Vermont Arts Council

The Progression of Flight

There’s a compelling exhibit at the West Branch Gallery in Stowe. “Flight: Explorations in Movement, Migration, and Freedom” was curated by Tari Swenson, but only after an incubation period of years. She long considered showing just birds, but the concept did not feel whole. News coverage of Syrian refugees brought the idea strength to fly.

Flight is movement. Movement includes seeking refuge. Art speaks of all human experience.

Work by Syrian artists now fills one room of the gallery at West Branch. Among other pieces, there are bright paintings by Lukman Ahmad, bubble-themed photographs by Khaled Youssef and provocative prints by Tamman Azzam. Some of the artists have escaped execution, some might not.

Details from work in the show. Left: Carol O’Malia. Top right and bottom center: Kim Radochia. Center: Johanne Yordan. Bottom right: Dana Wigdor.

Flight also has a lighter side. Touring other rooms, you’ll feel the trajectory of a jumping boy or the swirling of hundreds of birds in a murmuration. Admire perfect placement of aluminum butterfly wings above doors looking out on the sculpture park. Smile at Dana Wigdor’s flying widgets. Enjoy just birds.

Student art is upstairs. Teachers from the local elementary, middle, and high schools collaborated on projects that involved all grade levels. First graders invented birds, drew and sculpted them. High schoolers followed with their own ceramic interpretation. Fifth graders painted birds of their choice, including a cardinal portrait heavily influenced by the St. Louis baseball team.

West Branch Begins

The first show at West Branch was outdoor sculpture by Chris Curtis and John Matusz in 1992; it was not until eight years later the indoor space would evolve from tennis courts to art gallery. Tari painted inside and was developing relationships with other Vermont artists, including Janet Fredericks, Lois Eby, and Craig Mooney.

Piece by elementary school student Luca DeRuzza.

Chris Curtis and Tari are partners in life and business. Their careers reached a tipping point, a time when Tari said they decided, “We should do this. We can grow old and be gallerists, and see how it goes.” Tari cops to whims, easy tears, and idealist plans, explaining, “I’m an artist, what do you expect?”

The shape of the venture was largely informed by a trip up Canyon Road in Sante Fe (New Mexico). Tari and Chris decided to “…go up the road and take note of which ones (galleries) beckon us to go in.” They agreed to ask themselves, “Why did we choose that one to go in? Is it the red door, is it music, is it the art on the lawn? We were really diligent. Then, if we did go in, what was our experience? Was the person too attentive, were they not attentive enough?”

One particular shop stands out in her memory. When they told the proprietor the purpose of their visit, Tari remembers, “He was informative, interesting, and interested in us. And we thought, ‘o.k., that’s who we want to be.’ Accessible, open, and informative. And appreciative! Appreciative that someone decided to come in. When we came back, we had that information.”

Tari hasn’t painted for five years. Making the gallery is her art. She loves the work she shows at West Branch and loves the artists. “Everyone’s passionate. That’s what makes their art so great.” Her admiration and respect show as she says, “It is a spiritual thing that happens. I believe these paintings have the energy of the painter,” and “I know what the artists sacrifice to do their work.”

Getting There


The gallery is easy to find. Drop off the Mountain Road (or the bike path) between Sushi Yoshi and the Rusty Nail. A massive stone sculpture and stepping stones lead you to the sculpture park, or Gordon Auchincloss’ “Compass” greets you outside the gallery door. Tari is likely to greet you inside, tell you all about the work, and appreciate that you’ve come in.

Flight:Explorations in Movement, Migration, and Freedom is up through June 26, 2016.

100% of the commission from the sales of Syrian artwork and a portion of all other sales will benefit the  International Committee of the Red Cross in Syria and Yalla! Pour les Enfants.

Image top left: From one of two videos by Syrian artist Manhal Issa (now living in Paris) which are a part of the exhibit. He states “My intention is not political, but human.”

Photo album here.

Susan McDowell