Albright: Steamroller Art

Aug 14, 2017

Here’s something you don’t see at every farmer’s market: a guy driving a steamroller over a piece of paper big enough to fill a parking space. The paper is laid over a piece of intricately carved wood or linoleum, which has been inked, and the result is a big, bold, beautiful print.

Last month’s steamroll arts workshop in St. Johnsbury, sponsored by Catamount Arts and taught by Boston-based printmaker and part-time Northeast Kingdom resident Julia Talcott, was a perfect fit for a community where heavy equipment - tractors, horse trailers, and, yes, steamrollers – often outnumber cars on back roads. The prints, as well as Talcott’s own work, are now on display at the Catamount Arts gallery.

All summer long, despite some chilly, wet weather, St. J. has been sizzling with innovative arts events. An outdoor music series is breathing new life into Dog Mountain, the store, museum and chapel created by the late artist, Stephen Huneck. Since his death, the place has struggled to stay afloat, but with support from the community-minded Levitt Foundation, Dog Mountain has treated thousands of people and happily roaming canines to free Sunday afternoon concerts.

Catamount Arts Director Jody Fried, who wrote that grant, has also been working with a steering committee to launch a free music education program. It’s called EPIC music, and, with the St. Johnsbury School, it will make stringed instruments and lessons available to kids, some of whom might not otherwise have those opportunities.

Our state is an artsy place. The Vermont Arts Council has tallied more than 28,000 jobs in the creative sector - 32 percent above the national average. To find that kind of work, people must often move from rural to urban areas. Yet the naturally beautiful, affordable Northeast Kingdom seems to foster creativity. It’s where the late, great writers, Howard Frank Mosher and Galway Kinnell, lived and worked, and indie singer-songwriter Neko Case calls it home.

The question is whether the Kingdom can support younger artists as they build their careers.

There are encouraging signs. With the Fairbanks Museum, Catamount Arts, Kingdom County Productions, plus a fresh slate of community leaders, gritty St. J could spur a regional arts renaissance similar to what’s already happening in White River Junction.

To keep up momentum, cash-strapped towns like these need lots of volunteers and generous benefactors, but like that steamroller at the farmers’ market, they’re revving up and forging ahead.