- Matthew Thorsen
- Simon's Downtown Mobil
Recently, a colorful mural of cartoonish race cars by Mitchell Schorr appeared on the west-facing wall of Simon's Downtown Mobil in Burlington — and lasted less than a month. The work was part of the New York artist's nationwide series "Da Race"; other examples of his work can still be seen outside Pearl Street Beverage and the Burlington Beer Company. But just as quickly as the Simon's "race" began, it ended in another flurry of rollers and spray paint.
Scottie Raymond of Anthill Collective, a group of local artists who assisted Schorr this summer, said he had no inkling that the mural had been poorly received until he saw an Instagram photo of someone painting over it.
"I don't work on Center Street; I'm not there every day," Raymond said. "We submitted the sketches, and everybody knew 'Da Race' was going on that wall, so it was interesting that it got a fair amount of negative feedback pretty quickly."
Most of the discontent was expressed by patrons and employees of the Daily Planet and Revolution Kitchen across the street, as well as by Simon's owners Charlie and Joe Handy. The Handys often work with Bruce Wilson of the local nonprofit Service Rendered, part of whose mission is to keep graffiti at bay by providing wall space for youthful artists to paint. According to Wilson, the nearby business owners "all agreed [they needed] a more quality mural on that wall."
Charlie Handy said in a phone interview that Schorr's mural just "didn't fit with the neighborhood." At his request, Wilson met with Planet owner Copey Houghton and Revolution Kitchen chef Jeff Hodgdon, who had expressed an interest in painting over "Da Race" with his own design.
"I told Jeff that Anthill Collective was already on it," Wilson wrote in an email. "Brian [Clark of Anthill Collective] called him to do a collaboration."
If the situation seemed clear to Wilson, apparently Anthill and Hodgdon weren't on the same page. The energetic chef, who got a green light from the Handys, went ahead and started rolling the wall, prepping it for his geometric diamond design.
When the collective found out that Hodgdon had started painting, Raymond said, "That was the moment when we were like, 'OK, what's going on? We should go meet this guy.' Because we were pretty excited to get down there and paint."
What could have turned into a spray-paint throwdown instead became a typical Vermont-y collaboration: polite, community minded and ... incorporating a tree.
"We figured, you know what, rather than turn this into some sort of political mural battle, let's just all work together," Raymond said. "'You take a section of the wall; we'll take a section of the wall.'"
Riffing on Hodgdon's design, Anthill artists painted the right side of the station's western wall with tessellated designs depicting a heart and a tree with an oversize acorn hanging off a barren branch. Locals may notice similarities in color palette and shape to one of Anthill's other pieces — the A-Dog mural in the alley between Nectar's and Esox, dedicated to the late DJ and artist Andy Williams.
Raymond explained that the tree, in particular, is "based on drawings that Andy had done right before he passed, while he was in the hospital." The heart bridging Anthill Collective's and Hodgdon's work could be seen as both a loving gesture to A-Dog and a commentary on the power of paint to overcome ego.
"We're trying really hard to not make any of this about politics or fighting," Raymond said. "We really just want murals happening all over the city, and people should want more of them."
Hodgdon has expressed the same desire. Yet the mural saga didn't end there. Soon after completing the west wall of Simon's, Hodgdon said, he got the go-ahead from the Handys to begin another mural on the south-facing wall. Seven Days caught up with the chef last week while he was working on the new piece, a design of brightly colored squares overlaid by zigzagging arrows.
Hodgdon said Wilson had told him earlier in the day that he didn't have permission to paint that wall, contrary to what the Handys had assured him, and that his work would soon be replaced. Standing in the parking lot facing his bold, blocky image, Hodgdon seemed unfazed. "I don't want any negativity coming out of this. A mural could roll for a day, for a week or for a month," he said.
Asked for comment via email, Wilson reiterated, "The south wall was going to be painted by Anthill Collective. It will be a memorial for Charlie [Handy's] dad. [Jeff Hodgdon] was not supposed to touch any of our other walls."
Handy confirmed that a tribute to his father, Salamin Handy, would be incorporated into one of the murals on the building. When asked about Hodgdon's work, though, he seemed appreciative. "I think it looks good. It makes the whole area look better," he said.
Raymond pointed out that, regardless of any crossed wires between artists and building owners, the Mobil murals are a step in the right direction. "It seems like there's a lot of excitement about murals being painting in the city," he said. "That's what I take away from this."