Creating art a pressing matter in Vergennes

VERGENNES — Heavy equipment and fine art don’t always go together like, say, peanut butter and jelly, but on Saturday a steamroller in the Kennedy Brothers parking lot on Main Street in Vergennes lured artists from as far away as Burlington and Barre.
Specifically, printmakers showed up, and even more specifically printmakers with bigger pieces that require major pressure to compress two pieces of plywood together to transfer ink from larger wood or linoleum blocks onto paper.
That’s when a steamroller comes in handy, said Barre printmaker Lyna Lou Nordstrom, who brought to Vergennes in the back of her Volvo 240 wagon a roughly three-foot-square abstract wooden block featuring trees and leaves.
“It’s very exciting for those of us in printmaking to have a steamroller, because normally we can’t print that big,” said Nordstrom.
ARTIST MEGAN MILLETT, left, of Burlington and Vergennes Union Elementary School art teacher Laura Pettibon watch as Sean Dye prepares to roll over a block print “sandwich” during a steamroller printing gathering in Vergennes Saturday. The event was co-sponsored by Creative Space Gallery and Boys and Girls Club of Greater Vergennes.
Independent photo/Trent Campbell
Most of the blocks under awnings on Saturday were smaller, about six inches square, made of linoleum, and carved at workshops at either the Creative Space Gallery on Main Street or the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Vergennes on School Street. Still more came from teacher Laura Pettibon’s 6th-grade art classes at Vergennes Union Elementary School.
Those blocks were secured in wooden trays, five blocks to a side, and then rolled between the plywood sheets under the rented steamroller, with volunteer Sean Dye behind the wheel.
Pettibon said the idea was popular in her classes, with three-dozen students carving blocks based on the theme “The Color of Water.”
“They were really excited once they heard a steamroller was involved,” she said.
The workshops were funded by a $1,182 grant jointly awarded to the Boys & Girls Club and the Creative Space Gallery, a nonprofit artistic collective that showcases the work of about 50 local artists.
According to its website, the gallery also “provides a tangible connection between the creative arts and community well-being” through education about and promotion of the arts. The gallery, among other things, helped establish monthly warm-weather Arts Walks in Vergennes.
Gallery member artists and youth club Executive Director Jill Strube co-wrote the grant, and the club applied for and is administering the grant.
Strube said the series of four workshops at the club, led by Dye, also proved popular, with about 20 blocks from the club ready for Dye and the steamroller on Saturday.
“They had a wonderful time with him. Some of them had done the linoleum carving at school, so some of them were, ‘Good, I get to do another one.’ And some of our kids were not part of that so they were doing it for the first time,” Strube said. “Multiple kids made several different linoleum blocks. They were incredibly enthusiastic.”
Another 20 people attended four workshops at the gallery led by Janet Seaburg and had works ready for pressing on Saturday. Gallery artist member Eloise Beil said enthusiasm for printmaking has outlasted the project, with a monthly meeting planned.
“So many people are excited with this that it is clear that we will continue having a printmaking group that will meet at the gallery and continue to work on printing projects,” Beil said. “That’s going to be something where members of the public will be welcome.”
Likewise, Strube said she hopes the club can build on the interest in art the program developed.
“I think it was a great starting-off spot, and we’re starting a new drawing class,” Strube said. “We’re hoping it gets the kids involved in more artwork.”
The idea for this project can be traced to a trip gallery member artist Celia Oliver took to Hawaii three years ago. Naturally, she went on a Friday afternoon arts walk in the town she was visiting.
“I go around the corner and there’s this dude with a six-ton steamroller and sheets of plywood. And his name is Sergio, and he’s an artist, and he just decided to do this,” Oliver recalled. “And it was a hoot. I stood around and watched for two hours.”
She went to the artist’s studio and admired three-by-six-foot prints of fish hanging from 12-foot ceilings.
“I was really blown away. I came back and thought, oh, that was cool,” Oliver said.
Beil remembered Oliver returning from Hawaii.
“She was all excited about it, took pictures and showed me,” Beil said. “We didn’t really have a framework for doing it at that point, just tucked it in the back of our minds as an inspiration.”
Then in 2016 Oliver said Creative Gallery artists discovered Burlington artist Noah Lagle was doing a similar project in Burlington.
“I met him and said, ‘If we want to do this in Vergennes will you help us?’ And he said sure,” Oliver said. “He’s just been a great adviser.”
Strube and gallery members met this spring, considering themselves natural allies, and brainstormed what they could do together. It didn’t take long before the conversation turned to the steamroller idea, especially with a Vermont Arts Council grant available.
“We thought, well, that looks like a really good match,” Beil said.
The grant, however, did not cover all the costs. It paid for workshop leaders and some materials, but not for all materials, including plywood and ink, or for steamroller rental.
Some extra funds came from charging artists $20 to have the steamroller process prints, but more will come from a silent auction that was set to begin on Wednesday the 18th and run through this coming Friday, Oct. 27.
During those days the gallery at 214 Main St. will display finished prints of many students and club members and others donated by artists. Bids will be recorded, and the gallery will announce the winners on the 27th, which will coincide with the final Vergennes Arts Walk of the year.
Proceeds will go first to pay off project costs, but all hope and expect the show will do well enough to donate funds to the Boys & Girls Club.
For Pettibon’s 6th-graders the show also offers a chance to make a difference in their community and have their artwork displayed on Main Street.
“Some of the prints here will go to the silent auction, so they’re giving of their art,” Pettibon said. “Also they’ll be able to get to see adults in the community see their artwork, get to see how they respond.”
Strube said the club and the gallery hope to collaborate on more efforts, while the project has already paid off with a stronger partnership with the affiliates and employees of Dye’s Sotheby Real Estate office, who had in the past volunteered to paint and clean at the club’s headquarters and have since stepped up their efforts.
They worked with club members on a pillowcase printing project to create “fall-themed pillowcases and Halloween trick-or-treat bags,” one evening, bringing pizza with them, and plan to come back for more, Strube said.
“It was a really neat extension of a relationship that started with the grant,” Strube said.  
And there is another benefit: Many of the prints that Boys & Girls Club members created will also decorate the clubhouse walls.
“They’re amazing,” Strube said. “What the kids were able to produce was beautiful.”
QUINCY SABICK, 10, of Vergennes creates a monoprint during Saturday’s steamroller printmaking gathering in Vergennes.
Independent photo/Trent Campbell
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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