Blog :: 05-2014

Woodstock's New-Generation Library Maintains Old-School Connections

Norman Williams Public LibraryIf you are like me, you have an old-school attachment to the local library. My attachment goes back to the stacks of books where I could become lost in my imagination as a kid, the cozy rooms where I hung out with friends after school whispering about our favorite stories, and the card catalogues that were written in impenetrable code I never deciphered.

Woodstock’s Norman Williams Public Library has maintained this old-school charm (frankly, I prefer ‘historical’, not ‘old’), but they also offer all of the resources required by the technologically savvy kids that collect on its steps at the end of the school day. They provide two rows of computer terminals for public use. The kids don’t need to ask a lot of questions but, for their elders (aka techno-dinos) who are feeling a little lost, the library schedules one-on-one tutoring.

When I was younger, one of the great things about going to the library was seeing my friends and simply getting out of the house. The Norman Williams Public Library knows it is in competition with electronic media, so they continually develop creative programs tailored to the needs of residents in the greater Woodstock area. The programs are ever-changing and wide-ranging.  I don’t know of another library with enough creative juice to host a support group for the addicts of Downton Abbey who suffer withdrawal at season’s end while developing a Business Effectiveness Series for local professionals who want to strengthen their communication skills and sharpen marketing tools. They do all of this while simultaneously hosting story reading for pre-schoolers in the magical children’s section.  

I would say this is not your grandma’s library, but the truth is that it still is your grandma’s library and her grandkids’ too. The library still has everything grandma loved and has evolved and adapted itself to the modern world. The Norman Williams Public Library continues to nurture young readers with the generation-appropriate tools kids are reared on these days, in a venue where they can connect with their friends and neighbors to share the joy of learning.  

The Norman Williams Public Library Mission: The library enriches the intellectual and cultural life of the Woodstock community by providing access to literature, culture, current information, and technology; promoting the love of reading; fostering the free and open exchange of ideas; serving as a gathering place for people of all ages; and supporting lifelong learning for all.


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Woodstock History

You See Route 4? I see a RailwayWoodstock Bridge

The next time you’re driving along route 4 through Quechee, on your way to Woodstock, think about what the landscape may have looked like a hundred or so years ago. If you visualize pasture-dotted landscapes fanning out around your paid seat on a locomotive; you have an insight into what the new director of the Woodstock History Center, Matthew Powers, sees during that same drive.

I doubt Matthew is given to hallucinations, but he does love to think about history as a continuous story of places and the people living there. He says that he likes the historical perspective this particular daydream projects on to the landscape, which draws travelers along the same path today as it did a hundred years ago, “though perhaps the mode of transport is different.”

It is a given that time will pass and the spaces we occupy will change, possibly on a massive scale, over the generations. For this reason, it is great that we have a passionate and active historical society in the center of Woodstock providing us with a collective memory of our community through time.

The Woodstock History Center has all of the books, pictures, galleries, and exhibits to keep a history buff occupied a millennium, but what I enjoy most are the events they host. The Center makes history fun, and they take full advantage of holidays to share the joy of learning about our town. Halloween is one example, when they put on “Spooky Woodstock,” to bring us all back into the mindset of our slightly more superstitious ancestors. The History Center uses the Village Green to put on skits about the vampire that is buried there (Eat your heart out Count, so to speak) and then members light a fire on the History Center lawn so folks can gather ‘round and listen to local ghost lore. (Woodstock was the site of the classic film “Ghost Story” with Fred Astaire, John Housman and Patricia Neal to name a few stars and showcases many local vistas and buildings).

According to Matthew, the Woodstock History Center hosts one or two lectures per month, covering topics as far ranging as medicinal plants, Woodstock’s role in conservation, and the Civil War. They bring in crowds of twenty to fifty year around, which is a pretty impressive turnout in a small town venue. It gives you an idea of how much people in this area appreciate their history.

With the realization that a lot of our history is captured in the memories of local elders and passed down in the oral tradition of rural Vermont: the Woodstock History Center is dedicated to recording the voices of those who still remember and are willing to share. Matthew hopes to increase the tape and transcript library they have begun so that those who visit can “actually hear the voices” of history.

The Woodstock History Center is open year-round and often rents out its Library and lawn for a variety of functions like weddings, educational events, and local festivities. Their mission is to collect and preserve evidence of the history of Woodstock and surrounding communities, to provide leadership in local history education, and to provide a forum for public study and discussion of current issues which have a strong bearing on the history of the region. I’ve shortened this for the purposes of my blog, but you can find their mission in full at


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Woodstock Community and Artistree

Woodstock Community Artistree and GalleryDeep Roots for the Creative Soul

I love the name Artistree. It reminds me of old growth—a place where the intrepid artist can explore wild ideas and beautiful realities in a firmly rooted community of people who endeavor to express themselves creatively. Maybe this is why Kathleen Dolan (Artistree’s visionary founder) chose this name for the community arts center and gallery she opened in Woodstock a decade ago.

Artistree’s public mission describes the organization as “a non-profit committed to making creative expression and its appreciation accessible to our community.” They do this by offering arts and crafts classes to people of all ages and abilities. Whether you like to sing, dance, play instruments, bend yourself into a yoga pretzel, draw, paint, sculpt or test your eyesight with needlepoint; Artistree is designed to provide resources to help you express yourself creatively. They even offer a class that uses pastels as a path toward personal growth.

(If you will indulge my tree metaphor a little longer), the people who work with Artistree seem to become grafted to the Artistree trunk like sturdy branches that enhance the beauty of the whole. For example: Annette Compton, a well known local artist who recently succumbed to cancer, was a regular teacher. Annette was a gifted painter who developed quite a following at Artistree and her death did not end her contributions to the arts center. Thanks to her mother, Trish Compton, Annette’s legacy continues to support the center she loved in life through a scholarship program. According to Kathleen, one of the goals of Artistree is to “make it so that nobody is turned away.” The contribution left behind in Annette’s honor helps achieve this goal.

Artistree has been stimulating minds young and old in Woodstock since 2003 and will be celebrating their ten-year anniversary by moving to a new location in South Pomfret. By the end of the summer of 2014, they will be located in a dramatically renovated dairy barn directly behind the Teago General Store. Kathleen believes the new space will be “a much more accommodating space for art classes.” You might even say it has been a treemendous success..or then again, you might not.


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The Beat of Horse Hooves Leads Nature's Rhythm

HorsesThe Green Mountain Horse Association (GMHA) has been around since 1926. If you said this about a trucking business, your mind might travel back over the years and wonder what the trucks looked like back then.  Trucks, like everything in the modern world, have picked up the pace to race around the clock. Everything moves at full gallop on a 24/7 schedule.  Horses, though, have evolved over 50 million years and change comes more slowly in nature.  Somehow I find it comforting to watch a horse extend its head and nip a bunch of grass beside a brook and take time to savor the taste.

I grew up on a small ranch outside of Tucson, Arizona where we raised Quarter Horses and much of our own food. My experiences on the ranch and in 4H Club (my brothers and I were members for years) instilled in me an appreciation for the rhythm of living things moving mindful only of the moment. GMHA offers us an opportunity to change our pace to the particular rhythms that surround horses.  

Located on Route 106, past the South Woodstock store, GMHA is an integral part of the Woodstock community. In fact, the Tuck School of Business recently completed a study on the impact GMHA has had on its local economy, and found that they had injected a whopping $4.2 million per annum through direct impacts (visitors eating and shopping locally) as well as indirect impacts (the contractors brought in for upkeep of the property).

The true impact, or the one that matters most to me, is the chance GMHA gives to local children and families and those from nearby states and countries (well, really just one country—Canada) visit GMHA to experience working hands-on with horses.  Vermonters might take country life for granted, but those from more crowded places may not have the resources to board and raise their own horses (it should be noted that GMHA does not have horses, so children bring their own).  In addition to teaching children riding skills, GMHA shows them how to care for a horse.  They learn basic grooming, nutrition, and veterinary care through programs like the Junior Horsemanship Clinic.  Horses are an expensive hobby, so GMHA provides a variety of scholarships for qualifying riders.

GMHA is a great place to stop or plan an afternoon of fun for the family. There is no entrance fee to watch the shows, so you can hang out for the day and watch the horses and riders go through their paces.  You’ll be able to share in a moment or two petting the horses or talking to the riders while they are at rest. You can bring a brown bag snack, but GMHA has a sweet little café, which is open for events.

GMHA has something going on at all times of year, even winter, since horse lovers passions don’t wax and wane with the weather.  GMHA has many events planned, so you’ll want to check out their schedule. From my perspective, the must-see events are the Team Jumper Challenge and Lobster Bake in July (no the lobster isn’t local) and Chef’s Night (yes, they are local), and sample sumptuous fare.

GMHA’s Mission: GMHA is dedicated to providing and maintaining opportunities for educational and competitive activities for diverse equestrian disciplines; emphasis is placed on equestrian trails preservation, horsemanship and youth education.  


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Quantifying the Arts

After graduating from Dartmouth, Serena Nelson first worked with the Hopkins Center for the Arts. She spent two summers at her local opera company before taking a job with the Pentangle Arts Council. She was hired to work in the Pentangle administrative offices but her background and skills quickly earned her a place on the production team for the summer’s performance of Oz. As stage manager, Serena helped Director RLee Adams coordinate the exuberant energy of a multi-generational cast.

Serena continues to work in the administrative offices and glows when you ask her about her experiences with Oz. Part of her excitement is born from the spark of creative talent meeting need. The other part is clearly the kindling of her gift working with children eager to fire their own imaginations.

At the heart of the Pentangle mission is a commitment to encouraging “accessible multi-generational arts experiences and the participation of both current and future audiences.” Pentangle began, in 1974, as an arts council serving a five-town area with Woodstock at its center and now reaches a diverse community including Barnard, Bridgewater, Reading, Pomfret, Quechee, Killington, Hartford, Hartland, Sharon, Bethel, Plymouth, and beyond.

Pentangle provides a local venue where we can share rare performance experiences, quality films of general and limited distribution, concerts provided by gifted musicians and consciousness-expanding education series. The scope of entertainment ranges from simple community events like the annual snow-sculpture festival (Vermont Flurry) and summertime concerts on the Village Green (Brown Bag Concert Series) to a performance by Judy Collins at Christmas. The Council works with area schools and non-profits, providing programming for several thousand school kids each year through the ‘Dana Emmons Arts in Education Program’.

Pentangle and the arts are where I dedicate most of our firm’s financial gifts dedicated to community support. The premise behind so many spending decisions today, both public and private, is based an objective criteria of a ‘dollars and cents’ economic benefit. The educational emphasis in school today on test-driven ‘Three R’s’ is missing one important ‘R’; the one in ‘aRts’.

As I see it, the greatest contribution of our local Pentangle Arts Council is the opportunity it offers local talent to explore and expand their abilities and to communicate personal creative vision. Another incalculable benefit is broadening and deepening artistic experiences in a world in need of a muse.

I believe the most quantifiable thing in life is the quality of existence and our human need and desire to share it. Art enables us to communicate the infinite variety of ways we experience the world in the isolated shells of ourselves. Art, in its many forms, expressed—in shades, sounds, shapes and words—builds bridges of understanding that defy destruction.


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