Art Road Trip: Bennington Vermont II


Bennington and North Bennington, Vermont

Through November 7, 2021.


Summer and Fall are seasons to be outside. If you’re in southern Vermont any time before November 7, swing by the Bennington Art Museum and partake of its 28 outdoor sculptures and then make your way to North Bennington to see 40 more. (You can easily find its grand old rail station, where you can park, and where you can view most of the village’s works on display. (The bulk of them are across the street in a field beside the Post Office.)


You probably won’t know most of the artists’ names and that’s part of the fun. It means that you can take in each work without preconceptions. There is often a tendency to “collect” viewings of famous artists, by which I mean we’ve “seen” works by folks such as Louise Bourgeois, Judy Chicago, Jeff Koons, Henry Moore, Picasso, Henry Moore, or Auguste Rodin when all we’ve really done is a quick walk-by. Those artists we don’t know invite us to stop, look deeper, and make up our minds what we think of the work.



The Bennington works are occasionally political–Matthew Perry’s “Waiting (for Trayvon Martin) or Jose Crillo’s “Lonesome George” * for example–but most of it is ironic or/and whimsical. But enough words from me. Below are some pictures that should entice you to put Vermont on your journey itinerary. 






Rob Weir


*Lonesome George was a Galapagos tortoise who died at the age of 102 and is thought to be the last of his particular species.



Small Towns: North Bennington, Vermont




I have no idea how many times I’ve been to Bennington, Vermont, but until recently I hadn’t been to North Bennington since the early 1980s. I visited again about a month ago to see an outdoor sculpture show shared with Bennington. If you like small towns, North Bennington is a good one.


It’s indeed a wee place–just 1,697 residents. The village is best known as the home of Bennington College, an institution slowly recovering from a nasty labor crisis, a boycott, and a brief loss of accreditation. In 1994, Bennington College abruptly dismissed 27 faculty members and instantly gained the informal nickname of “Scab College.” It was quite a shock for what was once one of the most prestigious (and expensive) higher ed institutions in America. The fallout was so severe that it nearly went under. In 2000, the college was forced to pay a sizable settlement to the wronged faculty members, though somehow the controversial president was retained. (I guess being an administrator means never having to say you’re sorry!).




These days Bennington College is better known for running the Robert Frost homestead in Shaftsbury, about 5 minutes from the grounds officially, though the driveway onto its grounds is one of the longest I’ve ever seen. It’s a tidy campus, but nothing all that special, so a quick drive through is all you’ll need. After that, I recommend that you head to The Roasted Bean, a really nice coffee shop with great baked goods. Assuming we ever get back to “normal,” there’s also a nice restaurant in the building for nighttime meals called Pangaea. The complex is on Main Street across from the library and a handsome fountain and on the intersection that takes you to the Park-McCollough House.




The Park-McCullough is a grand old Second Empire style Victorian 35-room mansion. It was built for Trenor [sic] Park in 1864. Park made his fortune as an overseer for the mining interests of John C. Frémont, the controversial California politician who came within a whisker of becoming elected president in 1856. Imagine how history would have changed had he, not Abraham Lincoln four years later, been elected the first Republican president. (In my view, Frémont was an unstable egoist. He would have been preferable to the deplorable James Buchanan, but he was certainly no Lincoln.)




As for the house, it’s lovely. The McCullough part of the hyphen came the way most do among wealthy families. That is, a Park daughter married into the rich McCullough clan, specifically John G. McCullough, who was a Vermont governor between 1902-04. Prior to that, he was a Philadelphia lawyer and a California politician. Even if you don’t wish to partake of an indoor tour, the grounds are sylvan and inviting. The house itself is on the National Register of Historic Places.


North Bennington has a surprising number of industries for a small town. Gun drills, clothes hangers, and snowshoes (Dion) are made there. That’s largely because of dams and swift flowing water in parts of the Walloomsac River. You can walk a block up from The Roasted Bean and see it tumbling over a spillway with a scenic pond behind it. As you’re driving out of the village back to Bennington, there are several covered bridges favored by shutterbugs.  




North Bennington’s crown jewel, though, is its 1880 railroad station. It’s also a Second Empire building and if you need a visible representation of how railroads used to rule the transportation roost, this is it. The village doesn’t currently have passenger service, though negotiations are underway to create an Amtrak link to Albany, New York. If that happens, though, the 1880 station probably won’t be used; it has been repurposed as both village offices and a community center. 



Even if you only spend a few hours in the region, you’ll be glad you did. Unlike Bennington, its namesake neighbor, there is a paucity of chain franchises. This gives North Bennington “charm,” one of the things people from away come to New England to see.


Rob Weir  


CODA the Most Moving Film of the Summer


CODA (2021)

Directed by Sian Heder

Pathé, Vendôme, Apple + TV, 111 minutes, PG-13 (language, adult situations)

In English and sign language




At last! A feel-good summer movie that’s not a cartoon, action film, or comedy for those with the IQ of a seven-year-old. CODA is predictable and tries to make you reach for the tissue box, but its heart is in the right place. It has already won four awards at Sundance and is sure to carry off a few more prizes. That’s because it is well-acted throughout and Emilia Jones, its main character, is so good she turns heads.


If you wonder about the French production companies and why it features an Irish actor (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo), a Mexican principal (Eugenio Derbez), and a Canadian (Amy Forsyth), it’s because the film is a remake of La Famille Bélier, a 2014 French release. Two writers from that film cowrote the latest production, which had a Covid-related online release that did so well in Europe that Apple TV + purchased North American distribution rights. It’s about Ruby Rossi (Jones), a reclusive 17-year-old high school senior who loves to sing, but has deaf parents. CODA–all uppercase–stands for Child Of Deaf Adults. Being a CODA is tougher than you might imagine. My first professional job out of college was as a juvenile probation officer. One of my most challenging clients was a CODA who was the ears and voice for his parents. He acted out in part because of the frustration involved in not being allowed to have a conventional childhood.


CODA is set in Gloucester, Massachusetts. Frank (Troy Kotsur) and Jackie Rossi (Marlee Matlin), their deaf son Leo (Daniel Durant), and his hearing younger sister Ruby are a fishing family. Ruby’s daily routine involves waking up at 3 am, tossing on her clothes, waking the rest of her family, and making her way to the pre-dawn pier with her dad and brother to cruise miles out to sea. On good days she returns home in time to get ready for school; on the bad ones, she pedals her bike like mad and hits the high school halls smelling of the catch. Needless to say, she’s not popular–more like the butt of jokes and mean-spirited ridicule. Her only real friend is Gertie (Forsyth), who is a bit slutty and thinks Leo is hot. Ruby’s life takes an unexpected turn when she impulsively signs up for Chorus when seeking a gut course to fill out her senior schedule. She’s petrified of her peers, but music teacher Bernardo Villalobos (Derbez) knows talent when he hears it. Derbez plays a stock character: cranky tough love teacher who tells Ruby and a talented peer, Miles (Walsh-Peelo) either to excel or stop wasting his time. It’s not that he doesn’t care about Ruby’s challenges, rather he thinks she can get a scholarship to Boston’s Berklee College of Music if she drives herself to the max. Ruby is like the kid I used to supervise; she hasn’t had the luxury of being a child or an adolescent.


Try going your own way when you are the ears for your entire family, and a close one at that. Frank and Ruby are nuts about each other, though they are not exactly versed in social etiquette, and Leo is salt of the earth. CODA also tackles the challenges of making a living from the sea in an age of overfishing, regulation, rip-off vendors, and fishing families forced to compete against each other. Try arguing with a vendor if you can’t hear. Leo can at least read lips, but he still can’t communicate with anyone who doesn’t know ASL (American Sign Language).  Can anything possibly go right for the Rossis? Will Ruby and Miles be able to pull off the duet Villalobos wants them to rehearse? Will Gloucester’s blue-collar seafaring community ever embrace the Rossi family? Does Ruby get her shot at Berklee?


Curmudgeons have criticized CODA for being paint-by-the-numbers. Okay, it is! It’s also deeply satisfying, sharply written, funny, and doles out melodrama in small enough doses that we don’t gag. As most know, Marlee Matlin is indeed deaf. She threatened to quit the production unless other deaf actors were cast, which led to Kotsur and Durant coming aboard. All three are wonderful, with Kotsur and Matlin very endearing together. The film, though, is stolen by Emilia Jones, hitherto known for the Netflix series Locke and Key. Not for long. She not only acts, she puts in the work to shine. She spent eight months while on the TV series taking voice lessons and learning ASL and she’s bloody good at both.


Yeah, yeah, the film’s a remake with a change of location and echoes of other CODA movies, plus doses of Fame and Once goes to high school. It’s also a terrific ensemble film and so inspiring you can reach for that tissue box without shame.


Rob Weir