Brandon’s quilt trail brightens the landscape

BRANDON — You know the saying, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” Well, the Brandon Artists Guild has launched a project that will brighten the landscape in response to a multi-year road construction project that has ripped up their downtown green and is reconfiguring the traffic pattern through the heart of the downtown.
Armed with paintbrushes, high-quality exterior plywood cut in perfect squares, quilt patterns and a lifetime of artistic experience, the group of artists — led by Joan Drew, Warren Kimble, Robin Kent, Judy Reilly and Ashley Wolff — are creating quilt block patterns on wood panels to hang in prominent places throughout the town in what will be known as “The Quilt Trail of Brandon Vermont.”
“With all the construction we had to do something to feel good about the town,” said Brandon resident and prominent folk artist Warren Kimble, “and, of course, have some fun. We had to have something to get excited about.”
Drew, of Leicester, hatched the idea; and she, Kimble and the others head up the project with a simple goal: to engage gallery artists on a group project and have fun, to involve and excite the Brandon community, and to entice travelers to stop in Brandon during the ongoing road construction over the next two summer construction seasons. To cap off the event, the Artists Guild plans to host an auction of the wooden quilt blocks in the summer or fall of 2019.
Four quilt boards have already been installed on the exterior north wall of the Guild gallery at 7 Main St. facing Café Provence — ideal viewing for patrons of the restaurant. And that’s just the point: the quilt blocks are to be hung in store windows, maybe sandwich boards on the sidewalk, on the sides of buildings or barns — anywhere the public will notice them throughout town and have the greatest impact to beautify the buildings and create interest in the project and in the community.
“It’s the business of art!” said Kimble, explaining that art — if done well — can “energize the downtown” and reflect well on the community’s spirit.
“Each community has its own voice through art,” added Brandon artist Robin Kent, noting that her town has become known over the years for its strong and creative arts community and the impact art has had on the town.
At its most basic contribution, she said, “Art gives you joy.”
Brandon and the Brandon Artists Guild have been launching such creative art projects since the inception of “The Really Really PIG Show” back in 2003 — an event that was an unexpected success.
“Back then I was just trying to do something to put us on the map,” said Kimble, who at age 83 today, remains a boyish bundle of energy, creativity and enthusiasm. “We were the first town in the country to do it in a way that really became widely known, and since then the idea has spread throughout the country.”
When the 40-plus painted pigs were finally auctioned, the Artists Guild raised an astounding $165,000 to benefit the organization (after which they purchased their Main Street gallery space) and started an art scholarship program for eight area schools.
“The Really Really PIG Show” was followed by “The Birdhouse Festival” in 2004 and “Brandon Rocks – Chairs of Brandon” in 2005, both huge hits that really put Brandon and the Artists Guild on the map.
In 2006, it was “Mighty Brandon’s Flying Palette Circus” — part of a statewide project led by Kimble and the Vermont Arts Council through an event dubbed the “Palettes of Vermont” that would involve more than 6,000 painted wooden palettes statewide and gained Kimble and the Brandon arts community further statewide recognition, including accolades from then Gov. James Douglas.
In 2007, it literally was “Reigning Cats and Dogs” in the art project of that year, which saw the painted family pets become regal objects of fascination and worship. The theme in 2008 was “Brandon Thinks Outside the Box,” featuring six-sided paintings on all sorts of creative box-like pieces of art — some intricate, and others just surprisingly creative. The year 2009 was the 10th anniversary of the Brandon Artists Guild and the theme “Starring Brandon,” featured star-shape artistic pieces that reflected on the star role the artist community had played in the town for the past decade.
In 2010, the theme was “Sunflowers,” and in 2011, “Art Makes Brandon Tick” focused on artist-creative clocks — both antique and whimsical. The theme stayed whimsical in 2012 with “Something’s HATCHING in Brandon,” and after taking a rest in 2013, the Artists Guild launched “Brandon Rocks On” in 2014 — the last event until this year’s “The Quilt Trail.”
While The Quilt Trail isn’t a new idea — 48 other states have done something similar as has a town in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom — the art lends itself to brightening big outdoor spaces with a durable piece of art that can last outside for about seven years, says Kent, before the paint starts to weather and fade, or much longer if the piece of art is placed on a shadier side of the building or barn or protected from the weather in other ways.
But then that’s really not the point of this project, says Kimble, who emphasizes the block quilts are meant to beautify buildings in the town during the construction project.
The square wooden quilt blocks will come in five sizes: 48×48 inches, 30×30 inches, 24×24 inches, 18×18 inches and 6×6 inches. The guild plans to produce around 106 quilt blocks, which will be placed throughout the community in a way that creates a walking trail or a driving trail to be depicted on a “Quilt Trail Map” produced later this summer. Artists will work on the block quilts at the guild’s Main Street gallery on Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. to design and paint the boards. Community members are invited to stop by the gallery to either watch the artists work or help paint or be part of the production process.
In addition to the quilt blocks, the guild will open the theme up to all sorts of artistic pieces for sale in the gallery.
“Artists can make it out of fabric, (finer) woods, ceramics, photographers can do it, glass blowers can do it too,” said Drew. “We’re encouraging members of the guild to get creative to make quilt-related pieces of art for sale to benefit the guild and area schools.”
Why do all this work?
“Camaraderie,” says Drew, adding it’s fun to have a group project for members of the guild, which is a co-op that attracts artists from all over the state, not just in the Brandon region. And as children’s author and artist Wolff said, echoing Kimble, “Art is in every part of our lives; it’s not just paintings; it’s your car, your clothes, your food, your house, buildings in town, landscapes … everything.”
When art is viewed in that context, it’s more accessible, the artists agreed, and in a project like the Quilt Trail, it’s something that everyone can be a part of.
“Anyone can do this project and help with it,” Drew and Kimble said. “We design the patterns and tape it off, then it’s just painting between the lines.”
For more information or to volunteer, call the gallery at 802-247-4956 or stop by the gallery on Thursdays.

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