Claudia Carl claims space for art on Middlebury’s construction fence

Not every artist likes to be boxed in. In fact, very few do. But for Claudia Carl, designing a mural on an 8-by-10-foot grid — er, chain link fence — with small plastic cups sounded, well, fun.
“I have always enjoyed doing designs on graph paper,” said Carl, an artist from Cornwall. “I love geometrics and I love color. Trying to figure out how to do art on the fence sounded like such a fun idea.”
If you pass through downtown Middlebury, you’ve probably seen her work, but maybe you didn’t slow down to enjoy the view. What at first looks like a construction zone — is a construction zone — but it’s also the “Chain Link Gallery.”
There are four sections of chain link fence surrounding Triangle Park, as construction continues to supplant the Main Street and Merchants Row rail bridges with a tunnel. Carl’s piece — of mountains, sky and a river as seen through the trees — is on one of those four fence panels. Fellow artist Kate Gridley also has a Mondrian-esque piece (you know, with large rectangles of red, blue and yellow) on one of the panels.
The project was spearheaded by a citizens’ group called Neighbors Together and Town Hall Theater in the spring of this year. The idea is to have rotating artists put up work on the fence panels for the duration of the construction — which is estimated to be about three years.
Carl was one of many local artists to receive an email from Town Hall Theater’s past executive director Doug Anderson calling for artists to submit ideas. She jumped at the opportunity.
“I had a hard time in the beginning trying to translate my designs into that format,” Carl admitted. But she was able to get her hands on charts that have the exact grid of a 8×10 chain link fence. And while visiting her daughter in San Francisco, she sat down with her markers and the charts, and made several designs.
“The trick is putting the design in pixels and it still being readable,” she said. “You have to be able to understand the design from a distance.”
Carl sent a few of her sketches to Anderson, and they settled on one they liked the best.
Then came the challenge of the colors of the plastic cups used to create the design on the fence.
“The colors are completely different from my original drawing,” Carl lamented. “The original design looked a lot better — more readable.”
But in the end, she said, they’re just “not comparable.” They’re two separate pieces.
Town Hall Theater supplied Carl with all the cups she needed and then there were four or five volunteers who came to help her set it up in late August.
Carl orchestrated the helpers. “It was like, OK, that green starts here: 17 rows down and two up; the purple starts five down and two over…”
Wondering if anyone made a mistake?
Not really.
“My design was vague enough in a sense that it was easy to make it work,” Carl said. “We didn’t really screw up.”
After completing the project, Carl is excited to do more.
“It’s really funny having sat down with these grids, I have a lot more that I want to do,” she said. “I know there will be a bunch of leftover cups and boy, have I got the design for leftovers! Hopefully I’ll be able to get another design up on the panels… next time with more colors.”
Aside from her fence art, Carl also works in watercolors and creates hand-drawn geometric coloring pages that she calls “Caleidoscopes.”
“They’re good for creative release, stress relief, fun with friends and keeping your small humans entertained,” reads the explanation of her caleidoscopes on her website claudiacarlart.com, where she sells individual pieces for $2.95 or a set for just under 15 bucks.
Carl first started drawing these in the ’70s after the New Jersey native graduated from the Fasion Institute of Technology in New York City with a two-year degree in textile design.
“I wish I had more art education,” said Carl, who’s parents were a pair of artists. “The year after I graduated they turned my program into a four-year degree instead of a two-year degree…  But my parents would just say ‘practice, practice, practice and you’ll get there.’”
So that’s what Carl has done.
She started taking watercolor classes with Ginny Joyner in Hinesburgh about 10 years ago, and has more recently been managing and selling the supplies for the class. Carl is also a member of the Vermont Watercolor Society and participates in their shows.
When Carl isn’t drawing or painting, or installing chain link fence art, she is the caretaker for Willard and Carolyn Jackson’s property in Cornwall.
“I was working at a greenhouse in Panton for a while, and this man came in and bought a bunch of plants. I offered to help him plant them and I never left,” she said. That was 26 years ago.  
“It’s been an absolutely fabulous place to work,” she said. “It’s so inspirational being there.”

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