Vermont Arts Council

Small Town, Big Plans

Londonderry. A small Vermont town, unassuming. Maybe you’ve heard of it. Maybe you haven’t.

Burton Snowboards. A global powerhouse of equipment and sporty chic clothing. Maybe you’ve heard of it. Maybe you haven’t.

And maybe you’ve heard that Burton began in Londonderry? And maybe you’ve heard that the Londonderry Arts and Historical Society (LAHS) plans to erect a mammoth sculpture just across from the site of the farmer’s market? Let me clarify: mammoth = adjective, not noun. We’re talking HUGE — 30 feet long, 16 feet high, and a price tag of $1.3 million. It will be sculpted in clay, cast in bronze, then shipped almost 2,000 miles to its permanent home. This massive sculpture will commemorate the evolution of Burton Snowboards, started by Jake Burton Carpenter in 1977.

Along Came a Sculptor

Creating and installing an artwork this gargantuan is no small task. New York-based artist Jason Dreweck conceived the idea and brought it to the attention of Mimi Wright, vice president of the LAHS. He sees a uniqueness in Jake’s story that deserves to be remembered.

Snowboarding Olympic gold medalist Ross Powers, left, and artist Jason Dreweck collaborate on an updated sculpture design. Final design is forthcoming. Photo by Pete Christy of Green Door Pub, Stratton.

The beginning of Burton is a tale of drama, mystery, lawyers, rejection, and eventually, incredible success. Despite its leading status in the industry, Burton remains a Vermont company at heart. When asked by Snowboarder magazine about the importance of Vermont to Burton, Jake responded, “It is part of our identity.” He explained that the changing conditions of the Green Mountains helps the company continually improve its products. “I get the Southern California thing,” admitted Jake. “I love to go there and surf, but no offense intended, it shouldn’t be the hub of snowboarding.”

It’s not that Londonderry is the hub of snowboarding, either. While Burton began in the town, it quickly moved on to Manchester and eventually to Burlington, where it is headquartered to this day. So, why put a commemorative sculpture there? To Mimi Wright, it’s all about pride. “This is where it started.” And why forge this connection between sports and art? Are adrenaline-chasing snowboarders the type to be impressed by sculpture?

The Economics of Art

The value of a Burton snowboard is partially attributed to its artwork. Erik Petersen, creative director of hardgoods at Burton, explained that snowboard graphics were once heavily influenced by punky, skateboard-style art. There is more thought behind them now. Erik and his team work with artists from around the world, and recently collaborated with perhaps one of the most renowned modern artists of the present time — Jeff Koons. The designs need more staying power than those on skateboards. Burton snowboards cost hundreds of dollars, and top-of-the-line models can be upwards of $1,000. While there are countless tests of quality and engineering behind the equipment, it seems it’s the art that helps convince people the boards are worth it.

Sales of the Philosopher snowboard, designed by artist Jeff Koons, benefit the Chill Foundation. Photo by The Chill Foundation.

So, art brings money. But what happens when you need money for art? Raising $1.3 million is a huge undertaking, and Mimi was wary at first. Londonderry will make more art. Limited-edition maquettes of the sculpture, signed by Jason, Jake, and by local snowboarding celebrity and Olympic gold medalist Ross Powers, are expected to sell for around $14,000. These limited-edition pieces can be displayed in snowboard stores or adorn mantles of the well-to-do. There will only be 111 made, to represent the site of the original Burton factory at the intersection of routes 100 and 11. Names of those who purchase the maquettes will be inscribed on a plaque at the base of the real thing.

Another part of the plan involves capitalizing on the can-do energy of youth for the completion of the project. Garrison Buxton, a “wild silkscreen artist,” in Mimi’s words, with a shop/gallery in Londonderry, has designed a t-shirt that is being sold to help raise funds. She hopes to include other enthusiastic spirits with in-kind work: people can lend their time and talents in collecting materials, construction, landscaping, welding, and more.

The Magic’s in the Mountains

Break it down: Jake Burton Carpenter revolutionized a sport there. Mimi Wright helped – she designed Burton’s original mountain logo. She is now vice president of the arts and historical society. Jason Dreweck called Mimi, not knowing of her involvement back in the day. Now they are all connected in this big endeavor of art. Lots of coincidences there — how did it happen? It seems that these mountains draw artists and entrepreneurs, and then draw the best ideas out of them. Londonderry’s own ski mountain is called Magic. Maybe you’ve heard. Maybe you haven’t.

Top left: Garrison Buxton’s t-shirts and sweatshirts sold like crazy at the Vermont Open Snowboarding Competition at Stratton Resort last weekend (image by Garrison Buxton).

— for more information about the sculpture project, visit the LAHS website.
— to hear the whole story of Burton’s beginning, take a free tour of Burton’s headquarters: this is how.
— Burton’s Chill Foundation will raffle off a few remaining Philosopher snowboards; proceeds benefit the foundation. Get tickets or more information.

Rachel Stearns

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