Quirky Artwork Puts Focus on State Icons
A mixed-media painting begun by two best friends to celebrate the symbols of Vermont, as seen through the eyes of foreign students, was donated this week to VTC by one of its creators.
Shana Linwood-McLaughlin, an architectural engineering student from the Cayman Islands, and Kara Bazile, a business student from Haiti, who graduated last year, teamed together to make a painting for a proposed Chandler show in 2016.
That exhibit, which didn’t receive sufficient entries from VTC students, never came to be, but Linwood-McLaughlin and Bazile had begun their effort, coloring a brilliant blue sky across the top of a canvas.
The pair had always planned to donate the painting to the school, but without the art exhibit as a motivator, they couldn’t muster the effort to finish it. The painting sat untouched for about eight months. Bazile graduated and now lives in Boston, and Linwood-McLaughlin eventually took up the task.
In March, U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders paid a visit to campus. Recently having made national headlines for his run in the presidential primary, Bernie generated a great deal of enthusiasm for his visit to Randolph Center.
Linwood-McLaughlin took that visit as an excuse to finish her project.
The painting was ready for Bernie’s visit (he signed the back of the canvas and was photographed with Linwood-McLaughlin).
As art has a tendency to do, the painting took on a life of its own, earning praise from fellow students and faculty.
On Monday, Linwood-McLaughlin, who will graduate with her bachelor’s degree in May, donated the painting to the college.
The symbols incorporated in Linwood-McLaughlin’s painting are largely the expected ones—the Statehouse, a Morgan horse, maple syrup, cows, and apple cider.
“We wanted to show some ways that we embraced the Vermont culture,” Lindwood-McLaughlin explained to a small crowd at a multinational student art exhibit Monday at Hartness Library. “The painting’s supposed to represent the symbols we thought were ‘Vermont.’”
Also in the mix are the Whales’ Tails (now located in South Burlington), Bernie Sanders, and elements taken directly from nature and pasted to the canvas.
The green grass in the foreground is punctuated with leaves collected from a hike Linwood-McLaughlin took near Hanover. The image of sap pours from a maple tree rendered in actual tree bark. The Morgan horse’s mane is made from real horse hair.
“I almost had a nightmare when I went to work with the horsehair,” Linwood-McLaughlin recalled. “The hair was dirty and I had to wash it.”
It turns out horsehair and shampoo don’t mix well.
“I started with a long, nice piece and by the time I was done washing it, it was a bulge. I had to dig through it to find a usable strand.”
Linwood-McLaughlin also pointed out the changing of seasons that can be seen in the background, which segues from winter to spring and then to fall. As a foreign student, she pointed out, she was never here to witness summer.
“We tried to get all the color of the fall, and spring, and winter— which we hate, but it’s the longest season, so that’s why it takes up half of the painting.”
The Whales’ Tails sculpture somehow seemed like “a national symbol of Vermont” to Linwood- McLaughlin and her peers.
“Being international,” she said, “that’s all we used to hear—’Oh, have you seen the Whale Tails?’”
Last week, she met their creator, Jim Sardonis, a resident of Randolph.
Sardonis, whose sculptures are a staple in the Central Vermont landscape, was moved by Linwood- McLaughlin’s tribute.
The impulse for the sculpture, which is named “Reverence,” was based on a dream Sardonis had of standing on a beach and watching a pair of whales play.
In 1988-89, he carved the two nearly-life-sized tails out of black granite and they adorned a field near Exit 4 for 10 years before they were purchased and moved.
The sculpture can now be seen from I-89 in South Burlington’s Technology Park.
Coming to Vermont
Linwood-McLaughlin, from Georgetown on the island of Grand Cayman, came to VTC to play basketball.
Her coach had a connection at VTC and encouraged her to visit.
It was February when she came.
“I couldn’t feel my face.”
Despite that, she quickly fell in love with the team and the architectural engineering program.
“I got to sit in on some classes and see the work up on the walls. I was like, ‘Yeah, that’s what I want to do!’”
Linwood-McLaughlin, who will graduate this May, plans to go home to Grand Cayman, where she will pursue a career in architecture.