Arts & Leisure

Artist paints natural landscape creeping up side of a silo

Artist Wyatt Robinson, a rising senior at Middlebury College, paints his intricate design of Vermont flora and fauna onto the college’s Recycling Center silo off Route 125 on the west end of campus. He expects to finish the mural by Aug. 25. Photo by Cookie Tager

After two internships, almost a year of planning and one interactive map of Addison County silos, the Middlebury College Recycling Center silo is finally getting a new look that could be an example for other abandoned farm storage structures in Vermont. A college student this summer is adorning the old silo with an intricately designed mural of extremely detailed flora and fauna wrapped around the bottom third of the 46-foot circumference structure.

Wyatt Robinson, a Middlebury rising senior and architecture major, was one of four student-artists to apply for the job painting the silo this summer. Even after he was hired, the Vermont-inspired design continued to evolve. He said it reflects his other artwork.

“I’ve done a ton of landscape art … I wanted to stay in that same realm because I know that’s my spot. And I think I just like painting natural features, because you can get kind of hyper-realistic and detailed.

Artist Wyatt Robinson

“But also there’s more room for experimentation and errors because everything is very natural,” he continued. “So it doesn’t matter if I paint it exactly the way I drew it. I like the adaptability of it.”

Robinson plans to finish painting the otherwise unassuming structure by Aug. 25.

Middlebury French Language School alumna and project donor Cookie Tager, 80, spurred this project. A funder of Robinson’s internship, she has been funding student-internships at the college for eight years. Tager has been anticipating the final product since last summer, when she pitched and sponsored an internship to look at the pre-feasibility of a silo project. The 2022 internship, titled “The Vermont Creative Network Silo Transformation Project Internship,” was inspired by the mural on the Bridge School silo on Exchange Street in Middlebury.

“It’s just something that caught my eye,” Tager said.

Rising-senior Shane Silverman, a political science major, took on the first phase of the project last summer, when he accomplished a bunch of logistical tasks, from contacting artists, town officials, construction people and local experts, to conducting research, to chatting with community members. “I have a little interactive map I made with just about every visible silo in Addison County,” Silverman noted.

“There’s a lot of them.”

Although at the time it wasn’t clear whether his work would actually yield a mural, Silverman identified the Recycling Center silo as the most practical pitch-site. Silverman’s proposal caught the attention of Middlebury College Innovation Hub Director Heather Lovejoy.

“I loved the idea of working with Shane and a student artist to get some paint on a silo in summer 2023 … the next logical step was to explore the possibility of an on-campus pilot project flowing from Shane’s research,” Lovejoy said.

Tager called Lovejoy a force to reckon with in regard to her efforts on the project. “She moves mountains,” Tager said. “Heather barreled through these (obstacles).”

An unanticipated obstacle was the unusually wet July and August that Middlebury has seen. While Robinson said the rain has made his job more difficult, he’s confident he can finish it by the end of next week.

Robinson has art in his blood. He comes from a lineage of artists, including his father and two grandparents. “My grandmother is a floral painter … she’s been a big inspiration in parts of this design, because I’ve been doing a lot of flowers,” he said. And Robinson’s father provided hands-on help.

“We timed it, so that right on the actual day I started painting he was here,” he said. “And he was just a great second set of eyes and another perspective on the whole thing. Having him here definitely jump-started the whole thing. It was very helpful.”

Wyatt Robinson stands in front of the primed area of the Middlebury College Recycling Center Silo at the beginning of his painting project last month. The mural, which is due to be finished next week, has a “rough” top edge, with flora and fauna reaching higher in some places than where the white primer appears.
Independent photo/Sophia Afsar-Keshmiri

The design features only a handful of colors.

“I knew I wanted it to mainly be black and white, because I’m most comfortable doing pen and ink drawings … I just really liked that crisp style you get with that high contrast. But I also for sure wanted there to be some colors,” Robinson said.

“I just picked a very small color palette. So I have two greens, two blues, a yellow and a very light gray,” he added.

“And they’re mainly devoted to the plants. The animals are going to be mainly black and white. And then just some gray. But I want the plants to be really vibrant.”

Lovejoy and the Innovation Hub are fond of the minimal palette. “We thought the black and white color scheme with random color pops would work well throughout the seasons in the silo’s setting — from a lush verdant summer to a stark white winter landscape,” she said.

Silverman said Robinson’s attention to intricate details that borders on perfection is something he likes about the design. “That’s the most interesting thing about his style, and it’s going to be very interesting to see that … on such a massive structure,” he said.

For Tager, the winning aspect of mural’s design is the subject. “What I like about Wyatt’s design is that it’s his reflection of the natural environment that he’s living in,” she said.

Robinson says Tager’s passion for the project has had a significant impact. “It reinforces the fact that the project is meaningful to at least one person, but the way she speaks about it gives me the faith that a lot more people could potentially enjoy it, because she’s so devoted to it,” he said.

“I’m just thinking about painting all the time. But she’s always thinking about promoting it and raving about it and talking to people about it.”

Tager hopes that this isn’t the end of the project; she wants it to be a catalyst for more like it. She sees the potential for a silo-mural tourism industry throughout the state.

“I think that once we finish this, it’s up to another community to decide that it has income-generating, tourism-generating aspects that are of benefit to them, and that’s where it would go.”

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