The Great Sculpture Rescue
If you visited the Vermont Arts Council’s Sculpture Garden a few weeks ago, you would have strolled underneath towering wooden arches, enchanted by colors cast by sunshine filtering through the stained glass displays. But if there is anything Vermonters have been short on lately, it’s sunshine.
Unfortunately, the catastrophic flooding in Montpelier did not spare the Council offices at 136 State Street. The first floor was inundated with at least a foot of water, meaning that our staff will be working remotely until the damage can be repaired.
The story of the Council’s exterior, however, has a happier ending.
When the Winooski River first breeched its banks, threatening the buildings alongside it, those concerned with the welfare of the Sculpture Garden were relieved to learn that the stained glass installations were high and dry, in the best sense. However, staff members quickly realized that another art object, an intricate long wooden bench by artist Johno Landsman, was nowhere to be seen.
Later that week, the bench was spotted resting along Route 2 in a pile of debris by Laura Trieschmann, Vermont’s State Historic Preservation Officer. Within moments, Deputy Director Amy Cunningham, who lives in Montpelier, sprang into action, trying to arrange for a truck to retrieve the bench, to no avail. Against the threat of darkening skies and rumbling thunder, she figured that the best thing she could do was to prevent it from being accidentally discarded after the next storm. Craftily, she used a trash bag and red spray paint to fashion a warning sign.
When she arrived on scene, ready to place the handmade notice and depart, Cunningham, along with local reinforcements Ben Doyle (former VAC staffer and President of the Preservation Trust of Vermont) and his son, Sal, realized that the bench was actually small enough to fit inside the bed of a normal truck. Ben’s neighbor Dan Desch arrived in minutes with his pickup and they were able to load the bench into his vehicle.
As the quartet pulled into the Council’s parking lot, dust storms tore through downtown. Swiftly, they deposited the bench back onto VAC grounds. Just as they tipped it into place, Cunningham spotted another missing sculpture, “Palette” created in 2007 by Jay Hathaway, part of the Council’s permanent collection, resting underneath a bush. It would be hard to say that the flood waters cleansed the palette, but the group was certainly delighted to see it unharmed.
Although the Council and and the State have a long way to go before attaining anything like normalcy, we are all incredibly grateful that Cunningham and team were able to preserve these art pieces. In the coming weeks and months, we hope that the memory of this successful sculpture rescue will continue to remind us of what is possible with collaboration, luck, and a big truck.