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Vergennes' first public art installation blooms with help from local trade school

Children play around the bus shelter sculpture featuring fall metal flowers bursting through its roof
Holly Webber
/
Holly Webber
Kelly and Joe Mehle, Parker Sosa, and Dahlia Clear (left to right) play around the bus stop sculpture

Last week marked a unique first for the town of Vergennes, which unveiled its first-ever public art installation. Its location? A Tri-Valley bus stop on Green Street.

The metal sculpture piece is called Flower Stop and depicts Vermont wildflowers tall as trees growing out of a city bus shelter.

The installation began as an idea from the Vergennes Partnership, a nonprofit dedicated to town commerce. Julie Basol, the group’s executive director, said the city's first piece of public art was a long time coming.

“I was always envious of some of our other towns in Vermont that have these great public art installations, whether they be murals or sculptures or whatnot, and they're such a welcoming entrance to any town,” Basol said. “And I just felt like Vergennes was really, it was time for some public art in our downtown.”

Basol said the location came before the artist. The Vergennes Partnership held a public forum asking residents to identify areas where they would most like to see public art. The Green Street bus shelter rose to the top of the list.

In January of 2023, the group applied for and was awarded a grant from the Vermont Art Council. They formed a public art committee consisting of locals with expertise in the visual arts, including an architect, a city planner and a photographer. The group selected artist Kat Clear’s design from an open call for submissions across mediums.

More from Vermont Public: From Metal Scraps To Works Of Art: Sculptress Kat Clear

"I was like, ‘Why don't we put some beautiful native colorful flowers at the bus stop so that they can cheer us up year-round?’”
Kat Clear, artist

Clear said she was inspired by Vermont’s natural beauty and the aptly named “Green Street.”

“So that sort of pushed me a little bit more towards nature,” she said. “And I was like, ‘Why don't we put some beautiful native colorful flowers at the bus stop so that they can cheer us up year-round?’”

Clear said she knew that to make an impact on the bus shelter, the piece had to be larger than the structure in scale. And to do this, she needed help.

An artistic partnership

Clear reached out to the Northlands Job Corps Center, a school that provides free career training across various trades. Among the tracks is advanced metalworking.

Clear said she presented her idea to the metalworking students, asking if any of them were interested in assisting her in her vision.

Even Willette was one of the students who volunteered.

The 21-year-old came to Northlands from New Hampshire to train in welding. He said the installation allowed the group to use their trade skills in an outside-of-the-box way.

“It really was fun,” Willette said. “It really led us to put on our creative take and work together as a group.”

Over the course of six months, Clear would come into the workshop once a week to lead the team on the art project’s construction.

She said the students were learning how to make strong and flawless welds for their possible future professions as pipe fitters and bridge welders. This project, at times, required a shift in mindset.

“We sort of took a step away from the art of the welds, and brought in these other ways of fastening things,” Clear said. “I knew what I wanted it to look like. But that, in theory is one thing and making the actual piece structural, beautiful and able to be installed in a way that is both easy, but also can come back apart when it needs to be maintained — all of those things we were thinking about constantly as we were making it, so we were sort of navigating that together.”

The art was installed last month, during the heat wave. The town lent Clear and the Northlands students an aerial lift to mount the tall petals of the milkweed on the structure.

“Every time I look at it, it makes me really appreciate all the hard work of not only me but all my friends that worked on it and Kat’s hard work put together, and it makes me really appreciate a lot of things that we've done over the months,” Willette said.

Julie Basol said that since the installation, the community has welcomed the artwork.

“I think she captured the essence of what would spread joy in our downtown,” she said. “Native Vermont flowers are a very welcoming visual, and ironically, they really match our banners. And so they really look nice all together, but the whole idea of incorporating Vermont native flora was very appealing to us.”

As for the artist behind the vision, the end of the collaborative project brought key takeaways.

“I realized through the process of collaborating with Job Corps, that I don't want to work alone in a studio,” Clear said. “I want to work with a community of people. I want to have more people than just myself involved.”

Flower Stop can be seen at the Tri-Valley Transit stop on Green Street in Vergennes, where it will continue to be used as a bus stop — now, in full bloom.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message.

Samantha Watson is Vermont Public's news intern.
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