By Sheri Duff
The Shelburne Community School student council made a request to purchase a piece of artwork created by Larry Bissonnette, one of two Vermonters starring in “Wretches/Jabberers,” a documentary about autism. The artist turned down that request, but he offered the student council an alternative plan: instead of selling one of his older pieces, Bissonnette would create an original painting at the community school that was directly inspired by his two-day experience with the middle school students last April.
Following a lesson on labels and a puzzle-shaped artwork activity organized by student council representatives Leah Berger and Roarke Flad two months ago, Bissonnette arrived at the community school ready to create: painting with his hands in acrylics for over an hour. Although Bissonette had trouble controlling his movements and spoke loudly and unintelligibly throughout his creative process the students were non-plussed. Flad explained, “Even though some people don’t look, talk, or act like everyone else they are still a person, just like everyone else.”
After painting, Bissonnette cleaned up and then met with the entire student council. When asked about his inspiration for the painting Bissonnette responded, “All of you are represented in the figures [in the painting] as likeminded people amplified with acceptance,” he typed on his computer. “Your beliefs rule your school.” He also mentioned how much he liked the student’s puzzle pieces. “I love the Polaroid photographs you took and used in your artwork. It’s so old school – like me.”
Following the questions eighth grader Berger offered, “My favorite part of getting to know Larry is that his computer puts him on equal footing. It’s just like iChat or having an email conversation.”
Once Bissonnette’s artwork is completed it will serve as the centerpiece for the student-designed mural that will likely be installed over the summer. “I would like to kick off the school year with a special dedication in August or September,” Co-Principal Allan Miller informed. “The mural is meant to reinforce the lesson the students recently learned – that we are more alike than we are different.”
And with that Bissonnette shared these parting words, “I am so honored you saw me paint.”