By JOHN FLOWERS
MIDDLEBURY — Addison County residents are taking a lead role in organizing a major art exhibit that will tour through some major cities and venues next year celebrating Lake Champlain and the 400th anniversary of its naming by French explorer Samuel de Champlain.
Dubbed “Champlain’s Lake Rediscovered,” the exhibit will boast 50 works — primarily paintings — submitted exclusively by Vermont artists. In 2009, the collection will meander its way through the six major institutions: Shelburne Farms Coach Barn, the National Arts Club in New York City, the Boston Public Library, The Museum of Contemporary Art in Washington, D.C., the Chaffee Art Gallery in Rutland and the Southern Vermont Art Center in Manchester.
The show — the only visual arts feature from Vermont in next year’s quadricentennial celebration of Lake Champlain — is the brainchild of Middlebury artist Doug Lazarus. Lazarus is serving as curator of the exhibit, while Ripton-based artist Jean Cherouny is coordinating the endeavor.
The exhibit’s major sponsor is the nonprofit Willowell Foundation, an Addison County-based organization that supports projects connecting the arts, education and the environment.
“This is the first time, according to the Vermont Arts Council, that Vermont art has every traveled to major cities as ‘Vermont art,’” Lazarus said of the exhibit. “This (show) will declare that Vermont has a seriously competent art community in it.”
Lazarus conceived of the exhibit last year as a way to showcase Vermont artists, export images of the lake in this special anniversary, and provide an added incentive for tourists to come to the Green Mountain State.
Organizers believe Vermont has made strides in recent years as a destination point for artists who had previously practiced their crafts in urban areas. As those cities have grown more and more expensive, large numbers of painters, sculptors and craftspeople have made their way to the Green Mountain State.
“Now, we have a wealth of artists,” Lazarus said. “They have also brought a sophisticated style.”
Champlain’s Lake Rediscovered will soon send out several hundred invitations to artists and galleries throughout the state that may want to submit works for the exhibit. Interested artists will have until Sept. 15 to hand in their work. Lazarus anticipates the exhibit will draw a few hundred entries. He will winnow that initial lot to a crop of finalists that will be judged by a statewide panel. That panel will determine the 50 works that will make the cut for the exhibit.
“Anything that is truly amateur is not going to make it,” Lazarus said.
Nor are organizers seeking commercial depictions of the lake and its environs.
“We’re not looking for picture postcards here,” Lazarus said. “We are looking for work that will be treated respectfully when it goes to the urban centers.”
He hopes submitting artists will use abstract, impressionistic and other creative techniques to impart what they believe is the true essence of the lake and the feelings it evokes in the people who view it.
“We’re looking at creativity and professionalism as the two categories,” Lazarus said.
The exhibit will also celebrate Abenaki culture. Nationally known Abenaki artist Gerard Tsonakwa will craft a mask that will represent the “spirit of Lake Champlain” and will serve as the logo for the show, according to Lazarus.
Artists will be given some flexibility in producing their works. Lazarus said the only real stipulation for submitted artwork is that it be two-dimensional, on surfaces no smaller than 20-inches-by-30-inches and no larger than 36-inches-by-48-inches. While many artists are likely to use canvas and oil paints or pastels as their tools, Lazarus knows of two participating artists who plan to go in different directions. One is using wood enameling techniques, and another will blend linoleum into her work.
Lazarus estimates it will cost $100,000 to organize and stage the exhibit. That includes packaging the artwork, trucking it to the venues, insurance, receptions and printing the art catalogue.
“It’s only because I’ve been up here for 25 years that I know how to stretch the dollar,” said Lazarus, who added such an undertaking could reasonably be expected to cost $300,000.
Lazarus continues to apply for grants to cover the needed funding. While state tourism and arts organizations have been supportive, they have thus far been unable to contribute any money toward Champlain’s Lake Rediscovered.
Still, Lazarus is optimistic.
“We will close the gap,” he said.
Lazarus will soon firm up a Web site for the exhibit that will feature more details and contacts. In the meantime, anyone seeking more information about the project can reach Lazarus at 388-0239.