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Grassroots Art in Vermont:

Collecting Non-Mainstream Art at Bennington Museum

This roundtable panel discussion will explore the development of a collection of work by self-taught artists working beyond the mainstream art world (at least initially) at a medium-sized regionally focused museum in rural southwestern Vermont. The discussion will be moderated by Jamie Franklin, Director of Collections and Exhibitions at Bennington Museum, and will include: Gregg Blasdel, Ray Materson, and Kathy Stark (see bios below), who have all played a role in the collection’s development.

Bennington Museum is known internationally for its collection of paintings by Anna Mary Robertson “Grandma” Moses, who lived and worked for most of her life just across the Vermont border in New York State. Seeking to provide a broader context for understanding Moses’ work, who has come to be seen by many as the quintessential example of a 20th-century American artistic autodidact, in 2013 the museum began to actively collect the work of modern and contemporary grassroots artists with ties to our region, including Gayleen Aiken, Paul Humphrey, Ray Materson and Jessica Park. This program will explore the works of these artists and how and why they came to be added to Bennington Museum’s Collection.



Gregg Blasdel is an artist, collector, and scholar whose article “The Grass-Roots Artist,” published in Art in America in 1968, was one of the first explorations of outdoor environmental installations by self-taught artists, such as Clarence Schmidt, Jesse Howard, and Simon Rodia, in the mainstream art world. He went on to co-curate Naives and Visionaries at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis in 1974, which was the first exhibition devoted exclusively to the work by contemporary self-taught artists at a major American museum. He has lived and worked in Burlington, Vermont, since the 1970s, having recently retired as a professor of art at St. Michael’s College in Winooski, Vermont. Blasdel authored “Paul Humphrey: Art is All I Have” in Raw Vision #35 and “The House of Mirrors: Clarence Schmidt” in Raw Vision #56.

Jamie Franklin has been curator at the Bennington Museum since 2005. His scholarship has focused on American art of the early to mid-20th century, with a particular emphasis on the intersection of modernism and self-taught art. He has organized exhibitions and written books, essays and articles featuring artists and topics including Erastus Salisbury Field, Grassroots Art, Impressionism, Rockwell Kent, Anna Mary Robertson Grandma Moses, and Alice Neel. His 2014 exhibition Alice Neel/Erastus Salisbury Field: Painting the People was recognized by the Wall Street Journal as one of the most memorable exhibitions of the year and his 2016 exhibition Milton Avery’s Vermont was lauded as being “as close to a perfect show as mere mortals can mount.”

Raymond Materson is a self-taught artist who began making miniature embroideries (they typically measure no larger than 3 x 2 1/2 inches with up to 1200 stitches per inch and take up to 90 hours or more to create) from unraveled sock thread while he was in prison serving a 15-year term for drug-related offenses. Since getting out of prison Materson has been a vocal advocate for substance abuse education, becoming the first artist to receive the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Innovators Combating Substance Abuse Award in 2003. From 2009 to 2011 he lived in Vermont, making a living as a social worker and witnessing the horrors of our state’s opiate addiction crisis first hand. Materson’s embroideries in the Louis-Dreyfuss Collection were shown in a one-man show at Christie’s Auction last January in conjunction with the Outsider Art Fair. He continues to create works largely on a commission basis. His works can be seen at: https://www.facebook.com/matersonembroideryart. He can be reached at materson.r@gmail.com.

Kathy Stark is a full-time artist represented in numerous public and private collections and the Curator/ Exhibition Director of Grassroots Art and Community Effort based out of Hardwick, Vermont. GRACE, as it is popularly known, was founded by artist Don Sunseri in 1975, making it one of the early progressive studios in the United States. Sunseri, seeing the creative potential of the residents that surrounded him on a daily basis at the St. Johnsbury Convalescent Center, where he worked, started providing opportunities for them to make art, supplying them with materials, encouragement, and a supportive environment—no training or lessons of any sort. Stark has worked with GRACE in various capacities for 20 years, assisting artists of all ages and abilities to create and share their artwork with the larger world.