s better nature.
“I’m not a doom and gloom kind of person,” Lazarus said during a phone conversation before the holiday. “People need something upbeat right now, so I thought: How about celebrating people who have come out of Middlebury and gone on to do something of significance?”
His portrait project — which was installed mid-November on the new park green in Middlebury, just past the round-about — features seven portraits, done originally with oil on canvas, then enlarged and printed on 4- by 6-foot vinyl banners. The people Lazarus selected to paint were: Martin H. Freeman (1826-1889), Jim Douglas (1951- ), Alexander Twilight (1795-1857), Emma Hart Willard (1787-1870), Joseph Battell (1839-1915), John Deere (1804-1886), and Lillian Stroebe (1875-1959). Each portrait has a brief bio and lists the person’s main accomplishments.
Lazarus partnered with the town of Middlebury, Henry Sheldon Museum and Middlebury College to complete the project.
“The Sheldon Museum was pleased to act as fiscal agent and to partner with Doug Lazarus and Middlebury College on the portrait project,” said Henry Sheldon Museum director Bill Brooks. “Doug is an accomplished portrait and landscape artist, devoted to the Middlebury community, which he promotes with passion, enthusiasm and skill.”
Middlebury College President Laurie Patton echoed the sentiment: “Middlebury is pleased to support this wonderful public art project that celebrates key figures in Middlebury’s history — some of whom have not been as visible in the historical record. Naming their valuable contributions to the college and to society as educators is part of our contemporary purpose and historic mission.”
“What I did was so old fashioned — it was cutting edge,” Lazarus explained. “The portraits are representational/realistic… There were no full figure reference photos of the images I painted. I first did a sketch imagining the way the portrait would look (purely from my imagination) then, using pictorial research and adding missing details, completed the portrait in oil.”
The pieces, which will be on view through December, are straightforward and easy to connect with.
“What was needed to achieve the objective is the heroizing of these individuals,” Lazarus said. “It makes me feel good to remind people that human beings are to be viewed in a positive light… The world has heroes and we need to recognize them.”
For example, Freeman became America’s first African American college president at Allegheny Institute in Pennsylvania; Willard was an early champion of women’s education and founded a girls school in Middlebury; Deere invented a breakthrough design for the steel plow; and Stroebe established the immersion method of learning foreign languages. These heroes all faced challenges and came through victorious.
“Life is not supposed to be easy, but we need to meet the challenge,” Lazarus said.
So take a quick break, head downtown, check out the seven remarkable individuals that Lazarus painted and remember the heroes of our past. Who knows, it just might help us all to rise to our own challenges.
Editor’s Note: This exhibit is on display at College Park, located downtown at the junction of Routes 30 and 125 across from Shafer’s Market & Deli, and will be up until Dec. 31.
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