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Vermont Galleries Bring Art to Homes and Businesses


Published December 10, 2014 at 10:00 a.m.

"Balance" by Chris Curtis, outside of Stowe Family Practice - COURTESY OF WEST BRANCH GALLERY & SCULPTURE PARK
  • Courtesy Of West Branch Gallery & Sculpture Park
  • "Balance" by Chris Curtis, outside of Stowe Family Practice

When Lillian and Bill Mauer, co-owners of the building that houses Stowe Family Practice, decided they wanted to buy an outdoor sculpture for the property, they went a mile down Mountain Road to West Branch Gallery & Sculpture Park. Owned by Tari Swenson and her sculptor husband Chris Curtis, West Branch is one of the few places in Vermont that offers a wide selection of contemporary outdoor sculpture for sale.

Though the Mauers are longtime art collectors, Swenson recalls that they selected a piece she immediately knew was wrong for the site of a medical clinic. The sculpture was a segmented metal creation that rose from the ground in an S-curve, evoking a drooping human figure. After Swenson directed them to other sculptures, the Mauers chose a stone piece by Curtis called "Balance."

This 8-foot-tall, roughly round sculpture has a rectangular cutout in the middle. It's the kind of Zen piece that, the West Branch owners say, reassures patients coming in for checkups, even if they don't consciously notice it.

Art makes its way into homes and businesses through several channels. Owners may search for art themselves, hire an interior designer or go straight to a gallery for help. A gallerist's eye is key, says Swenson. These art consultants are people who "love" the work they represent and can judge exactly what will suit a space best. As an added bonus, their services don't obligate clients to buy, and cost nothing beyond the artwork's price tag.

Nest talked with two area galleries that offer art consultation services: West Branch and Burlington City Arts. However, any gallery owner who represents a significant array of artists will happily visit a space and make suggestions. "It's the unspoken thing we do," says Joan Furchgott, of Furchgott Sourdiffe Gallery in Shelburne.

As part of her art consultation services, West Branch's 
Tari Swenson Photoshopped in three painting options 
for a Vermont couple's lake home.
  • As part of her art consultation services, West Branch's Tari Swenson Photoshopped in three painting options for a Vermont couple's lake home.

Swenson has outfitted businesses and private residences from Grand Isle to San Francisco with art. She and Curtis purchased a trailer so they can haul multiple works to clients. Once there, Curtis typically holds a painting in place while Swenson and the client confer.

For those interested in sculpture, Curtis creates full-scale mock-ups of any piece in West Branch's extensive outdoor collection and brings it to the proposed site. This allows the client to see the piece in its environment and easily move it around while deciding on placement. Curtis' plywood model of "Balance," for example, helped the Mauers decide to place the sculpture at the clinic's entrance, rather than at the roadside location they originally envisioned. The gallery takes care of final installation.

Increasingly, though, Swenson's clients choose to assess their options digitally, by sending her an iPhone photo of their space. "That's the beginning of the fun," she says. Using a measurement provided by the client — the dimensions of the room, or even the length of a chair leg — she can estimate the size of the artwork, and Photoshop in any number of options. She even adds shadows.

BCA's corporate art program has its own digital service: an enormous library of images, most of them works by Vermont artists. This comprehensive database is also used for its art-leasing program. Kate Ashman, the leasing specialist, and Kerri Macon, director of art sales and gallery administration, look through the database with clients.

BCA's involvement with one Burlington business, Hotel Vermont, yielded particularly stunning results. Macon's predecessor, Sara Katz (now BCA's assistant director), was the art consultant when the hotel was under construction two years ago. Hotel owner Jay Canning's interior designers, Kim Deetjen and her crew at Burlington's TruexCullins, brought her onto the job.

Digital Design
  • Digital Design

The interior designers wanted abstract art, and presented BCA with a carefully considered selection of materials. Of the three swirling, dark-magenta Gail Salzman paintings Katz chose for the hotel's lobby, she comments, "We thought the colors made sense for this place. And Salzman does a lot with water. Given the proximity to Lake Champlain, we thought it was appropriate."

The BCA staff also suggested the Nissa Kauppila gouache-on-paper bird scene in one upstairs hallway, and digital prints of it for each of the queen-bed rooms. They commissioned Torrey and Tessa Valyou, of Winooski's New Duds, to silkscreen a black-silhouetted branch-and-bird design on the wall beside each king bed.

Owner Canning, an art lover himself, chose to place a Duncan Johnson found-materials wood sculpture over the main desk. The work is striking in its isolation.

Not every client can determine the right piece and placement, of course. Gallery folks like those at BCA and West Branch work with all types, including corporate businesses that have a branded look and homeowners who have no familiarity with art.

The results are powerful. Spaces with art create a strong "first impression," says Swenson. "When you walk in, you may not even know why you like this place."

The original print version of this article was headlined "Artistic Touch"

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