by Meghan Richter
Montpelier, Vermont, is unlike the capital of any other state.
The buildings and population are spread out, and the classic brownstone look is offset by their newly born public art initiative. The town is quite walkable, and contains preserved historical buildings. The businesses are all local, and during my visit, I did not see a fast food chain or national bank. To the people of Montpelier, it is important that aesthetics and community building are incorporated into the growth of the town.
Each of the state buildings on Main Street have begun displaying art. Their newly installed track-lighting has successfully converted these under-used spaces into full galleries.
Within the Pavilion Building is the Governor’s Gallery, In the public lobby of the Supreme Court building is the “Vermont Supreme Court Gallery” that hosts mostly Vermont artists selected by Associate Justice Marilyn Skoglund and Statehouse Curator David Schutz. The gallery is currently hosting “Elusive Element,” black and white travel photographs by Thomas Wies. His photograph, “Kuhmoinan, Finland,” is crowded with vertical lines, and shows the denseness of the forest it was taken in. The trees in this photograph may as well have been a scene from Vermont. The show remains on view through September 30.
The Governor’s Gallery is currently housing “Kaleidoscopic Pathos,” multi-colored multi-media works range from paintings to relief and sculpture by Renée Bouchard that will be on display through September 30. I am looking forward to the upcoming Governor’s Gallery exhibition by Mary Admasian called “Shadowlands.”
When I exited Interstate 89, I was drawn to the center of town by the glowing gold dome of Vermont State House. The State House was fully restored after burning down in a fire in January 1857. Thankfully, much of the large, original artwork was carried out and saved from being burned.
Montpelier’s longstanding commitment to their history and art is growing more apparent as this public arts initiative has gained momentum. This focus on the arts can be attributed, at least in part, to the Vermont Arts Council. Within their front garden are sculptures, the ones currently on view were curated with the nearby Helen Day Art Center as part of the “Line Up — Vermont Sculpture” exhibition that will remain in place through August 1, 2017. The addition of the sculpture garden was a two to three year lobbying effort that became fruitful in the year 2000.
Within the Vermont Arts Council (VAC) building is another gallery which does single artist shows. Currently on view in the Spotlight Gallery is “Viajes (Travels),” watercolor works by Amanda Amend that portray stunningly bold natural and urban images from all over the world.
The spread-out nature of Vermont’s capitol district translates almost perfectly to the entire state. Many Vermont artists live in remote areas, where they may be (perhaps intentionally) isolated. VAC provides classes and creation grants to Vermont artists and a platform for them to display their works.
The Montpelier Design Program is a new initiative led by Steve Fry and Ward Joyce to create a community-driven space. Parallel to Main Street is Langdon Street, where there are images plastered onto the sides of buildings and pop-up parks. This tactical urbanism was employed so that citizens and visitors can explore the artwork in the area by foot, in an attempt to escape the dehumanizing effect of our automobile-centric culture. These pieces of sculpture and two dimensional works are going to be up until October.
These public art spaces work hand-in-hand with local businesses to give exposure to artists, and draw in commerce as well.
Businesses and artists in Montpelier have truly been working to help each other thrive. For example, The Front gallery (6 Barre St.) is a co-op founded by Glen Hutchison that houses Tremolo Coffee, offering pour-over regular and nitro cold brew coffee. The modern art works on display are chosen by the artists involved; each show features the work of all 15 member artists. It currently is featuring Chris Jeffrey’s Fibonacci spiral of squares. Using colors opposite each other on the color wheel, this piece is bold against a black background and achieves mathematic perfection.
Janet Van Fleet, one of the founders of Studio Place Arts, has a painting on display at the Front as well. Typically a sculptor and assemblage artist, Van Fleet’s piece at The Front is of nude women laying down, overlapping parts of their bodies. Van Fleet found that the varied hues of their skin tones, as well as the natural curves of their bodies, “began to look like dunes,” to her as she was painting. Later, she stenciled elephants onto them, accentuating the observation.
The Front’s next opening is on September 2 from 4-8 p.m., during Montpelier’s quarterly Art Walk. More information about The Front, visit http://www.thefrontvt.com. Details on the Art Walk can be found at http://montpelieralive.org/154/Art-Walk.
Community is truly the center of attention in Montpelier, as more and more cooperative spaces crop up.