When the Slate Valley Museum’s summer intern, program and visitor services assistant Estelle Kearns, asked about the possibility of organizing a small exhibition, Executive Director Sarah Kijowski couldn’t wait to hear her idea.
Kearns is a Castleton native and recent graduate of College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts, where she double-majored history and philosophy. Having grown up in a Slate Valley town, the slate industry isn’t new to her. And neither is the landscape. She returned home after graduation and found summer work at the museum.
“I grew up around slate,” notes Kearns. “I visited the museum as a school student in my younger years.”
Kearns’ work at the museum has taken her in many directions over the course of the last few months. She’s helped develop programs, organize fundraising events, lead tours, and research objects in the museum’s collection.
“I knew about the pencil mill in Castleton, having grown up there,” Kearns adds. “When I was doing some research and saw the pencils in the museum’s collection, I realized it was probably a story that most people don’t know about.”
The idea of juxtaposing an industrial topic with art is also something that intrigued Kearns. That’s when she went to Sarah Kijowski with the idea of an exhibit that blends historic narrative with locally produced contemporary art connected to the same location.
“My dad paints. He paints natural scenes of the area,” Kearns said. “And it struck me that those natural scenes are where the old mill used to be. The mills and many slate quarries that were used and are no longer active have sort of been reclaimed by nature and they’re now part of those scenes. I thought it would be interesting to tell the story of those pencils alongside visual representations of how the landscape they were crafted in appears now, many, many years after the mill closed.”
The resulting exhibit, Made in Castleton: Paintings and Pencils, will offer an historical overview of the production of slate pencils, which were carved out of slate and used to write or draw on slate chalkboards. The installation will also feature paintings by Tom Kearns, also of Castleton, who takes his inspiration from the early morning scenes of nature on Lake Bomoseen and the surrounding area.
“This exhibit explores a little-known topic, that of slate pencils,” remarked Kijowski. “But it also helps root us in a location, to help us see the industrial landscape as a piece of a larger landscape. Part of what we want to do here at the museum is help cultivate a sense of place… what is the Slate Valley? Estelle’s exhibition is one way for us to explore one corner of it.”
The new exhibition will open with a reception on Friday, Sept. 23 from 7-9 p.m at Slate Valley in Granville, New York. The price to attend the opening is $10, or free for museum members. Anyone with questions can call the museum at 518-642-1417 or email [email protected]