Tag Archives: Ink Feature

Pursuits: Happy Tails


“Hello, girls,” said Ken Parker ’62, throwing open the blue trailer door. “Are you ready to go to work?”

The 75-year-old mostly retired Presbyterian minister had parked his Toyota truck—license plate: MINIDONK—at the curb before the Helen Porter Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center. The girls in question were two big-eared, doe-eyed miniature donkeys, Celeste and Fey. Their job this afternoon: to visit residents, mainly Alzheimer’s and dementia patients, at the Middlebury nursing home.

For more than 10 years, Parker has been trotting out—literally—his miniature donkeys as therapy animals. He and volunteers visit nursing homes and grieving children. They also run a program that allows children with developmental and emotional disabilities learn how to care for the animals. To his knowledge, Thera-Pets, his Peru, N.Y., nonprofit, was the first organization of its kind to use miniature donkeys as therapeutic animals in the U.S.

“They’re a wonderful, wonderful animal,” said Parker, brushing a bit of errant hay from dark, svelte Celeste’s coat. Sure, Parker acknowledged, therapy dogs are far more prevalent. “But give me a hundred dogs and a hundred donkeys, and the donkeys will take it every time.”

Parker and volunteer Candyce Trombley led the donkeys into a small courtyard where the residents, mostly women in their 80s and 90s, sat in wheelchairs and rockers. Parker launched into his primer on miniature donkeys, chatting with the residents and answering questions—but the real stars of the show were Celeste and Fey.

“You’re very beautiful,” one woman cooed. “Yes, you are. You’re a very good girl.” Another woman pressed her forehead to the donkey’s face and stroked Celeste’s long, tapered ears.

“People say, ‘Kiss my ass,’” quipped Parker after a resident planted a kiss on a donkey’s nose. “I do all the time.”

Ministering to the sick, disabled, and grieving comes naturally to Parker, who went to Princeton Theological Seminary following his graduation from Middlebury. (He also received a DMin from Sewanee.) Parker headed the Presbyterian Church in Peru, for more than three decades. When he retired in 2003, he briefly considered “playing golf and reading books,” but he jokes now that retirement “didn’t take.” In addition to his work with Thera-Pets, Parker spends Sunday mornings preaching to two tiny congregations.

“Once he retired, he couldn’t give up helping people,” said his wife, Helle Thomsen Parker ’62. His work with Thera-Pets is just “an extension of ministering.”

“He probably has one of the kindest souls, the gentlest souls, I have ever known,” said Trombley, who has known Parker since he moved to Peru more than 40 years ago. “There’s no pretense. What you see is what you get.”

The Parkers still live in Peru on a farm they named Butternut Ridge. He started keeping donkeys around when he retired, following a mission trip to Jamaica, where he fell in love with the animals. Today his menagerie includes 10 donkeys, as well as a smattering of cows, alpacas, chickens and other fowl, and occasionally pigs.

A few days after visiting Helen Porter, Parker was back in the North Country—and swapping his Sunday morning vestments for a Thera-Pets polo shirt for an afternoon with developmentally disabled children. By mid-afternoon, about a dozen kids had convened at the farm of a neighbor, another Thera-Pets volunteer, down the road from Parker’s home. Normally they would meet at Parker’s farm, but today they were taking a special walk.

They played games, sat quietly as Parker told a story, then raced to pair up with their donkeys. The gaggle of kids, parents, and volunteers led the donkeys on a walk through a state park, which culminated at a playground.

“It’s the best thing for both of my boys,” said mother Mary Prial, holding a donkey’s lead as her two boys, seven-year-olds Luke and Sebastian, tore off for the playground. Sebastian is a typical kid, but Luke is hearing impaired and developmentally delayed and was terrified of animals before he began working with Parker’s donkeys. Prial really likes that in the Thera-Pets program there aren’t any distinctions drawn between the two kids.

“Here they’re not different,” she said. “I couldn’t be happier. I love seeing both of my boys having a good time.”

Kathryn Flagg ’08 is a freelance writer living in Shoreham, Vermont.

The Champ


The first time I met W.C. “Bill” Heinz  ’37 I told him that his column “Death of a Race Horse” had made me want to write better than I probably ever would. I read it for the first time in 1964, my freshman year of college, 15 years after Heinz had written the piece on deadline for the soon-to-be-defunct New York Sun. On that July day in 1949, Heinz had watched as a young colt named Air Lift—making his first racing start—stumbled on the track, breaking his leg.

Heinz pulls the reader in so close to the tragedy unfolding mere feet way that one can barely breathe.

They moved the curious back, the rain falling faster now, and they moved the colt over close to a pile of loose bricks. Gilman had the halter and Catlett had the gun, shaped like a bell with the handle at the top. This bell he placed, the crowd silent, on the colt’s forehead, just between the eyes. The colt stood still and then Catlett, with the hammer in his hand, struck the handle of the bell. There was a short, sharp sound and the colt toppled onto his left side, his eyes staring, his legs straight out, the free legs quivering.

“Aw—” someone said.

That was all they said. They worked quickly, the two vets removing the broken bones as evidence for the insurance company, the crowd silently watching. Then the heavens opened, the rain pouring down, the lightning flashing, and they rushed for the cover of the stables, leaving alone on his side near the pile of bricks, the rain running off his hide, dead an hour and a quarter after his first start, Air Lift, son of Bold Venture, full brother of Assault.

“Death of a Race Horse” is one of 38 columns and features compiled by Bill Littlefield, longtime host of NPR’s Only a Game, who knows great storytelling. This collection, which is being released on the centennial of Heinz’s birth, should reawaken interest in and love for one of our greatest sportswriters. Wilfred Charles Heinz (1915–2008) felt and observed deeply, but he always left space for the reader to feel too. Here is Babe Ruth, sick with the cancer that will soon take his life, pulling on his uniform for the final time at Yankee Stadium.

The Babe started to undress. His friends helped him. They hung up his clothes and helped him into the parts of his uniform. When he had them on he sat down again to put on his spiked shoes, and when he did this the photographers who had followed him moved in. They took pictures of him in uniform putting on his shoes, for this would be the last time….The Babe took a step and started slowly up the steps. He walked out into the flashing of flashbulbs, into the cauldron of sound he must know better than any other man.

In 1991 I visited Heinz at his hillside home in Dorset, Vermont, where he lived with his wife Betty Bailey Heinz ’35. I told him about his influence on my life; later I would find out that other writers, Littlefield included, had made similar pilgrimages and had expressed similar sentiments.

Gracious and generous, he showed me his writing scrapbooks, each of his columns neatly pasted in place, and as he turned the pages, he spoke about his life and work, a master class in a Vermont living room.

Heinz compared writing to boxing. “You set the reader up,” he said, “you feint, you jab, you bob and weave, you bring them in close, then when you are ready, you hit and hit hard.” He said never waste a word; a good writer should strip each sentence to its core.

Heinz once told Sports Illustrated that writing for him was “like building a stone wall without mortar. You place the words one at a time, fit them, take them apart and refit them until they’re balanced and solid.”

Bill Littlefield and the Library of America have given readers a 600-page gem of a book, filled with stories and columns whose words are balanced and solid, a stone wall built without mortar. We are afforded another chance to see America through the eyes of one of the most acute observers of his generation. And when any of us reads a story that takes our breath away, I lay odds that the writer once read “Death of a Race Horse” or “Brownsville Bum” or “The Fighter’s Wife” and thought, “If only I could do that….”

Mel Allen is the editor of Yankee Magazine and a pretty darn good writer himself.

Pop Cultured


If you walk into the Overbrook Gallery
in Middlebury’s Museum of Art this winter, you’ll come face to face with Chairman Mao Zedong—his face slathered in green, his lips a vibrant pink (matching the color of his blouse).  This puckish, playful visage: it’s not the image generally associated with the Communist leader.

Of Andy Warhol’s iconic images, Mao is one of the most widely reproduced—and this silkscreen print is now part of the Museum’s collection, one of ten Warhol prints the Warhol Foundation recently gifted to the College. Among the figures joining Mao in the gallery are Sitting Bull (Sitting Bull, 1986), a depiction of the Native American originally intended for Warhol’s Cowboys and Indians portfolio; Queen Ntombi of Swaziland, one of four ruling monarchs from 1985 depicted in the artist’s Reigning Queens portfolio, Warhol’s largest; and an adorable pig (Fiesta Pig, 1979), a work commissioned by the German newspaper Die Welt.

The Warhol Foundation’s recent gift doubles the number of Warhol prints in the Museum’s collection, which not only makes for popular exhibits but also for valuable teaching tools. Even the casual observer gleans insights into the artist and his inspirations—Fiesta Pig, for instance, while commissioned, is considered deeply personal, as the animal is said to be Warhol’s pet, a gift from “Baby Jane” Holzer.

The Warhol prints will be on view in the Overbrook Gallery until mid-April. If you’re in the area, it’s a show not to be missed.

Cover Essay: What’s on His Mind?

harlowWebFor many years, my parents had a rough-coated Jack Russell terrier, a breed of dog known to be tough, tenacious, very smart, and extremely moody. (About the only quality he shared with Harlow, our cover dog and model on this page, was his smarts. Harlow is chill and very sweet; and very sweet; Woody, most definitely, was not.)

In his later years, as Woody’s energy began to wane, it seemed that his mental acuity—which would occasion behavior best described as devious—increased. Jack Russells are an active breed; when Woody’s stamina started to slide, his mind took over. Or so it appeared.

When my sister was getting married, my parents threw a cookout for out-of-town guests; my family being from the South, barbecue was the featured fare. It was a casual gathering, paper plates on laps enjoyed outside in the mid-spring weather. Of course, paper plates on laps subsequently became paper plates on the ground. And this is where Woody comes into the story. At one point that night, I witnessed Woody trot by with a half-eaten barbecue sandwich in his mouth. I chalked it up to him having received a right generous snack from one of our guests—until a few minutes later when I saw him trot past with another sandwich. I followed him this time, watching him scamper under a bush, only to emerge moments later with no sandwich. After he had trotted off again, I looked under the bush and discovered a pile of sandwiches, in various states of being consumed. Woody had been pilfering sandwiches off the plates of unsuspecting folks and . . . was saving them for later? Are dogs capable of planning ahead?

I hadn’t thought much about this particular episode until I found myself sitting in on Jason Arndt’s first-year seminar on animal cognition. On the morning of my visit, the class was discussing mental time travel. The question being examined: “When animals plan, are they imagining the future?” I was barely sitting down before I was wondering, Was Woody imagining himself in the future chowing down on those sandwiches?

While my thoughts were on Woody, the attention of the class—eight women and five men, plus their instructor, arrayed around a long table—was focused on a chimpanzee that lived in a zoo in Sweden. On the days when the zoo was to be opened, this fellow would gather rocks, store them in specific, strategically located piles, and then, hours later, hurl them at gawking visitors.

“I don’t know how strong of an argument this is, but he had to have thought this through,” one student said. But does planning ahead equate to mental time travel? Arndt wondered. Is the chimp thinking, as he’s gathering rocks, I’ll show them! “As far as I know,” he added, “chimps don’t cache things in nature.”

The consensus  was that yes, this chimp was picturing himself throwing those stones as he gathered them. (“He’s thinking, I’m so pumped.”) The scientific community seems split on the subject of
mental time travel in animals. But I know where I land. I’m convinced that Woody was thinking, on that spring evening, I’m so pumped.

Pursuits: Sing Along

trienBlunt little sneakers that light up when you dance are de rigueur at a Vanessa Trien ’91 show. So are pink tutus, OshKosh overalls, and diminutive Red Sox caps. The Saturday morning crowd at the Sheehan School in Westwood, Massachusetts, leaps and twirls and sings along as Trien and her band, the Jumping Monkeys, lead them through kindergarten favorites like her songs “Tickle Monster” and “Bubble Ride.”

Trien, who lives in Brookline, Massachusetts, with her husband and her children, aged five and nine, didn’t set out to be a “kindie” celebrity, but she’s getting there. (Kindie is independent music for kids.) The singer-songwriter and music educator was a regular on the robust Boston folk scene, performing at iconic small venues like Cambridge’s Club Passim. But the crowds of big people were small—until she released her first CD of songs for small people in 2006.

“I had my first CD release at Magic Beans, a children’s store in Brookline, and people were lining up outside. It was a much bigger crowd than I ever would get for a folk show,” Trien says. “People are looking for kids’ music, and over the past few years a kindie music scene has developed—it’s a national scene, with a lot of people doing this music. Brooklyn’s the hot place, but New England is great too.”

Trien began dedicating her work to children’s music after her son, Ellis, was born. Since then, she has recorded and released three CDs of kindie music—Hot Air Balloon, Carnival Day, and Bubble Ride. Her work has won three Parents’ Choice Awards and five songwriting awards from the Mid-Atlantic Song Contest. She laughingly says her reputation is “semi-national,” with write-ups in Parenting magazine and School Library Journal, and a national distributor for her CDs.

Trien says she loved performing for adult audiences as a folksinger, but her life as an artist really came alive when she started performing for children. “There are some people who feel connected with kids and can communicate with them well and be on their wave length—and it turns out I am one of those people,” she says. “There is such an immediate, visceral response from an audience of small children. They’re not just in their heads—they’re up and dancing and singing along. And the parents are interacting with the kids, and they’re learning together and sharing music as a family—it’s so vital!”

Two years ago, Trien began teaching as a music specialist for the Brookline Early Education Program (BEEP). With BEEP, she’s working with Brookline Access TV to develop programming and songs for an early childhood literacy TV program, Bee Bear Book Club. She also recently cowrote and arranged two songs that will be used in two short music videos on the national website www.education.com as part of their kindergarten math curriculum.

Trien now has a booking manager—something she never had as a folk singer. “She’s been getting me out more,” says Trien, who has played in New Hampshire, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Virginia, as well as all over Massachusetts (and at her Middlebury reunion).

“I want to make another CD,” she says. “Within the next five years my goals are to record more and have more national recognition. I have a few themes that I want to hit on. As my kids get older and have more complicated feelings, it’s not just about jumping and spinning anymore, but also about the complicated feelings kids have as they get older. I want to write about that.”

Meanwhile, back in Westwood, the audience is getting restless. Time for the celebration parade song! One of the Jumping Monkeys climbs off the stage to lead a crocodile of kids around the auditorium, and Trien turns to her drummer. “Take it away, Rico!”

Coop Dreams

chickensI grew up a Southern city boy.

But when I had my own two boys, I began to feel that the city was no place for small children. What to do with them? There were museums, but three-year-old boys did not care too much for Southern vernacular art. It was hotter than hell in the summer. And then there was the Atlanta traffic, which, with a three-year-old and his nine-month-old brother in car seats, was truly my idea of hell on earth.

So we moved to Vermont, to New Haven, a few miles north of Middlebury—dairy country, rolling hills, dirt roads, mountains rising in the distance. Maybe it was the fact that an Atlanta neighbor had been held up at gunpoint around the block. Or maybe I held a buried ancestral memory, now rising up, of a mythic, rural childhood. Of farms and tree forts and catching monarch caterpillars, of seeing the stars at night and eating fried dough at country fairs.

As an eager stay-at-home dad, I moved into high gear. Nearly every day, we visited the Elgin Spring Farm to pet the newborn calves; we collected arrowheads in cornfields and tracked wild turkeys. We gardened and planted flowers. We built dams in creeks and collected balsam sprigs from the woods in winter.

On a summer evening, we drove to the Addison County Fair in a 1979 Ford truck I had purchased for $700. With the windows rolled down and the smell of summer silage blowing through, a dad and his sons followed the siren call of fried dough.

But the greatest adventure was to come: chicken farming. I started us on a dozen chicks, purchased for $1.29 apiece from Paris Farm Supply. Housed in a cardboard box in the kitchen, the chickens were given names, JoJo and Sam, Striper and Ajax. A neighbor brought us an old coop—gray clapboard with a cedar-shingled roof—with his tractor. We insulated it and hung up a sign: Quarry Road Chicken Operation.

We entered our two prize chickens in the Addison County Fair. Our fledgling enterprise was rewarded with a pink participant ribbon, which we proudly hung next to the hens’ laying box.

They ranged freely and had a high time under neighbors’ bird feeders cleaning up the spillage. Every few years, we got new spring chickens to replace those that had stopped laying or had fallen ill. We moved to Ripton, and the chickens moved with us. We built a palatial coop with a standing-seam metal roof, and we continued to collect our eggs.

But my boys were growing up. The miracle of a brown, still-warm egg no longer held mystery. They were off, playing soccer, playing guitar, playing hockey, going to school.

The chickens became my job, which I carried out as steadfastly as ever, talking to them in the morning, kicking the ice out of their water bowls in winter, occasionally losing one to a fox, repairing the coop in spring. I kept the chicken dream alive.

And then came the weasel. In the night, through the smallest of openings, a crack in the door or a tear in the fence. On a hot July morning, I found one of the hens, beheaded and eviscerated, flies flitting on her dirty wings.

My boys were no longer here to see me defend our birds, but it didn’t matter. After dark, under a full moon rising over the Green Mountains, I carried our last two chickens up to the pond and set them adrift in our little fishing boat, safe from the weasel. There in the dark, they sat in the bow, as still as herons. The boat was anchored and swung lightly on the line, the moonlight reflecting on the surface of the pond among the black shadows of trees, with the frogs croaking and a lone bat hissing at the edge of the woods.

In the morning, as the sun rose, I heard a splashing. Our chickens were hungry and now, apparently, they were swimming ashore.
I went to say morning salutations. There, before the chicken coop door, were the rested survivors pecking at the dewy grass, water dripping off their beaks, feathers soaked up to their plump breasts, waiting for the man.

Yes, my boys had flown the coop, but Sam and JoJo were still coming home to roost.

Vignette: Onward and Upward

Mahaney Center for the Arts finalIt is the day of the spring equinox. Maple sap is rising, and big fat flakes are falling on the copper roof of the Kevin P. Mahaney ’84 Center for the Arts. Inside, in one gallery of the art museum, there is an abundance of children—whether on the walls, as mostly winged cupids rendered in 19th-century France, or on the floor, as exceptionally attentive fourth- graders visiting from the Weybridge School and sitting before an 1851 seascape. The artist is Louis Gabriel Eugène Isabey, Parisian artist in the court of King Louis-Philippe.

Guided by the museum’s curator of education, Sandi Olivo, the children study and inventory the painting’s elements: numerous casks on a sandy beach; a pennant in a breeze; a blue jacket draped on a boat’s gunwale; clouds driving over land; and out at sea, a tiny sail tacking off a distant shore. Above the seascape, a Bourguereau oil with its Olympic bosoms and bottoms elicits a sideways glance or two.

Upstairs, another Weybridge School group studies a John Sloan crayon drawing, Dreaming, 1906. This gallery affords a balcony’s overhead view of the museum’s front entryway, an Assyrian panel, and, directly below one’s feet, the admissions desk, where an attendant greets newcomers and another scans a bank of security monitors.

“First,” says the fourth-grade teacher to the assembled children, “your job is to just look at the image.” The children regard John Sloan’s crayon lines, while an outsider squints down at the security monitors, stifling the urge to wave at oneself, an Observer observing an Observer, all the while being observed by another observer there at the admissions desk. Meanwhile, the teacher Socratically asks questions; hands shoot up, and she leads the children into discerning the difference between a painting and the Sloan crayon drawing.

Below, standing near the Assyrian alabaster relief, Winged Genie Pollinating the Date Palm, is security monitor Jonathan Blake; the stone relief is from the palace of Ashurnasirpal II at Kalhu, in present-day northern Iraq, and monitor Blake is from the Granite State of New Hampshire and an estimable photographer of art and news events.

The chatter of fourth-graders echoes around Blake, and he recalls his favorite children’s discussion of the art at Middlebury as a class studied the Assyrian genie’s graven image. “One kid announced with great authority that ‘It’s the Easter Fairy,’ whose job was to follow the Easter Bunny around and make sure the candy eggs are okay,” Jonathan Blake remarks. “Another kid noticed the genie’s ear ornament. To him, a fifth-grader who loved to play chess, it resembled an inverted bishop’s piece—‘He’s the inventor of chess!’ the kid explained. I love the way kids think!” Before its placement in the museum, the Assyrian relief hung for a half century in a cramped Munroe Hall entryway, where occasionally students would stub out their cigarettes on it as they hurried to their history or literature classes.

Fifteen lithe audience members, faculty and students, assemble in the Dance Theatre on a late Monday afternoon, all dressed either in big sweaters and scarves or in big, sagging tee-shirts, to hear a lecture by Katie Martin, improvisatory dancer, choreographer, and teacher at Hampshire College, who studied at Bennington, where she came under the influence of the renowned, innovative choreographer Trisha Brown.

Martin shares a series of slides from Bennington—candids of some of the greatest modern dancers when they were at the southern Vermont college. One sees the socializing Martha Graham and Ted Shawn and Doris Humphrey, and there is a selection from Trisha Brown’s earlier work in Water Motor. This elicits a delighted exclamation from Middlebury’s senior lecturer in dance, Penny Campbell, herself no stranger to the Bennington campus with the summer dance program she cofounded.

Water Motor!” Campbell exclaims. “That was my first composition piece!” As is often the case in this theater, the delight is infectious and everyone laughs. Martin, with her cascade of long, dark hair, will demonstrate her own work out on the floor, but before that, her talk touches on the teachings of choreographer William Forsythe and then segues into “improvisation metaphors” drawn from the natural world’s awe-inspiring “collective individualism”—a swarm of fireflies, a legion of army ants, and (the Observer’s favorite) flocking birds, such as starlings or pigeons or the hundreds of darting, wheeling, banking Arctic snow buntings observed aloft in the Lemon Fair river valley that very bright, cold morning.

On this day (possibly on all days), every person in the theater-tech class is attired entirely in navy blue in the noisy, high-ceilinged workshop overseen by the associate technical director, Jim Dougherty.

Pulleys and cables. Ductwork. Circular saws, band saws, radial arm saws, drill presses, pipe clamps, wire spools, the high whine of a transformer. A student runs a hacksaw across a small metal bar clamped in a vise, set up on the end of a cloth-draped worktable, upon which lies, face-down, a fully articulated human skeleton.

The class is preparing scenery and props for a production of Howard Barker’s The Castle, a bawdy drama of crusaders returning home after a seven-year campaign. Other artifacts, whether from this or past dramas, appear as one takes in the vast workspace; there’s a regulation-height basketball hoop, and 15 feet above the laboring students’ heads, one can see a plywood swan, a life-size statue of the Virgin Mary, and a surfboard-sized Hostess Twinkie.

Next door, in the Seeler Studio Theatre, a student machine-stitches white muslin at a workstation on risers, where audience seating for The Castle is to be, while another uses a small portable steamer to smooth finished fabric hanging from a clothesline. It bobs gently as the student irons, causing sympathetic vibrations in a bright roll of razor wire—future stage scenery—looped above her head. Scores of dark stage lights hang overhead, poised to light some future drama.

Three pm on a Wednesday, in the 20th year of the Mahaney Center’s existence, the Observer is perching on a bench outside the Dance Theatre. The students, faculty, and staff striding past take on an ensemble quality: all the corridor’s a stage. A music senior bustles down a hall, making thoughtful conducting motions with one arm. Down the hall, piano ruminations trickle out of Classroom 125 and laughter from Seminar 126. On a wall, a framed poster commemorates the building’s opening celebration, held in 1992 from September 28–October 10, which featured the collaborative work of choreographers and composers, the Fred Haas Jazz Ensemble, and an alumni dance concert. It all culminated in a gala benefit for the Center for the Arts with Misha Dichter, the Emerson String Quartet, Claire Bloom, and the David Dorfman Dance Company.

At the opening, crowds in finery not often seen in Vermont strolled past the new music library, peered into but did not mark the floor of the Dance Theatre, noted the courtyard tables and chairs and the whimsical space of the café just outside the museum portals, and admired the soaring atrium heights overhead; two years ahead, in 1994, the Committee on Art in Public Places would install its first work of art way up in the very space above—Jonathan Borofsky’s acrylic and urethane installation, I dreamed I could fly at 3,876,225—the figure of an ecstatic young man, floating and transfixed.

Notes on Some Changes in Two Decades: (1) The music library has been reintegrated into the general stacks at the Davis Library, gaining instructional and assembling rooms and offices for the art history and architecture department; (2) the Borofsky flying man sculpture has been shifted from the atrium to a much smaller space above the east corridor exit; (3) the café closed, ending a lunchtime meeting tradition and gatherings: “Only in America,” mourns a drama faculty member, “do they replace a vibrant café where people meet and the ferment is guaranteed, with vending machines.” At the empty half-circle of the former serving counter sits a solitary brew-ready Keurig coffee machine, filter cups for which may be purchased in nearby offices.

In the museum study gallery, Kirsten Hoving’s environmental photography students deliver their presentations to the class, discussing works from the permanent collection; in Room 209 (MCA 209), Peter Hamlin’s digital-music students have created pieces performed entirely on tablets and phones.

Dana Yeaton conducts a playwriting workshop in MCA 209, and Eliza Garrison lectures on the evolution of Western art in MCA 125. In MCA 110, Penny Campbell and Michael Chorney, saxophonist and acoustic guitarist, lead a performance improvisation for musicians and dancers.

Later in MCA 110, Christal Brown introduces dance techniques, accompanied by multi-keyboardist Ron Rost; the Dance Theatre recently hosted the dance company INSPIRIT, with work based on the life of Muhammad Ali, under the direction of Brown in a suite of dances incorporating “elements of boxing, hip-hop, martial arts, and modern dance,” with music scored by Farai Malianga, late of Brooklyn but originally from Mutare, Zimbabwe.

In MCA 210, a multimedia arts lab, a student sounds a gong while his project is translated into digital sound on a laptop, as the door-muffled reverberations echo down a stairwell.

MCA 125 is in standing-room-only condition for a 4:30 lecture by Ilaria Brancoli Busdraghi of the Italian department, on Italian stoneworkers in Vermont in the years 1880–1915. The talk is themed to coincide with the museum’s show of photographs taken by Edward Burtynsky in the marble quarries of Proctor and granite quarries of Barre, Vermont.

Brancoli traces the development of the quarries from the 1850s, when rail transportation made industrial distribution possible, into the 1880s and beyond, when Italians migrated in droves. Arriving in Vermont with skills handed down to them for a millennia in the pre-Alpine valleys of Piedmont and Lombardy, they worked in the cutting and shaping sheds rather than in the much more dangerous pits. Still, with rock dust endemic, the average lifespan of a stonecutter was 42 years, thanks to silio-tuberculosis.

The audience views slides of the cutting sheds and extraordinarily carved marble and granite, some of which decorated the graves of the workers, and of recreational picnics, parties, Italian instrumental bands, and the vigorous unionization efforts; when viewers see side-by-side comparisons of Piedmont and Lombardy mountains and valleys with those in Proctor and Barre, there is a murmur at how alike is the terrain.

“They must have felt so at home here!” someone whispers, to which another responds, “At least until the immigration curbs, the anti-union efforts, and the Red Scare of the 1920s.”

Although the talk extends past the closing time of the museum, Brancoli announces that in honor of Edward Burtynsky receiving an honorary degree at Middlebury’s Commencement, the show has been extended through June 2013.