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Creative Redeployment

State of the Arts


Published May 17, 2006 at 4:00 p.m.

The prophet Isaiah saw swords and imagined nations beating them into ploughshares. When Florida artist Steven Maeck discovered a gun muzzle in a local scrap yard, he imagined it recast as part of an antiwar assemblage. The native Vermonter recognized the six-chambered metal cylinder as a product from home: part of a Vulcan 20mm Gatling gun produced in Burlington, at the company once known as General Electric.

"I grew up in Burlington during peak production and knew they were being built," explains Maeck, 56. During the Vietnam War, he served as a medic in Germany. His conscientious-objector status exempted him from carrying a weapon, but not from being around them.

When he came across the muzzle in the junkyard, he was initially attracted to its sculptural qualities, Maeck says. "Then I realized what it was and almost walked away." Instead, he took it home, and combined it with a steel pipe and a hand-forged iron skull. The resulting 60-inch-tall sculpture, which Maeck completed last week while visiting his mother in Shelburne, is entitled "American Death Rattle." The work is on display at the Shelburne Art Center through the summer.

With 23 ball bearings encased in the muzzle, the assemblage rattles loudly when shaken, evoking the sound of a Gatling gun. "When they test them at the firing range in Jericho," says Maeck, who remembers hearing them during his war-protest days, "they sound like a saw." Mounted on the outside of helicopters and fighter aircraft, the weapon delivers death at 3000 rounds per minute, Maeck notes. "It rips everyone it hits into a million pieces."

Maeck has been working as an artist for about five years -- mostly painting colorful expressionist works he sells under the pseudonym Max Verhle. He's not interested in making money from "Death Rattle," he says. "I would rather have it benefit people who are victims of a situation that's beyond their control." He's offering it for $1900: $1500 would go to Doctors Without Borders and $400 to the Shelburne Art Center.

Maeck has done this sort of thing before. A former rug dealer, he once bought a piece from a man who made a racist remark. The comment bothered him so much that he donated his take from the transaction to the NAACP, he says. "So I have a precedent for this impulsive recycling of bad energy."


Arts administration positions are hard to come by in Vermont, and Aimee Petrin had one of the very best: programming manager at Burlington's Flynn Center. "It's not one of five jobs. It's the job," she says after nine years backstage at the state's premier performing arts facility. Since she can't move up, she's moving on -- to Maine, where she'll run PCA Great Performances in Portland, a 75-year-old performing arts series based at the city-owned Merrill Auditorium.

As executive director, 35-year-old Petrin will be in charge of both the administration of the organization and its creative programming, which currently favors such fare as Broadway musicals to Natalie McMaster and the Martha Graham Dance Company. Petrin plans to expand the season, add more community-based arts activities, and "create a portfolio of different venues around town."

She's probably not sorry she missed the recent Flynn Center run of Cats. The lights went out at 10:02 p.m. during Friday's performance, halfway through the second act. Within 18 minutes, power was restored in most affected areas -- including Main Street -- but not at the Flynn, which is tied to a different part of the grid. After failing to reach anyone at Burlington Electric for 30 minutes, safety protocol forced the show to be called.

"We had a sold-out house," laments Executive Director Andrea Rogers. "Unfortunately, people went outside and saw all the lights on." Within a few minutes the power was back, but by then it was too late. "It was a terrible disappointment to the people who were there," she concedes. To the Flynn, too: The "act of God" isn't covered by insurance.

Cats ticket holders are receiving vouchers redeemable for seats still available half an hour before any Flynn performance next season. Let there be light.

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