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I am a Vermont Artist

This series explores how artists' creative expressions reflect their experiences of ethnicity, gender identity, religion, disability, or age. Covering all artistic disciplines, and a range of backgrounds—from New Americans to the state's first residents—we hope to amplify voices that deepen our understanding of what it means to be a Vermont artist.

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Sachiko Yoshida

Sachiko Yoshida with her husband, Burt Zahler.

Sachiko Yoshida, originally from Hiigata, Japan, met Burton Zahler in Honduras more than two decades ago. Her love affair with Vermont began when he showed her a book of photographs of his cherished Vermont. She also fell in love with Burt, and in 1998 they moved to the Northeast Kingdom to begin a new life. Sachiko has been creating watercolor paintings ever since.

Sachiko shared her thoughts about being a Vermont artist.

How has living as an artist in Vermont affected your creative process?
Having enough space and time is precious to me. Living in rural Vermont has brought me vast freedom from the stresses of a more urban life. I am surrounded by many great people. We inspire each other and support each other with mutual respect. How can I ask for anything more? I just need to keep pursuing my own work. Also, needless to say, I am deeply connected to the environment. As I value the beauty of this world, I'd like to contribute something if I could.
 
What is something about your art that has changed over time?
I am aware of being influenced by a college professor who taught me Nihon-ga (Japanese pigment painting). Even though I was not a good student back then, as I became older, I felt the urge to practice again. I am using watercolor for now, planning to regain those methods I once learned.

Also I am aware of my heritage of Japanese aesthetics. It runs deep within me. I am also open to a more global sense of beauty. I'd like to enrich my world of artistic expression. Over years of life experience I have observed how my awareness of my own ethnicity has become clearer. This clarity has also made it possible for me to respect others and seek the possibilities that coexist with different points of view.
 
What is your vision for next several years?
My beloved husband, Burt, passed away in 2016. I am still in the grieving process. Losing a loved one will never heal. That important life lesson has made me ponder on a daily basis the questions of "absolute truth" and how "what is permanent is everything is impermanent."

Sometimes I feel I am looking at the world through his eyes. He has joined me or I have merged with him.

Never lose curiosity, savor all kinds of beauty, enjoy books, movies, music . . . this world is so beautiful, keep working.

"Live as if you were to die tomorrow.
Learn as if you were to live forever."
—Mahatma Gandhi

Sachiko Yoshida is one of nineteen artists featured in Looking North: Catamount Artists Connect at the Vermont Arts Council Spotlight Gallery.

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Dr. Scarborough François Clemmons with his beloved dog, Princess.
Photo by Vincent Jones.

Dr. Scarborough François Clemmons

To many people, the name "Officer Clemmons" evokes the friendly police officer with the melodious voice on Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, a PBS staple for fifty years. The role of Officer Clemmons was charming and it was groundbreaking: in 1968, François Clemmons was the first African American to have a recurring role on a U.S. television series.

François Clemmons is well known for his twenty-five-year career on Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, but that is just part of his rich and varied life as an artist. He is a Grammy Award-winning opera singer, founder of the Harlem Spiritual Ensemble, emeritus artist in residence at Middlebury College, actor, composer, arranger, playwright, author, activist, and mentor. The list goes on.

François was awarded an honorary doctorate of arts degree by Middlebury College in 1996. A year later, he moved to Vermont to become the director of the Middlebury College Choir. For seventeen years, he enriched the college community and its understanding of music, particularly the American Negro Spiritual. François retired from Middlebury College in 2013, but continues to share his artistry in music and in words throughout Vermont and beyond. Rumor has it that a memoir is in the works . . .

Talking Pictures, a Rutland Herald online video series, recently featured François. He discussed the "importance of music on the path to freedom for African slaves and his own experience growing up in a divided America." Watch On my Journey Now.

learn more about François and his extraordinary career on his website
watch an interview with Paul Larson from Mountain Lake PBS
listen to an interview on NPR's StoryCorps

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Photo by Shannon Alexander.

Isadora Snapp

featured January 7, 2019

Unappealing legwear almost changed the course of Isadora Snapp's life. When she was first exposed to dance at age four "the pink tights and leotards turned me off the idea entirely." In fifth grade Isadora reconsidered. She's been dancing ever since.   Isadora teaches at the Contemporary Dance and Fitness Studio (where she first encountered those pesky pink tights). She is also a choreographer, a co-founder of the Montpelier Movement Collective, and a member of the Vermont Dance Alliance.

She will premiere a new work, Invitation, as part of the Winter Dance Gala on February 16 and 17 at the Highland Center for the Arts in Greensboro. According to Isadora, "With Invitation, I ask nothing more from the audience than enjoyment." Isadora shared her thoughts about being an artist in Vermont.

How has living as an artist in Vermont affected your creative process?
Living in Vermont affords me a measure of peace and space that living elsewhere doesn't. I returned to Vermont because of my family and now my own family is what is keeping me here. But it's certainly no sacrifice. There is a vibrant art and dance community in Vermont if you know where to look for it. Everyone is incredibly supportive of each other and the opportunities and connections only continue to grow. I'm not sure that living here has affected how exactly I create work, but I do know that it has allowed it to happen.

What is something about your art that has changed over time?
I think that when artists, of all kinds, first start out, we echo the voices of our teachers and other influences. I know that for a while I stayed within in a comfort zone for choreography. I was learning about my aesthetic, what works and what doesn't, and what it really means to build a piece. I was interested in creating abstract works that expanded on a theme and highlighted music--pretty and enjoyable but not rooted. Within the past several years, I've started to challenge myself to make work that is related to my own life and tells more of a story. It has required a certain level of vulnerability with the dancers that I work with and with the audience. My movement aesthetic has also evolved over time and I am more prone to taking artistic risks and trusting in the work and the dancers.

What is your vision for the next several years?
I am at a very busy time in my life! I teach six days a week at Contemporary Dance and Fitness Studio in Montpelier and Dance Works Academy in Milton. I have a young family--3 kids with the oldest being 7 1/2 years old. Next year I plan on beginning the certification process for becoming a postpartum doula. This is the first year in several years that I haven't produced an evening-length piece. Instead, I'm working on a ten-minute piece, Invitation, that will have its debut soon. I think the next several years will hopefully continue with more of the same: A very full life and opportunities to continue to create and work with amazing local dancers.

visit Isadora's website

read "Vermont Dance Alliance Throws a Winter Gala" in Seven Days

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Amy Hook-Therrien

featured January 24, 2019

Amy is a watercolor artist and native Vermonter. She is also a member of the Koasek Traditional Band of the Koas Abenaki Nation. 

Amy grew up "nestled on top of a hill overlooking the valley below--surrounded by nature and adventure." She left the state for college but was drawn back to the place of her birth and her heritage. The natural environment continues to inspire and inform her art. Recently, Amy shared her thoughts about being a Vermont artist.

How has living as an artist in Vermont affected your creative process? Living in Vermont you are surrounded by nature, and watching everything change through the four seasons has always influenced me as an artist. I love getting outside and finding inspiration among the trees, hidden in the snow, or basking in the sun. I love to see the dead beech leaves shivering in the cold, the birch trees picking up the color of the sky. Nature inspires me and Vermont is the perfect place to find it.

What is something about your art that has changed over time?
When I first started painting with watercolors I focused more on patterns and abstraction. I now like to concentrate on the details that give each flower, leaf, or tree its own characteristics. I have started to use pens to get the really fine detail into my work then go over it with watercolor. I love them to be individuals, so you can recognize who they are. This is important to me because I feel that it is actually the imperfections in nature that create its beauty. A collection of crinkled leaves, a flower missing a petal, or trees with broken limbs tell more interesting stories.

What is the vision for the next several years?
I would love to become a full-time artist, the more time I spend working towards my goal the more I love it. I am hoping to get a few more solo exhibitions, and add a few more galleries to my résumé. I have illustrated a book and would love to do more that in that field as well. Anything that gets me to paint more and more often.

visit Amy's website
check out Amy's Instagram account
view Amy's Facebook page

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(l to r) Jilib, Fantome J, Meax, Prince Liv, MG Man.
Photo by Julian Parker Burns.

A2VT

featured January 10, 2019

The idea for A2VT was sparked when Said Bulle "Jilib" and George Mnyonge "MG Man" met on a Burlington soccer field. It was there they discovered their shared love of music and shared refugee roots. A decade later, A2VT has just released a new single, Faas Waa, and has been touring throughout Vermont and New England. We spoke with Jilib and MG Man about what it is like to be artists in Vermont.

How has living and making music in Vermont affected your creative process? Living in Vermont, with its four unique seasons helps us to set time aside, especially in winter, to develop our songwriting and recording. If we lived in a place like Florida or California, our lifestyle would be completely different and we might not have enough time to do all the things important to us. Vermont is quiet and has less people living in it, allowing us more time to focus on our creativity. Our music has evolved to be more dance oriented, more Afropop and Dancehall (Jamaican) influenced. When we first started making music almost ten years ago, it was more a hybrid of African, World, and Western music. The tempos have become faster as well.

What is your vision for the next several years? We want to get our new album out and start the next one. We'd like to tour the country and the world, sharing our story of where we come from with new friends from everywhere. Also, make more videos and become homeowners at some point. We wanna' be the next Phish, but African style!

visit A2VT's website
read an interview with PRI
watch a video of the new single Faas Waa

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Index

A2VT
Dr. Scarborough François Clemmons
Amy Hook-Therrien
Isadora Snapp
Sachiko Yoshida