Portraits and landscapes hold human warmth at the Bennington Center for the Arts

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BENNINGTON -- The Bennington Center for the Arts is alive with new exhibitions this fall, bringing back favorite shows like "Impressions of New England" and introducing the new "Portraying the Human Spirit" show for visitors to explore.

In the first gallery by the entrance, "Portraying the Human Spirit" brings together painted portraits and sculpture from notable artists across the country. Each painting offers an example of portraits beyond the physical features of their subjects, filling each frame with sprawling background landscapes, emotional symbolism and untold stories that challenge the viewer to imagine their own context for each scene.

The portrait subjects come from all across the immense global spectrum of cultures, ethnicities, genders and ages, taking visitors from recognizable into new places.

The centerpiece of "Portraying the Human Spirit," Jonathan Stasko's recent painting "Pure Religion is This," shows Ugandan orphans drinking from colorful mugs. A familiar name around the Center for the Arts, Stasko painted this work specifically for this exhibit as well as a benefit project that the center is running along with the show.

"The first time we saw this piece, he had only filled in the one boy in the gray shirt, and the rest were just outlines. We all looked at it and thought ‘we'll take it like that.' It was that strong of a piece before he had filled it in," said Jana Lillie, the Center's director of operations.

Called the Cold and Clear Well Project, the painting aims to raise money to build a well for the children at Excel Childcare Centre and Orphanage in Kyenda-Mubende, Uganda, where the artist's sister, Danielle Stasko, spent months living and working with the orphans. All the proceeds from the painting (including the Center for the Arts' usual commission) will go to help build the well, which will provide a clean water source to a community that currently lacks a water supply, to the point that only adults are given boiled water to drink and children often go thirsty on days of brutal heat.

Other highlights of the show include Rodd Ambroson's pair of bronze sculptures, "Morning Song" and "Dawning of the Day," Kim Hill's colorful "Nestled In," which shows an infant wrapped in colorful patterned cloth, and Naomi Schachar's pair of contrasting portraits, "Happy Go Lucky" and "Old Faithful," hanging next to each other and showing a joyous reveler hoisting a whiskey bottle and a withdrawn figure covered in a long, white robe.

"I'm the one who hangs the show, and sometimes I think I probably a little carried away, but I had great fun with the proximity of these two," said gallery curator Elizabeth Small, gesturing to Schachar's portraits. "They both have the white cloth, and then here he is with his bottle and the other is in his religious outfit, thinking "I don't want to see this guy at all!"

Beyond "Portraying the Human Spirit," the Bennington welcomes its annual "Impressions of New England show, with its familiar images of New England landscapes, buildings and animals.

While the show contains some vivid examples of color and texture, especially in works like Vermont artist Tony Connor's "Tinkham Road Farm," the Center for the Arts staff said they were particularly drawn to "Menemsha" by Paul Hitchen, a detailed 34-by 9-inch black-and-white image of fishing boats on Martha's Vineyard drawn with pen and ink.

"It looks really simple, but we were looking at it, and it looks almost continuous," Lillie said. "We kept trying to find where he picked up the pen and put it down, but there are a lot of lines that don't seem to be interrupted -- but they're long enough that we think there had to be an interruption somewhere. It's deceptive."

Along with this year's edition of the Laumeister Fine Art Competition, a show open to all submissions and juried this year by Brian Blood of the California Art Club, the arts center also has a retrospective showing the work of master wildlife painter Bob Kuhn, with many original paintings that became covers of Field and Stream magazine.

What: Art exhibits at The Bennington Center for the Arts

Where: 44 Gypsy Lane, Bennington

When: Open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m, six days a week -- closed on Tuesdays

Admission: $9 for adults, and $8 for seniors, students or AAA members.

Information: (802)442-7158, thebennington.org

Cold Clear Well Project: Jonathan Stasko's painting is on sale for $6,000, to benefit a well for the children at Excel Childcare Centre and Orphanage in Kyenda-Mubende, Uganda.

The Center is also collecting cash donations in the gallery and online contributions on their website.


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