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Norwich to host traveling Benedict Arnold exhibit explaining Lake Champlain battles

By Claire Bessette

Publication: theday.com

Published May 08. 2014 5:57PM   Updated May 09. 2014 12:27AM

Norwich – The Norwich Historical Society and Slater Memorial Museum today unveiled a traveling museum exhibit featuring Norwich native Benedict Arnold’s early Revolutionary War exploits as the naval commander for American forces on Lake Champlain in the fall of 1776.

Arnold’s maneuvers with a tiny naval force successfully delayed the British takeover of the lake in the early months of the war.

At a press conference today announcing Monday’s grand opening of the exhibit, Norwich Historical Society President William Champagne said the project was the group’s effort to do something “a little bigger” to mark the third anniversary of the William B. Stanley Lecture Series that honors the society’s co-founder.

The society raised $12,000 to reproduce the permanent exhibit at the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum in Vermont on the Revolutionary War in Lake Champlain. The project included commissioning Norwich artist Jeffrey Vasington to paint a depiction of 18th century Norwich Harbor, a familiar spot for Arnold, a Norwich native.

The exhibit on the second floor of the Slater Museum Atrium will be open from 4 to 6 p.m. Monday prior to the lecture by Arthur B. Cohn, co-founder of the Vermont museum and an archaeological diver leading an effort to preserve one of Arnold’s naval vessels discovered virtually intact on the lake floor. Cohn will speak at a free lecture at 6 p.m. in Slater Auditorium.

The exhibit will be open through August whenever the atrium is open and in conjunction with Slater Museum’s hours: from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays through Fridays and 1 to 4 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays.

Norwich — When the Norwich Historical Society wanted to do something special to celebrate the third annual William B. Stanley Lecture Series, Chairman William Champagne thought of his visit to the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum in Vermont and wanted to bring that story to Norwich — literally.

The museum houses a permanent exhibit that explains Norwich native Benedict Arnold’s early exploits as naval commander on Lake Champlain and his critical moves that delayed the British takeover of the lake in fall of 1776.

The Norwich Historical Society sought corporate sponsors, commissioned an original oil painting depicting an 18th-century image of Norwich Harbor and duplicated the interpretive panels of text, maps and period illustrations explaining the battles on Lake Champlain.

The result is a new traveling exhibit titled “Key to Liberty: The Revolutionary War in the Champlain Valley.” The first stop in what is envisioned to be at least a Northeast regional tour for the exhibit will be Slater Memorial Museum. The free exhibit on the second floor of the new atrium at Slater, will open Monday and run through the end of August.

Arthur B. Cohn, co-founder of the Lake Champlain museum, will be the keynote speaker Monday in the Stanley Lecture Series that will also serve as the grand opening of the exhibit. Cohn will speak at 6 p.m. with a presentation titled, “The Revolutionary War, Benedict Arnold and Lake Champlain, Vt.” Cohn also is an archaeological diver who is leading an effort to preserve one of Arnold’s gunboats, the “Spitfire,” which was discovered virtually intact at the bottom of the lake some five years ago.

In a press conference announcing the exhibit Thursday, Champagne thanked the Norwich Historical Society and the dozen sponsors that funded the $12,000 project to recreate the maritime museum’s exhibit and to commission the original painting of Norwich Harbor by noted local artist Jeffrey Vasington.

Slater Museum Director Vivian Zoe said the painting is the first known depiction of 18th century Norwich Harbor. Only a few faded line drawings are known to exist. The historical society created 100 paper prints of the work that will be sold for $20 starting Monday. A limited edition print on canvas will sell for $125.

The painting serves as the opening panel of the exhibit, “Key to Liberty: Benedict Arnold, An American Hero on Lake Champlain,” noting Arnold’s roots in the Rose City and the city’s own role in the Revolution.

Regan Miner, project coordinator for Norwich Historical Society, said she plans to contact venues in Connecticut, New York, Boston, and Philadelphia for future exhibit sites.

Mayor Deberey Hinchey praised the historical society and Slater Museum for “having the vision” to put together the exhibit and host its premiere.

 “What makes Norwich a great place is our history and the interest we take in our history,” Hinchey said.

 c.bessette@theday.com

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Champlain campaign

What: Key to Liberty: The Revolutionary War in the Champlain Valley
When: Opens Monday, 4 to 6 p.m., second floor of Slater Memorial Museum Atrium, Norwich Free Academy
Exhibit schedule: Through Aug. 31, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday; 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
Guest lecture: Arthur B. Cohn, co-founder of the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum, 6 p.m. Monday, Slater Auditorium, NFA. Admission: free.
Admission: free

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