Middlebury College Museum of Art

News & Events

College Library Showcases American Visual Culture

January 19, 2007

“Searching for America”

Through March 25, 2007

For immediate release: 1/19/07
For further information contact: Sarah McCague, Graduate Intern at (802) 443–5796

Middlebury, VT—“Searching for America,” an exhibition of American material culture, will be on view in the Harmon Periodicals Reading Area of the Middlebury College library through Mar. 25. The exhibit’s twenty-two objects—including a pink flamingo, a vacuum cleaner cover in the shape of a maid, and a wall clock declaring “God Bless America” across the face—provide an illustration of the American obsession with “things.”

The exhibition was first conceived through a 2006 first-year seminar on American visual culture taught by Richard Saunders, director of the Middlebury College Museum of Art and Walter Cerf Distinguished College Professor. During the class the students studied the role that objects in particular play in American visual traditions. They later went on to purchase examples of these objects at the Christmas Tree Shops in Williston. Spending less than ten dollars on each item, the students sought objects representative of American society. Throughout the semester they researched the objects and wrote papers investigating the role each plays in American culture, most notably the incentive for both creating and purchasing such an item. The result is a wide array of objects revealing the many facets of our society.

A picture frame covered in historic baseball paraphernalia reaches at the most basic needs of Americans. Old newspaper clippings form a bridge between generations, while representations of America’s pastime itself create the feeling of family and community.

A polyester and cotton pillow with machine embroidery illustrates the need for mass produced products in the fast-paced American society. Yet, the embroidered sentimental tribute recalls the personal connections generated by hand-made gifts of past days. This machine-made pillow allows busy Americans to reconnect with emotions long forgotten.

A “Message in an Oil Bottle,” intended as a gift to commemorate an important life transition, also connects with the American desire for romance and mystery. Mythic tales of floating messages and passionate love affairs through letters allow for a future of possibility for the recipient of this gift.

Visions of sandy beaches are also conjured through a nightlight covered in a miniature Hawaiian shirt. The brightly colored cloth represents the carefree and joyful tropical lifestyle, the lifestyle envious Americans emulate during their beachside getaways.  The owners of this nightlight are able to comfort themselves and their children through its projected feelings of paradise and calm.

The exhibit was assembled and installed by two museum interns—Ljudmila Bilkic ’07, the 2006 Museum Summer Intern, and Sarah McCague ’06, the inaugural Ondaatje Graduate Intern.