Brattleboro public art project begins

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BRATTLEBORO >> The ink had barely dried on the contract before out came clippers, loppers, ropes and chainsaws.

"We thought we should be careful about the clearing effort since it involved sharp objects," said Evie Lovett, one of three artists involved in the public art project "From the River, To the River" chosen as the recipient of the National Endowment for the Arts "Our Town" grant awarded to Brattleboro.

Members of the town's Tree Advisory Committee assisted in seeing over 35 volunteers safely pull vines, brush, bittersweet, debris and dead trees from a bank near the Archery Building on Nov. 21. They were clearing a view to the Connecticut River as the artists held their first event for a project that focuses on reinforcing the connection between the river and the community through a series of happenings and art installations. Earlier in the day, the grant contract was signed.

Several people who regularly see the view, located across from the Whetstone Station and Bridge Street, came out in support.

"You should have seen him lugging out a piece of metal railing that I thought would be there forever," Lovett said of David Hiler, owner of Whetstone Station.

As Lovett, Andrea Wasserman and Elizabeth Billings are artists not knowing much about landscape design, Lovett said the project required oversight from several other groups including the town's Parks and Recreation Department and Planning Department. State and town restrictions were adhered to.

"This woman came up to me and said, 'My name is Angel Mackinnon. My husband is currently working as a chef but formerly worked as an arborist. He's been aching, since coming to Brattleboro, to do something with this. He'd be willing to donate his time.' That sort of ramped up our possibilities around taking trees down," said Lovett. "We asked him (Dylan Mackinnon of the Tree Advisory Committee) if he would be the organizer and give a brief on safety issues."

For Lovett, this was an example of "ask the universe and it will provide." A path was made but it will need to be maintained if the view is going to be permanent, she said.

"I think we'd like to go back in the spring when things leaf and reassess the situation," she said.

At noon, the public was asked to pose for photographs.

"We don't have a fixed idea of what this community portrait's going to be," said Lovett. "It's not actually going to be on the Archery Building. It will be on five aluminum banners on that building."

The artists are currently planning dates and places for other photographs to be taken in the future. Announcements can be found on facebook.com/fromtherivertotheriver, where the group is also welcoming feedback and input.

They visited a quarry on Nov. 24 and looked at pieces of granite for the five to seven benches that will occupy what they are now calling the Archery Building Green.

Another part of the project calls for creating a video of water which will be projected from inside the Transportation Center onto the Flat Street building where Vermont Center of Photography and the In-Sight Photography Project can be accessed. When walking past the installation, people will see their own shadow or silhouette appear on the building.

Small sculpted discs representing water are going to be hung up on mesh inside the Transportation Center, too.

"The idea is bringing the concept of Brattleboro being a town on the river to the center of town and hopefully bringing people out to the river," said Lovett. "We'll be submitting final drafts (of the plan) to the town in March or April."

The winter months will be used for researching and planning. Lovett has been busy taking photographs of the river while Wasserman and Billings are designing the discs and handling other research matters.

The timeline is tight, admitted Lovett.

"It just means we'll have to be on our toes," she said. "I am new to public art projects but Andy (Wasserman) and Liz (Billings) are not. They've been doing them for 20 years. They have pieces across the United States so they're really accustomed to working with towns and entities and airports. And they've never come in over budget or late. They're pros and I'm a very lucky collaborator and student."

The three artists had all seen each other's works at Brattleboro Museum and Arts Center. At one point, they were all featured at Vermont Law School.

"What they do is so different from what I do," said Lovett, who was asked to join Wasserman and Billings when the town's request for proposals went out. "At the law school, they had these incredibly organic sculptures made out of natural elements, trees and sticks. Yet they put them together in a way that had real formal elegance. So it wasn't organic messy."

The artists spent hours "throwing ideas back and forth" before determining that "From the River, To the River" was the way to go, said Lovett, who counted about 10 plans before that one was chosen.

Contact Chris Mays at cmays@reformer.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 273.


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