Normally the Main Street Museum in White River Junction casts a quiet, unassuming exterior. Not until you've stepped inside and so much as scratched the surface of curator David Fairbanks Ford's multifarious cabinet of curiosities do you finally exclaim, "What the? Is that? I never!"
Over the past couple weeks, though, you may have walked or driven past the museum and stopped to notice the building bedecked in large banners featuring representations of a number of figures of Russian culture, including poet and playwright Alexander Pushkin, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev (with Kennedy and Castro), and famous Sputnik space dogs, Belka and Strelka, who were the first dogs to survive a trip to space.
The banners are the work of Leningrad-born artist Petr Shvetsov, whose work ranges from paintings and prints to sculpture and public installations, and has been exhibited and highly regarded throughout Russia, the U.S. and Europe. Shvetsov now divides his time between St. Petersburg and Boston.
Fairbanks Ford has known the "funny, kind, thoughtful" artist for a little over a decade, and this is not the first time his work has been showcased locally. Every year for the past decade, "on a budget of zero," Fairbanks Ford has hosted a Russian festival at the museum, featuring Russian/Slavic food tastings, lectures, and film screenings (of old Soviet cartoons and "Red Scare" propaganda). Shvetsov's painted banners served as a bold frontispiece for this year's festival.
Inside the museum's permanent collection you'll also find other Russian items of interest: vintage matryoshka dolls and a glass-encased assortment of Pushkin memorabilia—including a lock of the poet's hair.
Fairbanks Ford disassembles a Cold War-era nesting doll and finds Reagan inside.
Everything Pushkin at the museum
In spite of the strained relations between the U.S. and Russian governments and the whisperings of local naysayers, Fairbanks Ford defends his festival. "We're staying out of politics and focusing on celebrating the amazing beauty and richness of Russian culture and art."
Unfortunately, this year's Russian festival may be the last, unless some kind of funding materializes. "It's a lot of work to pull off with no budget," he says.
But he feels it's no less important. "People would be surprised to see how accessible and unprententious this show is. I think it's an antidote to much of what we're seeing and hearing in our society today."