Vermont artists on display overseas as part of State Dept. program

Published: Jan. 13, 2021 at 8:01 AM EST
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BRATTLEBORO, Vt. (WCAX) - American-made art is hanging in embassies and the homes of ambassadors around the world, thanks to a program formalized in the 1960s by the Kennedy administration. W. Patrick Murphy, the United States Ambassador to Cambodia, was born and raised in Brattleboro and graduated from the University of Vermont in 1985. Thanks to the Art in Embassies Program, he has a few pieces of Vermont in his residence.

“Some of these landscapes, like that one looks a little more Vermont,” said Julia Jensen, a local artist who was selected for the first time to the Art in Embassies Program after having her art submitted for a few years. Its destination is the kingdom of Cambodia. “To have my work act as a representative of New England and Vermont -- it’s really exciting.”

Jensen says she knows she’s no diplomat, however, Murphy is. “Well, a lot that we do as diplomats, and certainly as an American ambassador, is try and build ties between peoples, and that means giving good attention to cultures and history and traditions,” said Murphy.

He says art speaks powerfully to all of that and that having art on display in his residence gives it the potential to be seen by thousands who come through. Although there is no direct financial benefit, Murphy says the artists’ generosity goes further than they can imagine. “It’s really exciting to have a piece of Vermont, piece of the United States, on display in the residence and it helps build people to people ties, put on display the best qualities of the United States,” said Murphy.

And back in the U.S., although Jensen says it has been a long time waiting, the artists who contribute to the program do it because they love the art. She says she hopes those on the other side of the world will love it too. “I hope for anybody who might see it there who is Cambodian or is not familiar with New England, it will pique curiosity and offer a different perspective,” said Jensen.

Murphy will have 16 works of art from Vermont artists that have the potential to be seen by thousands when they visit. For some artists, this is their first time being featured through the program. For others, they have had work in other parts of the world as well.

Elizabeth Fram is an Art in Embassies contributor who has had work in Latvia and exhibitions in France and the Netherlands. She says after being introduced virtually to Cambodia by Ambassador Murphy, she knows her art can play a big diplomatic role. “He had in the video, he was showing pictures of Vermont and equating Vermont with the farming industry in Cambodia, and so I think that connection through art is just tremendous as we are all just people. And I think the arts are a way for us to relate to each other and see more of our likenesses rather than our differences,” said Fram.

Fram also says what she loves about the program is its mission of creating a cross-cultural dialogue through art. She says she is proud to call herself an Art in Embassies artist, something she sees as an honor.

Ambassador Murphy says seeing the art does make him miss his Green Mountains home, but while he is on his three-year stint in Cambodia he did bring a three-year supply of Vermont maple syrup to share with guests.

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