Brattleboro Museum & Art Center exhibits offer a unique focus on winter
By Kevin O’Connor
Emmy Award-winning lensman Federico Pardo has circled the globe for such clients as National Geographic and Univision. But, in his recent downtime, he has focused not on the warmth of his native Latin America, but instead on the cool sight of ice fishing in southern Vermont.
“I first thought, ‘Who would want to sit on a frozen pond for hours on end to wait for a fish?’” Pardo says. “Then I saw the look of the shanties and the landscape of winter — a world I had never seen before. All of the elements were attractive to me.”
Environmental journalist Erik Hoffner boasts an equally expansive career as a contributor to publications ranging from Orion magazine to the international nature news website Mongabay.com. But, he too is happy to center his camera on the icy waters near his home in Western Massachusetts.
“When fishing holes refreeze overnight, they create fertile ground for nature’s wild artistic side,” Hoffner says. “These perfectly augered circles become worlds at once interstellar and cellular, dreamlike and tactile.”
Pardo and Hoffner haven’t met but nonetheless have come together at the Brattleboro Museum & Art Center through two complementary exhibits.
The first, “Ice Shanties: Fishing, People & Culture,” features Pardo’s photos alongside Vermont Folklife Center recordings of local anglers speaking about their structures and sport.
Pardo came to New England via a circuitous route. He was born in Colombia, and he earned a biology degree from Universidad de Los Andes in Bogotá and a Master of Fine Arts in science and natural history filmmaking from Montana State University in Bozeman. Traveling to Vermont to visit friends, Pardo began photographing the shanties on Brattleboro’s frozen West River floodplain in 2016, playing with long-duration exposures lit by sunset and moonlight.
“Even though I had lived in the U.S. and experienced a couple of winters, I had not seen these crazy pop-up structures on the ice,” recalls Pardo, who now is based in Green Bay, Wis., but is on the road three-fourths of the year. “Everything just clicked and I started shooting.”
The second show, “Ice Visions,” spotlights Hoffner’s 20-year exploration of lakes and ponds in Massachusetts. Aiming his camera downward, the Ashfield, Mass., resident noticed cracks and crannies that, photographed in black and white, come to life as eyes, stars and galaxies.
Museum curator Mara Williams calls Hoffner this generation’s Snowflake Bentley, the pioneering Vermont photographer who used a microscope to capture the first image of an individual snow crystal, in 1885. But, Hoffner’s observations sound more like contemporary Green Mountain author and activist Bill McKibben, who wrote the first book introducing the idea of global warming to a general audience.
“Due to milder-than-usual temperatures during the past winter,” Hoffner says, “on many mornings I found barely a skin of new ice covering the prior day’s fishing holes. Bubbles pooled up at the surface before freezing, creating striking new kinds of formations I’d never seen before, ones that perhaps reveal the fingerprint of a warming climate.”
Organizers hope the two exhibits shed new light on what many consider to be a dark season.
“Pardo’s striking photographs of ice shanties and Hoffner’s exquisite, almost abstract images of frozen-over ice-fishing holes provide viewers with complementary perspectives on an iconic Vermont pastime,” museum director Danny Lichtenfeld says. “Together, they illuminate a welcome sign of winter.”
IF YOU GO:
The Brattleboro Museum & Art Center is open Wednesday through Sunday, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., with more information available at brattleboromuseum.org.
ALSO ON VIEW:
The late Vermonter Wolf Kahn (pictured in this 1959 self-portrait) is one of several artists featured in the Brattleboro Museum & Art Center exhibit “Figuration Never Died: New York Painterly Painting, 1950-1970.” More information about the show, which spotlights the works of 10 inventive artists, including the late Robert De Niro Sr., is available at brattleboromuseum.org.
Kevin O’Connor is a Vermont native and Brattleboro Reformer contributor.