An artistic retreat: at the Hermitage Inn in Wilmington, Vt., visitors feast on fine food, classic wine and an unparalleled art collection – Art in the Country – Vermont

An artistic retreat: at the Hermitage Inn in Wilmington, Vt., visitors feast on fine food, classic wine and an unparalleled art collection – Art in the Country – Vermont – Brief Article

Nestled in the heart of the sleepy ski town of Wilmington, Vt., is a mecca for art, food and wine run by connoisseurs of what is known by true bon vivant’s as “the good life.” The Hermitage Inn is already renowned for its 40,000-plus-bottle wine cellar and award-winning menu, as well as outdoor offerings of cross-country skiing, shooting, fly fishing and more, depending on the season.

But the inn is one-of-a-kind in the world of fine art and collectibles–each room serves as a mini-gallery for an extensive array of hunting decoys and duck stamps and one of the most complete collections of the work of Michel Delacroix in the world. Some might even call it a Delacroix museum.

Jim and Lois McGovern, the proprietors of the inn, own nearly every print that has ever been released by the acclaimed French artist, as well as several originals. Over the years, they have translated their love of his work and their extensive collection into an on-site gallery and actually sell it to the inn’s clients.

“We think we have everything that was ever published for the States” said Jim. “There were a few editions published only for the Japanese market, and I even have a selection of most of those prints, as well. We think we’re only missing two or three samples of every graphic ever created from his work.”

A Lifetime of Art Appreciation

The Hermitage opened in 1962 and consisted of just four original rooms and a small, 40-seat dining room. Jim took over operations in 1971 and began his nearly 30-year career of collecting and selling a variety of sporting art. “I started collecting sporting art, which I still maintain a lot of, in order to decorate the rooms and the dining rooms” he said. (Today the inn consists of a four-building complex with 29 guest rooms, a 3,000-square-foot dining room, an inviting bar and more.)

Jim was first introduced to Delacroix’s work in 1976 by his brother in Washington, D.C., and he started his collection with a few small pieces he picked up while visiting a gallery there. “Then I heard about a show in New York and one in Boston, so I went to a couple shows and got a little more interested” Jim explained. “I was in Connecticut and visited Lublin Graphics, who was his publisher at the time, and Michel happened to be there. I had my daughter with me, we had just returned from a trip to France, and she engaged him in a conversation. From there, we got to know him, and our relationship just kept growing.”

The rest is history. Over the years, Jim and Lois have continued to build their collection, as well as their friendship with the artist. “The McGoverns have become much more than just collectors of my work, they have become close family friends,” said Delacroix, who has visited the inn several times. “The Hermitage is a sanctuary for wine, food and wonderful people.”

In fact, Delacroix was so charmed by the rustic country retreat that he created a painting in its honor in 1997 entitled “Winter in New England.” The original hangs proudly over the main fireplace in the inn, and Delacroix’s publisher, Axelle Fine Arts, also released a print of the image that was released to the Hermitage exclusively in 1997 for one year and then to the general public in 1998. Having a Delacroix painting of the inn was “always a dream of ours,” said Jim.

The print was a dream-come-true for collectors, as well. According to Axelle officials, both editions (200 on paper, 100 on canvas, each with 25 APs) have sold out. And a licensed collection of greeting cards, matches and wine labels from the painting are also highly sought after by Hermitage visitors and Delacroix afficionados alike.

Jim says the Hermitage and Delacroix’s art are a perfect fit. “The Hermitage is a place of rest and relaxation, and looking at his work, especially the beautiful color of the skies, fills people with a sense of calm” he explained. “We like people to be in a comfortable mood here, sipping on a glass of wine in front of the fireplace and relaxing. Michel’s work helps them do that.”

Indeed, the response to the work and its display at the inn (a piece of art fills nearly every open space on the walls of each room at the inn, including the guest rooms, dining room and bar) has been great, according to Jim. “Of course, they are somewhat overwhelmed when the first see it,” he laughed, “But with a lot of the regular customers, it’s really grown on them over the years. In fact, many of them have become regular buyers of the artwork.”

The purchases by these customers have translated into a rather lucrative business for the McGoverns, as well. “I’ve sold a couple million dollars worth of work in the years that I’ve been doing it,” he said. “But I probably sell $50,000 to $100,000 worth of art each year in sales. Not being an art gallery alone, it’s kind of my second business.”

And the collection doesn’t stop with the work of Michel Delacroix. The McGoverns also have a collection of more than 1,000 working decoys from New England, New York and New Jersey that date back to the 1950s. They also have an extensive duck stamp collection and various hunting prints from artists Gerald and Nancy Lubeck and Leon Danchin. Through their relationship with Axelle Fine Arts, the McGoverns have also begun to collect and sell the work of Fabienne Delacroix, Michel’s daughter, and landscape artist Andre Bourrie.

If the McGoverns have their way, this tradition of fine food, fine wine and fine art will continue indefinitely–if they can find the space to do it, that is. “I’m trying to think of ways to set up different corners to display the work of different artists, but I’ve got every room filled with them and I just don’t have any more wall space,” laughed Jim. “Heck, I might just have to build an art gallery.”

On the Road is an ongoing series in Art Business News that takes us into collectors’ homes across the country. We speak to the art connoisseurs themselves, as well as their gallery contacts, to provide you with the story of how and why they select their art and choose to display it. If you have a client whose home you think might be a perfect fit for this section, let us know. Send your ideas, thoughts, photographs and more to Julie Keller, Art Business News, One Park Ave., 2nd Floor, New York, NY 10016-5802 or e-mail us at jkeller@advanstar.com.

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