Building community with the creative process

CHARLOTTE Awakening a communitys awareness of its distinct identity through lively engagement with the creative process is the goal of a fascinating artistic addition to the Rutland County District Courthouse, which Charlotte artist Annemie Curlin opened on Friday, October 5. Entitled, Rutland County: A Heavenly View, the nineteen paintings exhibited in the Courthouse feature two intriguing and distinct artistic styles that Ms. Curlin has named Aerial Paintings and Community Maps. While the aerial paintings are often beautiful, straight-forward representations of the local geography from above, Ms. Curlin chose to infuse some of these landscapes with historical scenes that reveal the footprints of the communitys past. For example, in Rutland: Railroad Yard between Spruce St. and Strongs Ave., (seen above), Annemie has illustrated the modern rail yard as seen from an airplane; however, when we look into the painting, we also see the historic railroad station sitting on the normal, two-dimensional axis, complete with a steamer that seems to drive straight at us, alerting us to its unmistakable legacy. These representations of space remind us that there is always more than meets the eyeand if we look hard enough, we can see the traces of those who came before. In a similar painting entitled, Rutland: State and Water Streets, we see the modern-day view of this area from above, with the East Creek running down the left-hand side of the painting. Colorful cars dot the landscape, though only their roofs are visible. However, running down the street on the horizontal axis are an antiquated trolley car and a horse-drawn carriage, a reminder of the people who crossed these very streets over a century ago. In an interview with the Vermont Times-Sentinel, Ms. Curlin said that she developed this style of cartography in order, to give reality to something that traditional maps dont give life to. In addition to the aerial paintings, the exhibit features two of Ms. Curlins community maps, which further develop the concept of injecting memory into a map. In these paintings, Annemie has superimposed local knowledge, memories and historical landmarks over a traditional topographic map of the towns. Ms. Curlin gathered the raw material for this representation by convening meetings of interested local residents who were willing to sit down and discuss the important events and landmarks that had defined their sense of community identity. In her recollection of the meetings, Annemie said, We held ongoing meetings to tell stories and share photographs. This led to a discussion of what the community wanted to preserve, what they wanted to keep, what they wanted people to be aware of, and this helped develop a real sense of community awareness. These community maps provide the people of the community with a tangible representation of their distinct community identitya concept that, although we may recognize its importance, is often exceedingly difficult to represent physically. The ideas for Ms. Curlins art came directly from the people of the community, and in many cases, she noted, people engaged with their collective sense of community history in such a way that a new conception of the communitys distinctiveness emerged. People became more and more involved as the process went on, remembered Annemie. They began to talk with one another, and a real conversation emerged about what defined their community identity. By encouraging people to define their distinctiveness, I think this type of painting can be a tool of community building and of community awareness. It doesnt have to be big things, she continued, but individual things, day-to-day, personal things. Annemie credits two things with the germination of the idea of community maps. One is the books of photographs, stories and maps that she compiled for friends and family after a meaningful travel experience. The other are the natural history maps of Salt Spring Island, Canada, in the San Juan Islands, that depict the natural world on a map, instead of the man-made world that we usually see on maps, replacing in this way the simple symbols that represent a wetland or a forest with real representations of the natural history and environment of the placetrees, plants, and animals, both living and extinct. Annemie hopes to continue in this vein of work with aerial paintings and a community map of Charlotte, as well as her own neighborhood on Toad Road. The display in the Rutland Courthouse was sponsored by the Art in State Buildings program and the Vermont Council for the Arts. These groups opened an invitation to Vermont artists to submit design proposals for the interior of the Rutland County District Courthouse almost 2 and 1/2 years ago. Annemie has been working on these paintings since winning the bid in 2005.

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