An anonymous fall landscape in watercolor appears at the Bennington Museum, courtesy of the Brattleboro Retreat Art Therapy Collection.
An anonymous fall landscape in watercolor appears at the Bennington Museum, courtesy of the Brattleboro Retreat Art Therapy Collection. (Courtesy of Bennington Museum)

BENNINGTON, Vt. -- "The title of the exhibit is actually a quote from Vermont artist and acitivist Larry Bissonette, one of the artists in the exhibition," said Bennington Museum curator Jamie Franklin, explaining the exhibit "More Like You Than Not," which is running in tandem with the larger "Engage" exhibit through May 7.

The exhibit takes a historical look at the past 150 years of artists with disabilities in Vermont and the surrounding region, showing both the struggles and changing perceptions of people with disabilities. Franklin said he had already been immersing himself in the material for the exhibit before artist and "Engage" curator Paul Gruhler contacted him about participating in the VSA Vermont-sponsored exhibition.

"I had been doing research into the history of artistic production by people with mental illness -- this gave me an excuse to expand upon that and reach wider and explore something I was already interested in," Franklin said.

Franklin has divided the exhibition into three categories -- "Rare and Singular Artists: Itinerant Artists with Disabilities," "Art and Vermont's Mental Health Care System," and "Progressive Studios." The first category focuses on early 19th-century artists who had to essentially make it on their own without what Franklin called a "social safety net." The second section examines the creation of the mental health care system in Vermont, while the last section begins with the 1970s, looking at treatment programs and workshops run by artists who encouraged those with disabilities to work with visual art.

Franklin said he wants the exhibit to surprise its viewers.

"I want them to see work that they will not necessarily expect when they come to a museum," Franklin said. "I want them to get a broader understanding of creativity, of what art is and can be."