With a rainbow-colored palette, artist Jessica Park transforms her meticulously drawn architectural monuments into compositions of decorative brilliance. Lights of all sorts radiate from the atmospheric heavens surrounding her houses, bridges, and skyscrapers. Day-lit features and nighttime skies appear in the same painting. Intricate details highlighted by carefully applied hues mark her pictures. Park is an artist with an unusual ability. Her visionary world of imagination and creativity has emerged from a combination of artistry and her lifelong struggle with autism.
Jessica Hilary Park was born in 1958 in North Adams, Massachusetts, near Williamstown, where she currently resides. Although early manifestations of autism threatened to shut down her life, she was fortunate to have a family of resourceful parents and siblings determined to bring her into the world of thinking and acting.
Art was a way for Park to connect, and her mother, Clara Claiborne Park—whose two books about her remarkable daughter are considered seminal biographies on a life with autism—began to draw with her when she was very young. Jessica, who did not speak until age eight, responded well to drawing, easily recognizing shapes and colors. As her drawing evolved, stick figures and elementary scenes comprising short narratives became a means for her to acquire language, through labeling and storytelling.
As Park became more adept at language, she attended school and continued to draw. In high school (which she entered at age twelve), given the opportunity to further explore the rudiments of drawing and color, she focused her keen observational skills by creating accurate, lively line compositions.
After Park graduated, in 1979, her art career took off, initially with colorful renderings of her favorite household objects, such as heaters and blanket controls. Introduced by her mother to receptive audiences, these pictures were greatly appreciated and sold well. Over the next several years, Park completed a series of paintings featuring doors, railroad crossings, and houses, which were sought after by clients who commissioned her work. She began loading the skies in her works with astronomical objects, fireworks, and inventions of her own, such as “horizontal” rainbows. By age thirty Park was an accomplished artist. But continuing her evolution, she introduced a creative mix of her signature buildings, skyscrapers, and bridges rendered with surprising originality.
Largely self-taught, Park has an exceptional ability to articulate balance, volume, and depth through meticulous application of color combinations in finely detailed patterns. She has combined the drafting skills honed during her high school years and the acrylic paints that became her chosen medium with her “enthusiasms” and carefully developed principles of order to become an accomplished artist.
In 1995, at the urging of patron/client and Williams College professor of art history S. Lane Faison, Park’s work was recognized with a retrospective exhibition at the Williams College Museum of Art. Her work has been in individual and group shows at western Massachusetts galleries and is in the permanent collection of the Bennington Museum in southwestern Vermont. Park received an honorary doctorate in fine arts from Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts (MCLA) in 2003. In 2008 the Jessica Park Project at MCLA created a traveling show of her work accompanied by a catalog, Exploring Nirvana: The Art of Jessica Park, with a foreword by the distinguished neurologist and writer Oliver Sacks, who made a documentary video about the artist titled Rage for Order. This exhibit, A World Transformed, draws its title from an art biography on Park by Tony Gengarelly, published in February 2014.
In Jessica Park, autism has found art. Through the imagination of the artist, both have become engines of transformation, bringing to life an unprecedented world of visionary beauty. Ultimately, Park’s singular life suggests a new way to approach and appreciate difference and diversity. Her extraordinary art, and that of other artists on the autism spectrum, invites altered perceptions toward those with so-called disabilities. Their work is a profound witness to another way of seeing art, and it awakens our sense of value for the lives it represents so compellingly.
Road Trip: America Through the Windshield sets the stage for BMAC’s newest participatory exhibit: Your Space/USA. Here, visitors of all ages are encouraged to learn about the 50 states and their capitals, to play games, and to peruse a sampling of postcards from all of the state capitals.
BMAC has Brattleboro resident John Carnahan to thank for the selection from his large collection of postcards from every state in the country. Through these historic and ephemeral souvenirs, visitors can take a “virtual trip” to every state capital and learn about state birds, trees, flowers, places, and history.
Spotlight on Small showcases small-scale art by five artists. Inspired by XS, a 2012 exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art that highlighted small works from its collection, this exhibit offers BMAC’s version of small-scale contemporary work by regional artists Laura Christensen, Adrienne Ginter, Altoon Sultan, and Jen Violette, and Elizabeth Sheppell of Atlanta, Georgia.
Since ancient times, depicting the landscape has been a way for artists to explore the relationship between nature and humankind. In recent times, that relationship has often been experienced by car as part of a daily commute or an epic, Kerouacian journey. From urban landscapes in which billboards and stoplights replace trees and mountains, to the landscapes of national parks, tourist attractions along the United States highway system, the artists in Road Trip: America Through the Windshield look at the ways in which the road has transformed our interactions with the land.
The paintings from Gregory Thielker’s series Under the Unminding Sky inspired the exhibition’s title: the windshield, covered with water, is the lens through which the urban landscape is experienced. Thielker’s paintings highlight the viewer’s separation from the surroundings. The windshield is a barrier, protecting from the elements but distorting the imagery. Is the landscape seen from inside the cocoon of a car ever fully experienced? Or does it become abstract, unreal, like the images seen on TV and computer screens?
Amy Stein photographs moments when the safe haven of the car betrays the rider. For her series Stranded, she traveled throughout the United States photographing stranded motorists and abandoned automobiles. Both people and vehicles seem lost and uncertain, out of place in the landscape, engulfed by an environment to which they have no connection. Stein relates these images symbolically to a feeling of abandonment by the American Dream, caused initially by the poor government response to flooding after Hurricane Katrina. In light of the worldwide recession of 2008 and the devastating effects of global warming, the American Dream, as embodied in the automobile and the open road of unfettered possibilities, has become an increasingly questionable ideal. Stein’s photographs of people and cars going nowhere are telling indicators of a system that no longer functions.
Jeff Brouws is interested in cultural geography, or the underlying social reasons for the roadside landscape. His portfolio Storage Units shows the bizarre effects of rampant consumerism: rental space in the middle of nowhere in which people store their excess acquired stuff. Brouws notes that these units also serve as opportunities for landowners to generate income in undeveloped areas. The stark lines and rigid grids of these structures contrast bleakly with the endless skies and rolling hills of the surrounding landscape.
Arriving in the United States from his native Spain, Juanli Carrión took road trips around the country as a way to learn about American culture. Particularly struck by the strange relationship of Americans to their vast landscape, he documented it in two photographic series represented in this exhibition. Atlas Shrugged is a reaction to his reading of Ayn Rand’s novel about a dystopian society. While Rand lays the blame on a government that stifles creativity, Carrión explores the negative effects of industrialization. He mounts the photos on light boxes, the format used for displaying Chinese landscape paintings often found, in their most synthetic and kitschy form, in Chinese restaurants. Highlighting the contrast between the idealized Chinese landscape and the actual American landscape, Carrión throws into relief the effects of human intervention.
Carrión’s series Onstage emerged after a residency in the western United States introduced him to the historic plaque as landscape marker. Historic events, often of questionable significance, were noted on signs mounted on bare hillsides. Ostensibly attempts to bring tourism to otherwise forsaken areas along lonely highways, these markers became the means for people to mark their territory, to “own” the landscape by attaching it to an event in human history. “Mysterious Incident at Lake Desmet” allows visitors to listen to the story on one of these markers, in the voices of such symbols of the fictionalized American west as John Wayne. The environment in the photo is dramatically lit, emphasizing the ways in which history is created as it is staged within the landscape.
Letha Wilson’s photo sculptures merge landscape photography with concrete. She deliberately fuses images of natural beauty — trees, mountains — with a material of human construction, showing not only the tension between the two, but also the new possibilities that exist within their combination.
The road and landscape in Thelma Appel’s painting “Exodus by Moonlight” represent not just an American landscape, but any hostile landscape of fear and uncertainty. As a child Appel endured an exodus from her birth land of Israel to her mother’s homeland of India in the wake of her parents’ divorce. This painting depicts the exodus of anyone who has to leave their home and travel to unknown lands. The road becomes a symbol of exile, the landscape of unknown dangers.
The road has permanently changed the American landscape. It has allowed Americans to travel throughout the United States and learn more about the country’s diverse topography. Experiencing the landscape through the windshield has, at the same time, led to a certain alienation from it. The development of roads and the increase in traffic have inevitably caused the built environment to encroach on the natural environment, with results that are not always positive. Ultimately, the landscapes depicted by the artists in this exhibition become projections of the road trips through them and the people on those journeys.
Assembled to accompany Road Trip: America Through the Windshield, the vintage car advertisements in this exhibit span six decades, from 1920 to 1979. They were culled from general interest periodicals, such as Life, Time, and National Geographic, as well as magazines specializing in the auto industry, such as Car & Driver and Road & Track.
Art Deco is an international-style movement developed in the 1920s that grew in importance through the 1930s and ’40s. It is characterized by bold lines, geometric shapes, lavish ornamentation, and vibrant colors. To this day, Art Deco evokes the exuberance of the machine age with its faith in social and technological progress. The movement’s quintessential expression is its architecture, the most iconic examples being the Chrysler and Empire State buildings in New York City.
Andrew Bordwin has been photographing Art Deco buildings in New York and Europe for twenty years. While the silhouettes of the buildings are familiar to those passing by, the magnificence of the detail is generally lost to viewers at street level. Bordwin’s stunning silver gelatin prints transport us to the tops of buildings and inside closed lobbies, allowing us to experience the iconography and craftsmanship of these early-twentieth-century masterpieces.
Deftly balancing the clarity of great documentary photography with distinctive artistic expression, Bordwin shoots his subjects straightforwardly, capturing their rhythms and proportions without adding layers of sentimental or romantic longing for a bygone era. His images possess their own internal logic and materiality, and with their finely shaded gray tones, the prints appear to glow from within, much like the chrome buildings themselves glow when struck by sunlight. Viewing thus becomes a double pleasure, as we experience both the Deco buildings’ details and Bordwin’s photographs.
Patsy Santo (1893-1975), a Bennington resident for nearly sixty years, was one of many talented self-taught artists—Anna Mary Robertson “Grandma” Moses being the most famous—catapulted into the national spotlight in the late 1930s. This exhibition celebrates the recent gift to the museum of six of Santo’s paintings (four of them on view) by Tom and Jennifer Fels, nearly doubling the size of the museum’s collection of this important local artist’s work. We acquired our first Santo painting, The Gingerbread House, directly from the artist in 1966.
This selection of paintings by Patsy Santo is a well-rounded sampling of his professional career as an artist, both chronologically and in terms of subject matter. Silo Filling, depicting the farm now owned by Pembroke Landscaping in North Bennington, and Cabin in the Pines were included in Santo’s first local exhibition, held at the Lawrence Art Museum at Williams College in 1941. Ready For Battle and Pleasant Street are typical of Santo’s scenes of downtown Bennington, still easily recognizable today, of which he painted many, as he lived on Dewey Street and didn’t have a car of his own. Peaceful River is what Santo referred to as a “composition,” or an imaginary scene, which, in this case, seems to blend elements of the Italian and Vermont countryside, bringing together his two homes. Skiing at Bromley is the latest of the paintings included here, depicting a colorful and lively scene at the popular local ski resort.
Bennington Museum’s major exhibition of 2014 features the stunning work of two acknowledged masters of the portrait as art. Though separated by one hundred years, the portraits created by the 19th-century itinerant painter Erastus Salisbury Field and the 20th-century master Alice Neel have a remarkable resonance with one another. Examining the artists’ cultural, political and social milieus, as well as the subjects of their paintings and what painting meant to them personally, this exhibition reexamines the relationship between Modernism and its romantic notions of the “folk” in order to bring viewers to a more nuanced understanding of these great artists and their work. Field is represented in the museum's collection by nine portraits, all depicting sitters from Bennington County. Included in the exhibition are three of these paintings that rank amongst the artist's best work, including portraits of Luman Preston Norton, c. 1840, his father Julius Norton, c. 1840, and an unidentified portrait of a young woman and child entitled Woman and Child, c. 1840 . Works by Neel included in the show are a nude portrait of her estranged daughter, Isabetta (1934), along with Jenny Brand (1969), and Ginny and Elizabeth (1975).