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Visionary Art Online and In Person at Shelburne Museum

December 24, 2021
Visionary Art Online and In Person at Shelburne Museum

We often take for granted the eyes through which we see the world, and the art with which we try to illuminate, explore, and understand it. Not all art is visual art, of course, but some art makes vision the focal point of its purpose and perspective.

Shelburne Museum’s new online exhibition invites the viewer to see something that’s always been there right before your eyes, but is yet something you may not have ever took the time to notice before.

Eyesight & Insight: Lens on American Art invites new insights into the ways American artists have negotiated issues related to eyesight.”¹

The online exhibition sets the stage for a physical exhibition at the Museum that will be on view from May 14 to October 16, 2022.

The presentation “surveys more than 200 years of American art, scientific innovation, and design. The exhibition’s four sections explore themes ranging from 18th-century optical technologies to the social and historical connotations of eyeglasses in portraiture from the 19th-century to the present.”² 

Early Optics in American Art

Featuring fine art portraits of Benjamin Franklin with his trademark spectacles, and representations of truly idiosyncratic visionary “toys” like the Magic Lantern and Stereoscope circa 1830, the exhibition’s first section reveals some of our earliest artistic explorations of eyeglasses and the exceptional ways we see the world.

Newspaper Vision

With sight comes the written language, and no single development to that point in the 19th century played a more pivotal role in the way we favor sight over any of our other senses, especially with regards to communication, than the printing press and the advent of movable type. 

The newspaper was ubiquitous and utterly visionary in its day, hawked on every street corner and finding its way into the art of the period as if bringing the subjects into a sort of communion they otherwise could not have enjoyed.

With paintings by Mary Cassatt and Richard Caton Woodville, this second section of the exhibition turns back the page on the way we see the printed word.

Seeing Identity

Find yourself seeing yourself in a way you may have overlooked. We are all a combination or perception and presentation, and eyewear plays a key role in both how we see the world, and how we see ourselves.

“In this chapter, “Seeing Identity,” modern and contemporary artists incorporate eyewear into their artwork as a tool for investigating personality, identification, and selfhood. Connecting the nine renowned artists and their multimedia self-portraits, portraits of other artists, and still lifes are their thoughtful incorporations of glasses. This online exhibition explores both the beauty and symbolism of eyewear.”³

Spectacles at Shelburne Museum

A visual aide-memoire through the eyes of the artists themselves, and the landscapes we share. This final chapter in the museum’s online exhibit offers perspectives and the experience of sight through video as a shared optical experience.

“Featuring four talented, local multidisciplinary artists, experience Shelburne Museum and its varied gardens, grounds and collections through their creative points of view.”4

Welcoming a New Year of Sight

Often regarded simply as a tool to improve or protect our vision, eyewear and contact lenses are extraordinary developments in our human experience, and as woven into our art and culture as they are in our lives.

Check out the exhibition at Shelburne Museum and come see us to explore new ways to embrace your own vision of self, identity, eyesight and insight.


Berlin Optical Expressions wishes you all a wonderful holiday season and a joyous new year!



1,2,3,4 https://shelburnemuseum.org/online-exhibitions/eyesight-insight/