(HOST) Commentator Deborah Doyle-Schechtman says there’s a new show in town and that it’s impressive for a number of reasons.
(DOYLE-SCHECHTMAN) The other day I saw a heron standing in a pool of murky water, Holsteins grazing in a field of green, and a lone fish peering through a hole in a frozen lake. How Vermont, I thought – the simple splendor, the cyclical inconsistencies!
Yet these seemingly familiar incidents didn’t occur while traveling down any specific road, in any particular county, during any one season. Nope, my experience took place while strolling the halls of a small mid-state gallery. Granted, depicting animals in their natural setting can be ordinary, but what made my encounter anything but – centered on a simple common denominator – a wooden maple palette. The heron I saw was metal, and the murky water in which it stood, a palette. Those cows, and the fields in which they foraged, were made of beads glued to the wooden form. And that fish – well, it’s suspended in the palette thumb-hole. Who could ever imagine that a simple artist’s tool could be used in so many ways?
Palettes of Vermont, a Statewide Arts Project, is the brainchild of renowned artist and Vermont Arts Council Trustee Warren Kimble. His plan was brilliant in its simplicity: unite folks from around the state through the use of a single form. To that end, and in partnership with the Vermont Wood Manufacturers Association, the Vermont Arts Council distributed 7,000 maple palettes and 30,000 paper ones to individuals and community groups earlier this year. Project participants, running the gamut from well-known artists to medical facilities, were invited to use the classic curved shape in whatever way the saw fit. And it’s not an overstatement to say that the results are both staggering and breathtaking.
People – some of whose names you’d recognize because you’re familiar with their work, and others simply because they’re your friends and neighbors – created masterpieces of all kinds and descriptions, making everyday subjects profound.
The mediums used are as diverse as the ideas expressed – paint, pastels, paper, ink, photography, fabric, food, and poetry are but a few. Some palettes became performance elements, while others were fashioned into wearable art. More than six percent of Vermont’s population has actively participated in this effort, and their works will be shown in hundreds of exhibits and events being held across the state over the next few months.
Still, grand as all this may seem, the project is much bigger than palettes and painting. What impresses me most about this massive undertaking is how it reflects our everyday culture, our ingenuity, and our long-standing tradition of collaboration. In the end, it’s about communities – the people who establish them and the people who live in them. It’s about the role creativity plays in thriving, vital lives. It’s about civic pride and a sense of place. It’s about who we are. It’s often been said that art reflects the society in which it’s created. Assuming that to be the case, we as Vermonters have an awful lot to be thankful for!
Deborah Doyle-Schechtman is a writer and historian who specializes in cultural heritage tourism and divides her time between the Upper Valley and the Northeast Kingdom.