Q&A: Metal Sculptor Kat Clear Teams Up with Northlands Job Corps Welding Students to Create Public Art in Vergennes | Stuck in Vermont | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Q&A: Metal Sculptor Kat Clear Teams Up with Northlands Job Corps Welding Students to Create Public Art in Vergennes


Published July 3, 2024 at 10:00 a.m.

Metal sculptor Kat Clear has been enriching the local landscape with public art for almost two decades. Well known around Burlington, her works include the four-story sewing machine and cascading quilt at the University of Vermont Medical Center called "Fabric of Life" and giant combination-lock bike racks outside Radio Bean and Burlington Telecom. Since 2015, Clear has taken a break from metalwork to focus on raising a family and growing mushrooms in Addison County. Now she's back with a new public artwork in Vergennes called "Flower Stop."

Clear teamed up with welding students from Northlands Job Corps in Vergennes to make the piece, which depicts massive stalks of milkweed and rudbeckia and a spray of northern asters. Clear began meeting with the students in December to fabricate the sculpture at Job Corps' state-of-the-art welding training shop. The work was made possible through a grant obtained by the Vergennes Partnership from the Vermont Arts Council and the National Endowment of the Arts.

Seven Days senior multimedia producer Eva Sollberger has known Clear for many years and made videos about her in 2007 and 2008. They met up again at Job Corps to watch the piece come to life and, a week and a half later, to see its installation. The transformation of the Tri-Valley Transit bus stop into a "Flower Stop" will bring nature and color to the heart of downtown Vergennes for years to come.

Sollberger spoke with Seven Days about filming the episode.

Why did you feature Kat Clear again?

I first met Clear in 2007 when we filmed a video about Rosie's Girls, a summer day camp organized by Vermont Works for Women. Clear taught middle school girls how to work with metal, and it was an upbeat and empowering "girl power" video. That was my 36th episode of "Stuck in Vermont," and it has over 146,000 views on YouTube. Then I made a separate video about Clear and her metal sculptures, which have made Burlington so unique.

Clear is a force of nature and exudes positivity and tons of energy. We became friends and saw the Spice Girls and Madonna at two epic concerts in Montréal. It's been many years since our paths have crossed, so when I received an email with the subject line "Wanna get the band back together?!?," I was all in.

Tell us more about Northlands Job Corps.

I had heard of the Peace Corps and AmeriCorps, but this was my first experience with Job Corps. Before making this video, I didn't know anything about the organization. I learned that Job Corps provides an education and a career technical training program to youths ages 16 to 24. The program is free to income-eligible participants and funded by the U.S. Department of Labor.

In order to visit the campus, I had to get permission, which took three weeks. I interviewed advanced welding students who have been working with Clear on this project for almost six months. They stressed that it was hard work. They are all from out of state and live on campus with free room and board. Some of them already have jobs lined up for after graduation.

It was refreshing to meet two women welders.

In addition to Clear, who has been working with metal for decades, Kelley Kloner is a graduate of Job Corps and now an advanced welding instructor there. She had a unique perspective because she has experienced the program from both sides. When she was studying welding, Kloner was the only woman in the program. Now that she has returned as a teacher, she has five women in her class. That is a welcome change from my "Rosie's Girls" video in 2007, when it was more unusual for girls to work with metal.

What was it like working with Clear again?

It's been 16 or 17 years since we made videos together, and a lot has changed! Clear has a family with young children and a mushroom business that she runs out of her home. She greeted me at Job Corps with a bag of black pearl, pink and blue oyster mushrooms — later that night, I fried them up in a delicious frittata. Clear says in the video that she likes to be busy and stay in motion. I can't imagine how she juggles everything, but when you see her in action it all makes sense. Who else could transform a bus stop into a colorful flower garden?

Where did the flowers get painted?

Clear's husband, Rolf Humburg, works at Restoration & Performance Motorcars in Vergennes, which restores European sports cars. Clear was able to use its painting booth to transform her gray sculpture with vibrant colors. Humburg also helped Clear fasten her sculpture to the ground and design bracketing to attach it to the bus stop. It takes a village to pull off something this big!

How was the install?

This was my first time seeing Clear install one of her works, and it was thrilling. I have always regretted missing her 2009 installation of "Fabric of Life" at the hospital. Over the years, it has become part of the fabric of our lives, and Clear says she still hears from people about their experiences visiting it.

The install of "Flower Stop" had a minor hiccup: One of the leaves didn't fit properly and had to be repositioned. But the students and Clear were up to the task. Nothing could dampen the giddy feeling that afternoon as the flowers burst through the roof of the bus stop and made the city street feel like a meadow.

The original print version of this article was headlined "Metal Mavens | Metal sculptor Kat Clear teams up with Northlands Job Corps welding students to create public art in Vergennes"

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