Vermont: Arts, Biking, and More in the Green Mountain State
Vermont Has Beauty All Through Her
By Shane Fay
If you're searching for beautiful landscapes, incredible art, fantastic biking trails, an awesome craft beer scene, and plenty of great restaurants, you don't need to look any further than the state of Vermont. In New England's greenest state, the beauty of the land has clearly rubbed off on many other aspects of life. Jennifer Williams of the Vermont Arts Council touches on Vermont's distinction as an art and outdoors mecca:
"A lesser-known fact is that while in Vermont, you’re often in the company of artists. Vermont ranks third in the nation for artists as a percentage of its workforce, second for writers, and eighth for both musicians and photographers. The abundance of towns with stunning vistas, unrushed roads, and hidden art gems provide an immersive 'arts and outdoors' experience."
You simply can't escape Vermont's aesthetic quality no matter your reason for coming to the Green Mountain State! But if you do find yourself in Vermont, you really must stop and smell the roses. My father and I really enjoyed exploring Vermont's extensive cultural scene, beginning with the Stephen Huneck Gallery at Dog Mountain.
Stephen Huneck's Incredible Vision
Surrounded by the stunning scenery of St. Johnsbury, Vermont, Dog Mountain houses Stephen Huneck's creative giclee's, furniture, woodcut prints, and other masterpieces including the Dog Chapel. The gallery's opening was slightly delayed on the day of our visit so my dad and I decided to explore the hiking trails, the pond area, and of course, the Dog Chapel.
The hiking trails and pond offer visitors, human and canine, a great space to walk and to explore. Beautiful flowers line the hiking trails and the backdrop of St. Johnsbury provides lovely mountain views.
After getting a good first glimpse of Stephen Huneck's artwork and mission, the gallery's doors opened and we headed inside. We were greeted by a massive and friendly Bernese Mountain Dog that made more than ten of my dog.
The gallery was full of Huneck's dog-themed art pieces, as well as much of his other work, including an interesting liquor cabinet and some religion-related woodwork. Mr. Huneck's artistic brilliance was remarkable and I was tempted to purchase one of his sculptures, but I'm a college student so that just wasn't an option financially. However, my dad walked away with some souvenirs, including some reprints of Stephen Huneck's popular giclee's.
The Stephen Huneck Gallery at Dog Mountain, apart from being a peaceful, scenic, and masterful attraction, also hosts plenty of events for humans and dogs which you can check out here. This first stop on our Vermont arts excursion was a very positive indication of what was to come.
There's Nothing Quite Like the Bread & Puppet Museum
"We are the Bread & Puppet Theater because we offer good old sourdough rye bread together with a great variety of puppet shows, some good, some not so good, but all for the good and against the bad.
"The art of puppetry helps women, men and children alike to overcome the established order and the obsessive submission to its politics and consequent brutalities," said Peter Schumann, founder of the Bread & Puppet Theater and Museum.
We drove into Glover, Vermont, down Route 122. As we approached the Bread & Puppet Museum, I got the feeling that I was going back in time to the summer of love in the late 1960s. The volunteers and puppeteers that make up the Bread & Puppet Theater were enjoying a communal lunch outdoors on a bright, sunny day.
The volunteers and puppeteers that make up the Bread & Puppet Theater were enjoying a communal lunch outdoors on a bright, sunny day.
We pulled into a small dirt parking lot next to a couple of older gentlemen who were very polite and asked us where we were from and so on. We followed the men inside the massive barn that houses the museum and were instantly awestruck.
Paper Mache Puppets
Paper mache puppets, wall art, three-dimensional works, and more covered the first aisle of the Bread & Puppet Museum. The unique and innovative style of Peter Schumann was becoming clear as we paraded around the first floor of the Bread & Puppet Theater.
One of the men with who we talked with earlier had said, "Wait until you see the upstairs." After seeing the historically and socially profound artwork on the first floor, I didn't think there was a chance that the second floor could be much greater. But, boy was I wrong.
Perhaps the largest paper mache structures and the most interesting-looking creations I had ever seen stood tall above me on the Bread & Puppet Museum's second floor. Ten-foot-tall renderings of the founding fathers, a character named Uncle Fatso, and this funny-looking guy with his tongue exposed were just a few of the crazy and cool things I saw on the second floor.
Among other pieces that my dad and I witnessed was a mask measuring 18 feet in length that could have easily substituted as a wall in a large house, a group of garbage men, and an Archbishop. I really have never seen, and likely will never see, any sort of display quite like the Bread & Puppet Museum.
The Bread & Puppet Museum's massive contents and "population density is an expression not only of the accumulations of time but of the urgencies which inspired the making of so much stuff: the poverty of the poor, the arrogance of the war-mongers, the despair of the victims, and maybe even stronger than that, the glory of this whole God-given world," as is stated on their informational brochure.
A Walk Through Stowe, Vermont
My dad and I enjoyed a very green car ride from the Northeast Kingdom to Stowe. When we arrived in Stowe, we noticed a lovely vibe that suits small towns with a lot going on. A busy main road surrounded by restaurants, churches, shops, and of course, art, provided a lovely setting for another arts exploration.
The Helen Day Art Center in Stowe was hosting its "Exposed" exhibition that features various sculptures throughout the center of Stowe. From Morpheus, to Lady, to Fulcrum, Zipper, and much more, "Exposed" boasts tons of personality with sculptures from multiple artists, one of whom runs the West Branch Gallery and Sculpture Park in Stowe.
As we walked from Main Street down to the Stowe Recreational Path, we stopped and examined the wonderful structures of the exhibition. Each and every piece complimented the physical surroundings of the center of Stowe.
Apart from the lovely "Exposed" exhibition, the Helen Day Art Center has a lot of other exhibitions, events, classes and much more. To check out all of the great offerings and features of the Helen Day Art Center.
Now we could have easily walked to our next and final arts destination, but we decided to drive to the West Branch Gallery and Sculpture Park. As we began to explore the outdoor sculpture park, we noticed a lot of cool masterpieces from spherical to stone-carved works.
Hidden in the Trees
There were even some you had to go searching for that were hidden in the trees and narrow paths. The sculpture park even had some routes leading to a nearby river. Some of the artwork looked familiar as we later discovered that some of the same artists had work in the "Exposed" exhibition.
After a beautiful walk through the Park, we went inside to check out the gallery. We were greeted by some very friendly people, including Chris Curtis, whose Zipper piece was featured in "Exposed." Mr. Curtis runs the gallery and sculpture park with his wife.
The modern gallery features a variety of vases and smaller sculptures, as well as a plethora of fantastic, emotion-evoking paintings. Chris Curtis even showed us his studio in which he often works on his trademark stone masterpieces.
Commenting on his artful use of stones, Curtis said, "In my work with stone, I like to begin not with quarried blocks but with natural stones as they are found in nature. They each have a story of a very long personal past. They pass through the present very quickly and, with altered identities, continue their journeys into an unimaginably long future."
I really enjoyed meeting Mr. Curtis, as did my dad. His gallery and sculpture park truly is unique for many reasons. Curtis said, "You go to other galleries and you see things that may make you say 'hmm, that's interesting.' You come to this gallery and you see the art and you feel something. You may not be able to put it into words but you feel something. Art is all about the experience."
The Park has plenty of cool exhibitions featuring great artists. Click here to learn more.
More Vermont Art
The arts scene in Vermont doesn't stop at these four locations and it would be impossible to cover all of Vermont's galleries and other types of art destinations, especially because of the sheer size of Vermont's massive art arena. But, here are just a few more artsy destinations to check out when you're in Vermont:
Cold Hollow Sculpture Park is home to a large group of towering sculptures in Enosburg Falls, Vermont.
The St. Johnsbury Athenaeum features tons of cool paintings including the famous "Domes of Yosemite" painting.
Also in St. Johnsbury is the Fairbanks Museum & Planetarium, which houses art, various collections and expeditions, and Vermont's only public planetarium.
Northeastern Vermont's only full-service arts center is Catamount Arts which hosts various events and shows, classes, workshops, and more.
To learn more about Vermont's extensive arts scene, visit the Vermont Arts Council website.
Biking in the Green Mountains
The biking scene in Vermont is equally, or dare I say even more, beautiful at the arts scene in Vermont. It's no surprise that Vermont is filled to the brim with artists; the scenery of the Green Mountain State surely stirs up a good deal of inspiration in painters, sculptors, and other artists.
The numerous bike trails of Vermont provide enough scenic backdrops to fill one million postcards. In Northern Vermont, where my dad and I rode, this sentiment became immediately obvious.
We met up with Jess Sechler, the Sales and Marketing Director at Burke Mountain, to get a good idea of where to ride in the area and to learn more about biking's dominance during Vermont summers.
In the town of East Burke, there was a small center with bike shops a plenty, and we noticed a lot of families gearing up to ride at Burke Mountain Bike Park. Regarding the popularity of mountain biking in the area, Jess Sechler said, "There's a real sense of community when it comes to mountain biking." This became very clear at the Burke Mountain Bike Park.
The Burke Mountain Bike Park offers different trails ranging from beginner to professional. Per skiburke.com, the park was voted one of the top five regional bike parks by riders throughout the Northeastern United States. Burke Mountain Bike Park features downhill, machine-excavated, single track, and jump trails in its diverse offerings.
Because neither I or my dad had ever done downhill mountain biking, and considering my dad's fear of heights, we decided to do some cross country mountain biking at the nearby Kingdom Trails.
Kingdom Trails has an extensive network of biking trails for non-motorized bikes. The natural diversity and natural scenery of the Kingdom Trails network are what makes this particular grouping of trails so spectacular. Between Up & Downing, Heaven's Bench, and countless other breathtakingly gorgeous trails, Kingdom Trails is a great spot to ride bikes or just enjoy some fantastic views.
Once my dad and I were in Stowe, we went for another bike ride, this time at the Trapp Family Lodge. First off, let me just say that the view from the Trapp Family Lodge was absolutely incredible and the perhaps the best view I've ever seen in person. And as we hit the bike trails, the scenery never degraded.
We rode through the woods on some winding trails that were definitely meant for more experienced riders. The previous day's rain resulted in some muddy terrain so our riding was cut short. Nonetheless, the challenging yet fun trails at the Trapp Family Lodge provided a lot of entertainment and exercise for my dad and me.
More Mountain Biking in VT
Just outside the town of Barre, Vermont, are the Millstone Trails. With historic quarry sites, exceptional trails, and challenging, diverse terrain, the Millstone Trails are a great biking and hiking destination.
New biking and multi-purpose trails have opened at Little River State Park in Waterbury, Vermont. The Commissioner of the Vermont Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation said, "With our dedicated staff and volunteers, state parks and forests are excellent places to host public, sustainably built trails, and we are so excited to offer more miles of mountain bike, multiple-use trails at one of our most popular state parks, Little River,” regarding the extension of Little River State Park's trails extension.
For more info on biking destinations in Vermont, visit the Vermont State Parks' website.
We were lucky enough to have stayed in two lovely hotels over the course of our visit. First, we stayed at the Burke Mountain Hotel & Conference Center in East Burke, Vermont.
The hotel is perched up on Burke Mountain where one side looks up the steep mountain pass and the other side sees an incredible view of Willoughby's Gap and a very green Vermont.
Complimentary wifi, large rooms, a great restaurant, a coffee shop, and a heated outdoor pool highlight this high up hotel. And as a guest, you are not far from the center of East Burke where you can grab a bite, rent bikes, and more.
The second night, we were guests at the Trapp Family Lodge. Apart from the aforementioned mountain biking, the Trapp Family Lodge is known for its cross country skiing, Austrian Tea Room, Bier Hall, and of course the family on which The Sound of Music is based.
They even offer a history tour, that my dad and I took, which teaches you about the history of the real Von Trapp family and their coming to America.
Other Attractions and Restaurants
Obviously, the biking and arts scene in Vermont is vast enough to take multiple different trips to Vermont.
Harrison's Restaurant & Bar (where I had venison for the first time) offers delicious gourmet food, outdoor and indoor seating, and a nice view of Stowe's Main Street!
Also in Stowe, Vermont, is Ideltyme Brewing Company, a restaurant with its own craft beers, unique food offerings, and one-of-a-kind furnishings!
There's plenty more to see and do in Vermont, but the biking and arts scene should not be ignored.
And like Jennifer Williams said, "You can experience Vermont’s natural beauty along hundreds of miles of biking trails, and enjoy galleries, concerts and arts festivals when not clipped in."
For more information on biking and arts in Vermont, visit these websites:
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Shane Fay is a creative writer and soccer enthusiast from Shrewsbury, Massachusetts intent on traveling across Europe to enhance his knowledge of the beautiful game, and explore the vast and various landscapes that the continent has to offer.