Seven Days

Art Review: "High Trash," Fleming Museum of Art

Tom Deininger, courtesy of the Fleming Museum  "Wave"French artist Marcel Duchamp was the first to present a humble object and claim it was “high art.” Signed “R. Mutt” and titled “Fountain,” the urinal Duchamp submitted to a 1917 exhibition as a legitimate work incited outrage. It was dismissed as rubbish and cut from the exhibition. Now, scholars refer to “Fountain” — the most notorious in a series of Duchamp’s “readymades” — as a major landmark in 20th-century art, and replicas of his porcelain throne grace important museums around the world.

“High Trash,” a current exhibit at the Fleming Museum of Art, shares some elements with Duchamp’s readymades, requiring the viewer to look beyond the materials to see the art. One difference: Seeing the beauty in Duchamp’s work requires thumbing one’s nose at established ideas about art, whereas the artists in “High Trash” have deliberately manipulated junk to make it beautiful.

Artist Rob Hitzig's Wood Works Turn Sculpture Into Paintings

"The Revolution Will Not Be Televised," courtesy Rob HitzigHanging against the white walls of the SEABA Gallery on Pine Street in Burlington, Robert Hitzig’s geometric wooden sculptures glow with a subtle sheen. Up close, the layers of tinted shellac magnify the natural grain of the wood. Viewers may have an urge to run a hand across their surfaces, just to see if the pale color hides any imperfections. But, tempting as it may be, don’t ask Hitzig what his floor-laying schedule is. These days, his oeuvre is form, not function.

“I get plenty of requests about doing floors for people when they see my work — and I always have to say no,” Hitzig says with a slight grin. “I like to take wood into the fine-art realm and make it look like art, rather than furniture or something functional.”

That hasn’t always been the case. Working first as an agroforester for the Peace Corps and then for 10 years with the Environmental Protection Agency, Hitzig spent years thinking about forests and timber in a practical way. He indulged in a furniture-making hobby for a while. And then, in 2007, he got tired of function.

Weathering a Real "Tempest," the Show Goes On for Vermont Shakespeare Company

TempestIt’s ironic for a performance of The Tempest to be canceled — twice — by rain. Actors and audiences were sent scrambling for cover on both Friday and Saturday nights in North Hero as rain sheeted across the open-air stage, robbing Prospero of the prospect of concocting his own tempest with magic and incantations.

But that’s the risk you take when performing outdoors in Vermont, as Vermont Shakespeare Company’s executive director, John Nagle, ruefully acknowledged in his introductory remarks: “We were going to do, The Winter’s Tale next year — but after this year’s tempest, maybe we won’t.”

Burlington's Festival of Fools Brings Vaudeville to Town (Seven Days)

Vaudeville comedian Woody Keppel of Charlotte wears many hats. Sombreros, fedoras, pink aviation hats, wigs, coonskin caps and the occasional shoe or rubber chicken have all been spotted on his head at various times. His role as artistic director of the Festival of Fools is yet another “hat,” one that Keppel will wear as he corrals the jugglers, dancers, contortionists, tightrope walkers, fire breathers and acrobats on the streets of Burlington this Friday through Sunday.

The fest itself is a family reunion of sorts for Keppel, who has worked with many of these performers over the years. And festivalgoers may find among the exotica some familiar antics, if not familiar faces: Your zany uncle might be reflected in Michael Trautman’s impossible stunts and mayhem, or your daredevil kid brother in David Aiken’s “Stunts of Death.” Kate Wright, aka Yvonne, an “Aussie beautician on a mission,” could remind you of your batty great-aunt.

With a New Theater, the Shows Must Go On (Seven Days)

David Klein as FalstaffHenry IV, Part 1 is one of the Bard’s history plays, but at Unadilla Theatre on July 19 — one night before its opening — it was quickly turning into a near-tragedy.

The situation unfolded with the timing, dramatic arc and suspense of Shakespeare: On opening-night eve, three Vermont state building inspectors arrived at the Unadilla Theatre site in Marshfield requesting an evaluation of the newly built second theater. At the conclusion of their 11th-hour visit, the inspectors presented landowner and theater founder Bill Blachly with a written mandate detailing necessary changes and pronounced the building unsafe, thereby canceling all performances of Henry IV in the space until repairs are made.

“They handed us two pages of things we had to change before the show, most of it having to do with what we were planning for electricity and things like exits and facilities,” the 88-year-old Blachly says. “I suppose we were naïve to think that we could do another theater under the same permits as our original, but we’ve always been a seat-of-the-pants business up here, and it never really occurred to us.”

A Multimedia Work in Progress Thinks Inside the (Music) Box (Seven Days)

Orkestriska's BoxJudging from a description of the upcoming dance-theater piece “Orkestriska’s Box,” you would be forgiven for thinking it’s a surrealist version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame set to music and given a female protagonist.

The work’s influences are varied: turn-of-the-20th-century ballet and grand opera; Gestalt psychology; burlesque theater; the 1951 film The Tales of Hoffmann; a little girl in a tutu; the Folies Bergère; gender stereotyping. Add stop-motion animation and an original score composed for an old-fashioned Porter music box, and the imagery practically gets up and tap dances across the room.

“Orkestriska’s Box,” which premieres in November, is a collaborative production of Burlington’s Tuppence Coloured Ensemble and Thoughtfaucet, and the Porter Music Box Museum of Randolph. Tuppence principal Trish Denton, an actor, dancer, street performer and teacher, conceived and wrote the script, which was initially inspired by a 3-year-old in a tutu dancing inside a miniature puppet theater.

A West Coast "Knitting Lady" Sets Up in Burlington (Seven Days)

Originally appeared in the print version of Seven Days Feb. 8, 2012.

In her former Bay Area neighborhood, Maggie Pace was known simply as “the Knitting Lady.” Neighbors and fans of her knitting patterns, kits and yarns would drop by for sidewalk sales at her knitting store, Pick Up Sticks, or tune in to her segments on the PBS TV program “Knit and Crochet Now!” to emulate crafty know-how.

These days, Pace is a little more incognito.

She moved to Burlington in December 2010 when her husband got a job with That new position went hand-in-hand with the couple’s decision to reevaluate their lives.

“Steve and I were both overwhelmed,” Pace says. “We had a clear goal in mind to simplify and reenvision what success meant to us. We wanted to have personal fulfillment in our work and refocus on family life, so Burlington felt like a great fit.”

She had to leave behind her business partner and the cofounder of Pick Up Sticks — her mother, Joan Benson, whom Pace credits with teaching her how to knit. Pace is a third-generation crafter; her grandmother ran a craft store in Michigan during the ’70s. Pace remembers knitting her first sweater when she was 9 or 10 years old.

Team Vermont Goes for Snow "Gold" at National Snow-Sculpting Tournament (Seven Days)

Originally appeared in the print version of Seven Days on Feb. 1, 2012.

At first glance, the 2-foot clay model doesn’t look like much. Its diamond-shaped, gridlike exterior gives it an odd, Epcot-esque quality; inside the structure’s hollowed-out core, a puzzle piece rests on a pedestal.

“It’s called ‘Inner Piece,’” explains Burlington sculptor Michael Nedell with a self-effacing grin.

Ah, that explains everything. By the end of next week, if all goes well, this visual pun will be recreated as a 12-foot-high snow sculpture in the national snow-sculpting championships at Lake Geneva, Wis. There Nedell and his two teammates, Alex Dostie and Brooke Monte, will represent Vermont and compete for the title of best snow sculptors in the country.

This will be the team’s seventh trip to the national championships. The Vermonters took home second prize in 2005 and 2007, and have consistently ranked among the top six teams. They’ve also paid two visits to the (invitation-only) international championships in Breckinridge, Colo., in 2008 and 2011.

Nemesis Brings a 1930s Adventure Story to Stage, and Sludge Monsters to Earth (Seven Days)

Originally appeared in the print version of Seven Days on Jan. 18, 2012.

Theater audiences can’t help but shift to the edge of their seats when they hear these four sounds: Thump … thump … thump … creeeeeeeeeeeeeak. The combination conjures up images of castles, Igor and ominous wooden doors with deadbolts, doesn’t it?

That’s exactly what Foley, or sound-effects, artist Buzz Moran will be counting on in an upcoming performance of The Intergalactic Nemesis at Burlington’s Flynn Center for the Performing Arts. Originally a live radio play in Austin, Tex., and now a touring stage show, Nemesis is billed as a live-action graphic novel. The sci-fi story, set in 1933, features a reporter and her assistant, a mysterious librarian, and sludge monsters from the planet Zygon that are, of course, threatening planet Earth. Hence the “intergalactic nemesis.”

The show is performed with three stationary actors, one keyboard player and one Foley artist. The stage backdrop features more than 1000 hand-drawn comic-book images projected in high def.

Digitizing a Treasury of Objects at the Fleming Museum (Seven Days)

Originally appeared in the print version of Seven Days on Dec. 14, 2011.

Janie Cohen walks through the stacks on the top floor of the University of Vermont’s Fleming Museum of Art, running a finger along the shelves and pointing out favorites. Ancient Native American pottery shares a shelf with pre-Columbian artifacts, which perch next to small-scale European sculpture. Cohen, the museum’s executive director, stops to point out a tattered-looking collection of maps created by Napoleon and his troops, then continues down to the end where the paintings hang. A nearby table displays smoking apparatuses, under consideration for a winter exhibition; a row of hunting spears hangs above a drawer full of Native American beadwork.

This area of the museum — where the Fleming keeps its treasures — is generally off limits to visitors. It’s one of three on-site storage vaults, and it’s crammed with objects dating from 3500 BC to the present day. Cohen knows them all. Visitors, even regular ones, probably haven’t seen a quarter of the collection.

All museums struggle to represent the full range of their holdings, and the Fleming is no exception. Cohen estimates that only 5 percent of its 24,000 items are on view at any time; the other 95 percent sit on shelves upstairs, neatly labeled but as good as invisible.