New Illustrations Tell the History of Burlington's Intervale | Comics | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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New Illustrations Tell the History of Burlington's Intervale

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Published July 10, 2024 at 10:00 a.m.


A sign in front of a community garden at the Intervale Center - LEAH KRASON
  • Leah Krason
  • A sign in front of a community garden at the Intervale Center

Visitors at the Intervale Center in Burlington have a unique opportunity to absorb 10,000 years of archaeological history through six new illustrated informational signs. Installed in late June, they offer passersby the chance to connect with the land.

The project is a collaboration of conservation nonprofit Burlington Wildways, state archaeologist Jess Robinson and cartoonist Glynnis Fawkes that has been in the works since before the pandemic. The six signs are arranged in a half-moon in the Intervale Center's picnic grove, at the far end of its central road. Visitors can follow them clockwise to get a picture of life on the Winooski River through the ages. The signage includes depictions of the Champlain Sea, a prehistoric inlet carved by glaciers; a layered archaeological cross-section of the area showing organic matter and signs of human life, such as pottery pieces; and a diagram of Abenaki food sources through the seasons.

The comics of Fawkes, who lives in Burlington and teaches at the Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Junction, have been featured in the New Yorker. She has authored numerous graphic books, including 2019's Charlotte Brontë Before Jane Eyre and 1177 B.C.: A Graphic History of the Year Civilization Collapsed, released in April. She also has a background in archaeological illustration, honed over many years working on digs in the Mediterranean.

"It was interesting to take what I knew," she said, "and be able to see our own land."

Glynnis Fawkes - FILE: LUKE AWTRY
  • File: Luke Awtry
  • Glynnis Fawkes

Kate Kruesi, part of the Wildways team, was thrilled to bring the Indigenous history of Vermont to the forefront. "[We] want to know the story of people who lived here," she said, noting that Robinson's archaeological findings shed some light on the often overlooked history of Native Americans in the area.

The surviving relics of that history include everyday objects, which is what Fawkes loves about archaeology. "You get a little glimpse into someone's life by looking at a corn grinder someone used," she said. "[It] gives a way to think about the details of our own lives."

While Fawkes is skilled at succinct visual storytelling, the signs are "a little bit out of what I do," she said. "They're not really comics." Her biggest challenge was keeping the word count down, she said. All the known facts about the precolonial Abenaki wouldn't fit on the six signs, but they do offer an engaging and accessible way for visitors to encounter history.

And the illustrations don't have to do all the work. Viewers can look up from the signs to see a community garden, a continuation of the healthy agricultural practices that the Intervale has hosted over its long history.

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