Windsor: Art Crawl with Bob Haight
Wednesday, June 29, 2016
What does Windsor's Downtown Manager do, besides waltz a blogger through the town and down to the rail yard, his conversation ping-ponging rapid-fire between an encyclopedic knowledge of the town's past and an enormous, multi-faceted vision for its future? I put the question to the person who holds the job, Bob Haight. "This," he half-jokes, referring to our meeting, "and I also water the town's flower boxes."
I'd gone to Windsor to hear about and see more of the in-progress public "sculpture walk" I had glimpsed on a previous visit to Arabella Gallery. (Read Hollywood. Art. Windsor VT by clicking here.) In an afternoon that began with a chat over an Italian soda and ice cream at Boston Dreams and moved on to a history lesson about a relocated former train station with Civil War-era graffiti, there was almost too much story to tell. Such is the passion of architect-now-Downtown Manager Haight for moving Windsor's pieces around, gently and purposefully, to preserve, renew, and achieve sustainable small-town living.
And there's plenty of public art. I kept stumbling upon it en route to the rail yard.
Sculpture by Herb Ferris, pocket park at State and Main
An urban-style pocket park on the corner of State and Main Streets is graced with a piece that, once you have an eye for his style, is unmistakably the work of local sculptor Herb Ferris. Kids were beguiled with it, enough to give it a playful swipe until their parents gave them the eye.
On the other side of Main Street is a war memorial park with the requisite statue of a soldier. Except that it is not so ordinary; it is the work of the late sculptor Lawrence "Doobie" Nolan, whose former studio is across the street. Nowlan, sculptor-in-residence at Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site for five years, is best known for his statue of Jackie Gleason as The Honeymooners' Ralph Kramden that stands in the Port Authority Bus Terminal in New York City. Nowlan had received a commission for a statue of boxer Joe Frazier shortly before he (Nowlan) died unexpectedly in 2013 at the age of 48.
Memorial park, statue by sculptor Lawrence Nowlan
At the bottom of the hill, bordering the Connecticut River, is the rail yard. Four years ago, Haight and friends formed an entity that purchased 2 buildings and 4 acres of land surrounding the railroad tracks. For the past three summers, Haight cut back sumac and removed 227 old tires, 4 junk cars, and 1500 feet of chain link fence. He mowed the grass and still does. His friend Herb Ferris--the very first person Haight had met when he visited Vermont a few decades ago--called one day to offer to place some of his sculpture in the cleared area. The place began to look as if it had possibilities. A bicycle shop moved in nearby; a bike trail is in the works. The Windsor Station Restaurant opened in the old brick train station. Windsor dwellers recommend the food and caution about the need for reservations, at least on some nights.
Windsor Station Restaurant, front door
Other sculptors may contribute their work to the rail yard in the future. Haight says that "there is a big old piece of machinery given by the Precision Museum that is an interesting historic and sculptural piece." And an old steam engine has just been discovered that once powered all of the area's original 14 buildings; it could end up back on the home site.
Another of Herb Ferris's sculptures, one of three in the sculpture walk
Toward the end of the rail yard tour, Haight showed us a somewhat battered building with good bones. It's being given a new life as an occasional music venue. Its porch is the only spot from which to see all "7 cupolas" of the town of Windsor--6 man-made spires and domes plus Mount Ascutney.
Inside the music venue, the building with good bones and a magical porch
A final stroll along the tracks, and Haight pointed out one of his favorite views. Between two roofs is a slice of sky, and then, at a precise angle, appears the gold dome of Windsor's Episcopal Church, reflecting sunlight. It is a simple and charming sight, and unable to be captured by an iPad, or maybe even any, camera. You just have to stand there, and look.
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