- Sadie Williams
- The mural on the Bennington Potters North store
We get some strange questions for this column from all over Vermont. But one person in particular has expressed more curiosity than anyone else: Steve Crafts. He's asked about a bird that sounds like it's saying "Dorito," a downtown Burlington tree that smells like a barfly and the "oddball PSAs on University of Vermont radio station WRUV-FM," among other things.
Crafts is the founder of Place Creative, a Burlington branding and advertising firm that has helped create identities for local companies including Darn Tough Socks, Vermont Smoke & Cure, and Vermont Coffee. It's no wonder he has an eye for design, which makes his question for this WTF on the nose.
Crafts wrote in asking about the large mural on the east-facing side of the Bennington Potters North store on College Street in downtown Burlington. It's roughly 10 by 30 feet, he estimated, and depicts mirror images of the store's logo. For about 15 years, the oversize letters have been painted in vibrant pink and purple pastels. Prior to that, according to Crafts, they were in white, black and orange.
His question, in this case, is about the intention behind the design.
"When I first moved to the area as a young designer [in 1994], it stood out to [me]," Crafts said, adding that he and his fellow designer friends liked the logo. We were always curious if [BPN's] intent was [for it to be] a mirror reflection, like what the mountains do when reflected on water."
Beyond trying to understand the visual inspiration, Crafts said he was interested professionally in what he calls a "disruptive" design.
"I think that's a total disruption, especially at the scale. It's not just a light decision," he said. "As a designer, you're kind of curious. A lot of bold ideas don't get through, or get turned down. It was kind of neat that they weren't afraid to get their logo turned upside down."
So, what is up with that ginormous BPN logo? For the answer, we had to look back to the 1970s, when the store first opened in Burlington. The original Potters Yard in Bennington expanded to the Queen City location, adding numerous home goods to its famous lines of ceramics.
Libby Harden, who has managed BPN since 1978, says the mural was there when she came on board. She credits the work to Henry Huston Sr., a local graphic and industrial designer. Harden said it was designed and painted in 1973, when BPN opened. She said she always assumed the design of the mural had to do with the lake vista down the street.
"My idea was, you looked at the side of our building then looked at the lake, and the mural was a suggestion of a reflection of the water," said Harden. "That's what it's always felt like to me."
Seven Days was unable to reach the senior Huston but did speak with his son, also named Henry Huston, who worked with him on the project.
At the time, the elder Huston had a firm called Huston Designs, located on the bottom floor of the building at 1 Lawson Lane behind BPN. The company worked on accounts including the Leunig's Bistro & Café logo, Church Street Marketplace branding, the Shelburne Shipyard logo, and the Chittenden County Transportation Authority logo.
"Most of the logos in Burlington, he did," said the younger Huston.
The Lawson Lane and College Street buildings were part of the Wells-Richardson complex, which included other 19th-century structures on that block. The complex was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1979. Wells-Richardson manufactured patent pharmaceuticals and dyes, among other things.
"During the construction process," Huston recalled, "we were also working for [Bennington Potters founder] Dave Gil, helping him with corporate identity, and that corporate identity got translated and sized up and addressed through the building."
Sized up, quite literally, in the form of the massive mural.
Vermont state architectural historian Devin Colman noted that the design is representative of the era.
"It's of its time. The graphics and the iconography and the layout are clearly 1970s," he said. "It just fit. The '60s and '70s were a time of really clean, pure design."
Huston Jr. said that the ceramics process inspired the logo design. As Harden explained, the company uses both molds and presses to form its pottery. Huston said the logo "was an abstraction of the fact that these clays were coming out of a mold."
When clay is formed around an object, or in a mold, it reflects that mold, becoming its inverse. The same is true of the reflected logo imagery.
So, though a technical process inspired the bold painting, Huston said he was not surprised to hear that others interpreted it as an echo of reflections in the lake.
"My dad would be thrilled to hear that, because [the lake] is his obsession," Huston said. "You can see him at the St. John's Club every single night. When the sun goes down, he stands up and gets everyone to applaud, because he is absolutely infatuated and in love with the lake and how it plays in this particular geography."
Huston added, "He would be the first to say that culture is consciousness moving through geography."