Steeples and Stars


Spring has arrived in Vermont.

Iris coming up. You know what pops in my head when I see these new iris? “And these are my steeples” from that kids game where you fold your hands into a church. I like visiting churches… as a tourist. I’ve seen quite a few across the world, but not many inspire the simple awe of spring and sunlight on new green, or the grace of hands on dirt, or the benediction of brushing off damp gritty knees after kneeling to weed. Excuse me while I go look up the word benediction… Not totally sure what it means…

A little boy asked me not long ago what a church was, as we drove by one, and I tried to explain, I said churches were where people went to pray and talk to God. He asked me if churches where were God lived. Well, I said, it’s kind of his house, but he doesn’t live there. He’s everywhere. I thought that was the end of it, but then he asked me, “what are we made of?” What are we made of? What? What should I answer? Skin and bones? I reached way back and remembered a song lyric and something about carbon. We are all made of stars, I said. He was quiet the rest of the way home.

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Spring Equinox: six favorite Vermont visual artists 

Bare trees on mountain ridge, backlit by sun behind Mountain, Mettowee Valley, by Bean & Bantam

It’s the spring equinox. Day-length has stretched to equal the night. Vermont trees are still in their winter dormancy, they have not yet come into bud, and along the mountain ridges, they stand back-lit and bare, illuminated by the sun behind the mountain.

Later in the spring, they will bud and their  leaves begin to turn the mountain green, slowly.  Beginning at the bottom of the mountain, and then a slow march up the slopes to the top, a green that rises over the course of about a  week once you see the first leaves, sometimes shorter if the weather warms quickly.

I see this mountain almost daily, driving down the valley to work and back.  I saw the trees outlined on the ridge, and the billowy white clouds, and I saw how beautiful it was, and thought it would be a sight worth sharing, but I almost just kept driving, thinking I could take a picture another time.  Another time.  The sun, the blue, the clouds… those bare winter trees back-lit.  A bit down the road, I turned around, and then pulled over and parked to take photos.  I find that it is easy to take the sights you see every day for granted, so when something strikes you despite your familiarity, it’s probably best to try to capture a sense of it right then and there.  Wait and it’s gone.  Go back another day or time, and the sun and clouds are different.  So I stopped, and I tried to capture a bit of my sense of Vermont, the beauty of this place.

Bare trees on mountain ridge, backlit by sun behind Mountain, Mettowee Valley, by Bean & Bantam

There are a few artists that capture that Vermont sense of place and beauty extremely well:  Sabra Field, Shawn Braley, Peter Miller, Brian Sweetland and Elaine Franz Witten.  

Sabra Field is a Vermont print-maker.  I was lucky enough to find one of her original Mountain Summer prints at a rummage sale (it had a bit of water damage and needed professional cleaning, it’s now as good as new thanks to Barbis Fine Art Conservation)

Shawn Braley of New England Illustrated is a Vermont illustrator and probably my current favorite–he  posts his most recent illustrations on Facebook and Instagram, and sells prints of some (click on his name to get to the print link).  I do not own any of his prints (I wish I did though, and I intend to).

Peter Miller is a Vermont photographer and author of 10 books. I  was lucky enough to find one of his signed prints at  the same rummage sale I found the Sabra Field.

Brian Sweetland is a Vermont painter, or was until his untimely death.  I still regularly kick myself for not attending the last Art on The Green event before his death… I had a feeling that it was really important to go that year, but I didn’t pay attention and didn’t attend, and now it’s almost impossible to find his work for sale.  If you see a pastoral impressionist style painting for sale with SWEETLAND in the lower right corner…  grab it.

Elaine Franz Witten is a Vermont sculptor capturing lyrical moments of grace, her sculpture always always filled with a sense of motion.  

Frank Howard was a Vermont folk artist, who sold his paintings from the Howard Art Museum on  Route 7A in Shaftsbury, Vermont for many many years.  The museum is now closed, and the house up on the hill stands empty, the driveway gated with a “no trespassing” sign.  I heard many years ago that he had painted murals all throughout the house, and on the ceilings.  Many locals own his paintings, and those passing through the state, but they are not commonly found for sale.  He signed his paintings with HOWARD, and the year.

Of course, there are more Vermont artists, these are just a few of the ones I admire. If you have any suggestions, I’d love to know more.

Bare trees on mountain ridge, backlit by sun behind Mountain, Mettowee Valley, by Bean & Bantam