A Neighbor Project: The Downtown Middlebury Portrait
The Henry Sheldon Museum presents the virtual exhibit A Neighbor Project: The Downtown Middlebury Portrait by local artist Rebecca Kinkead. The Downtown Middlebury Portrait includes over a hundred 7 x 5 inch oil portraits of local community members created during twenty-minute portrait sessions throughout the town.
The Downtown Middlebury Portrait grew out of Kinkead’s A Neighbor Project, which began, in her words, as “a cry for help.” In 2019, she found herself living alone for the first time in her life at age 51 and looked to her community for reassurance. She put out a simple invitation: come and sit on my porch and I’ll paint your portrait. When she began, Kinkead had never painted portraits before—her work consisted mostly of large scale palette knife works of animals. Several hundred portraits later, Kinkead entered a new chapter of A Neighbor Project, moving her miniature easel from her porch into the downtown, where she conducted portrait sittings in a variety of local businesses throughout the spring of 2020 to create The Downtown Middlebury Portrait.
The portrait project coincided with Middlebury’s railroad bridge construction, bringing together local business owners, employees, customers, and residents in celebration of the downtown community. These portraits serve as a visual record of the time spent and connections forged with her sitters. She is still “profoundly comforted each time a friend or stranger sits down before [her]” to talk and to be painted.
The works are exhibited together in the Sheldon Museum to form a singular portrait of the downtown Middlebury community. Due to the closure of the Sheldon Museum during COVID-19 restrictions, The Downtown Middlebury Portrait has been reimagined as a virtual exhibit accessible through the Museum’s website. It includes close-ups of the portraits, a video interview with Rebecca Kinkead about the project, and a virtual “Guest Book” where visitors are invited to reflect on The Downtown Middlebury Portrait.