Migraines inform artwork in Bixby exhibit

VERGENNES — Starting this week, the Bixby Memorial Library in Vergennes will house a new exhibit from Vanessa Hampton, a Panton-based artist who uses her work to educate viewers on the experience of migraine attacks and their potential medical implications.
Hampton is the first of four artists featured at the Bixby as part of the Vergennes art walk, which take place on the fourth Friday of every month from June through September.
The exhibit, which will be open through July, covers all four walls of the Lois Noonan Vermont Room of the library and displays a collection of Lake Champlain water colors, many specifically of the Button Bay area.
The majority of the approximately 60 paintings, however, are not your typical landscape. They are brightly colored abstract works that depict the visual onset of migraine attacks known as “migraine auras,” of which Hampton has been a sufferer since her early 30s.
According to the American Migraine Foundation, approximately one-third of migraine sufferers experience these types of attacks, which are accompanied by dramatic changes in the sufferer’s vision.
“Part of my vision becomes blurred by patterns of colors,” explained Hampton. “It’s absolutely beautiful because I see so many colors and they sparkle. Mine happen to be the zigzag electrical colors that go across my sight and get bigger and bigger before going away.”
Hampton uses these disruptions in her vision to enhance her paintings such as the ones now on display at the Bixby.
“On some of the pictures, I have translated what I see when I’m having a migraine,” she said. “A lot of people see it and say ‘that’s a great abstract.’ But it’s more than an abstract.”
Bixby Memorial Library Director Jane Spencer noted the unique contrast between Hampton’s landscape work and her depictions of migraines.
“It was fascinating that she painted both the exterior world and abstracts of a deeply inner and personal experience,” said Spencer.
“As well as an art exhibit, it’s also an educational piece and a fundraiser,” explained Spencer.
Proceeds from the sale of the paintings, which range in price from $50 to $300, will be split equally between the American Migraine Foundation and the Bixby Library.
Hampton has included facts about migraine pain throughout the room.
“I am personally committed to raising awareness and educating the public about migraines, an experience that is common but which can be devastating to sufferers and which has greatly impacted my daughter’s life,” explained Hampton.
Hampton explained that her daughter, Kedi, who first started experiencing migraines at the age of six, was eventually diagnosed with Ehlers Danlos Syndrome many years later. She’s now in treatment for the underlying illness.
“I want to make people aware that a migraine is sometimes a symptom of something more,” Hampton said. “If we had managed to pinpoint that when Kedi was younger, she might not have to go down to D.C. for clinical trials at the age of 28.”
To add to the awareness raising component of the exhibit, Hampton has invited Dr. Matthew Perchelides, a licensed naturopathic physician from Middlebury, to speak at the Bixby on Friday, June 26, at 6 p.m.

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