Students' art displayed at Powers Market

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NORTH BENNINGTON — For the next two weeks, portraits of people in the North Bennington community, created by fifth grade students at the Village School of North Bennington, will be on display at Powers Market.

This is the second iteration of the North Bennington Portrait Project, a collaboration between the school and the Vermont Arts Exchange. This is the second iteration of the project, the first taking place in 2015, and was inspired by a 1993 mixed media work by VAE director Matthew Perry called "Tastee Freez," which depicted the North Street dairy bar.

Gabrielle Rynes of the VAE worked with the students' teachers to incorporate the art project into the curriculum, and then embarked with the students on a several week endeavor to make the portraits.

"It was definitely a process," said Rynes at the premiere Thursday evening. "We started with the interviews, to give the students a clue of who they were working with."

The students voted on subjects that they felt made a big impact on the community of North Bennington, and made visits to their places of work for the interviews. They then worked with Rynes, Perry, and Katrina Hastings to draw, carve, and cut the foam that made up the portraits. The background of each portrait was filled with a scene from the subject's place of work.

"The students were encouraged to explore the notion that everyone has a story, one much deeper than they might learn by observation," said Rynes. "People are more than just their jobs, and developing an understanding of others builds community and compassion"

"Understanding the responsibilities and professions of their neighbors and learning who they are beyond the job title is an important part of their role as a young citizen," said Perry. "It's an `education in community' and in our 2-square-mile village, it's the perfect opportunity. Subjects of past and present projects include the Highway Supervisor, Village Trustees, firefighter, architects, shop owners, artists, teachers and this year, a twist, the students themselves at VSNB."

"It's very touching," said Penny Ela, an employee of Whitman's Feed Store and one of the subjects of the portraits. "The kids did a great job. It's wonderful to learn that your thought of this way, that you've made such an impact on their lives at a young age. I hope they continue to have this love of animals."

"One of the reasons people go to Whitman's is to see Penny," wrote the students in the essay that accompanies the portrait. "Her huge heart is very apparent in our community. Hopefully you have a chance to learn from her!

The other subjects were Abigail Martin, the owner of Powers Market; Didi Jura, a waitress at Kevin's Sports Pub; John Ulrich and Pat Gibbons, teachers at the Village School; Ray Mullineaux, a carpenter and member of the North Bennington Prudential Committee; Marlene Driscoll, director of Lake Paran and reading teacher at the Village School; Ron Pembroke, who operates a tree farm and landscaping business; and, as Perry alluded to, the students themselves.

Mullineaux's portrait included wood shavings the students picked up from his studio during their visit. The students also used paint brush bristles for his beard. "Did you know that he has a degree in philosophy from Yale, is fascinated by chemistry, and loves butterflies?" wrote the students.

Perry thanked Powers Market for their support in displaying the students' artwork. "This is really an opportunity for us," he said. "They really are supportive of arts organizations."

"This was a special group of kids this year," said Rynes. "They seem so invested in the community."

Derek Carson can be reached at dcarson@benningtonbanner.com, at @DerekCarsonBB on Twitter and 802-447-7567, ext. 122.

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