Vermont Arts Council

Green and Gold

by Jean Killary

In the wind sway
Fragile, white and slender,
With little leaves of antique


Birds fly
From tree to tree
So you cannot tell where
The birch leaves end and finches’ gold

This sweet poem has rarely been read. It was tucked away in the Vermont State Archives, probably sometime in the 1950s, then uncovered in 2013 by Sarah-Lee Terrat. It was written by Jean Killary, a patient at the State Hospital in the 1940s and 50s. Now, the words will be assigned a suitable place of honor, sitting at the base of a large-scale public art project. The poem will be displayed on the side of a stairwell in the atrium of the new Waterbury State Office Complex; a mural will be made in the stairwell above. Not unlike the idea for the entire piece, the project will rise from the poem.

The Poet Who Spoke to the Muralist

Sarah-Lee Terrat is an established Vermont artist, credited with many public art projects. She will be completing another Vermont installation in the Waterbury Complex in August. Sarah-Lee participated in a rigorous and competitive selection process to awarded the job. Funding comes from the Art in State Buildings Grant program.

As a semi-finalist, Sarah-Lee began research with the hope of sparking an idea. She searched paperwork from the Vermont State Hospital catalogued in the State Archives; this is where she found Jean’s poem. The words spoke so strongly to Sarah-Lee—as she described in this article in Seven Days—that she couldn’t imagine building any other project.

Collage of images of project in progress
View these images and others from Sarah-Lee’s studio in this photo album.

The Project in Progress

Sarah-Lee has logged hundreds of hours researching, planning, organizing, studying, and practicing with techniques. The completed work will be a mural on two walls. A birch forest will be painted on specially made wallpaper. The paper is 54″ wide and 26′ tall with images of photographs and documents from the State Archives printed on every inch. An outline of the forest is on the wallpaper; Sarah-Lee will apply paint to those shapes using large brushes.

Archives staff scanned hospital paperwork, then sent the images to the artist. Sarah-Lee used Photoshop to crop, clean, and apply consistent background color. With a scaled paper collage as her guide, she brought the work into Illustrator to stitch together a design for the printers. The paper has to hang like wallpaper, hold the images printed on it, and allow paint to adhere over that.

Apart from these steps, she worked on color studies in her studio. Papers from yard sales were stuck to canvas. Sarah-Lee experimented with paint on those surface to achieve the effects she has in mind.

More Work Lies Ahead

Sarah-Lee will begin production August 10, and anticipates it will take about six weeks to complete. Watch for an update on the project, and more information about a collaborator on the project, sculptor Gordon Auchincloss.