W(h)ales and Center



Head uphill a touch on Center Street and you just might end up underwater. Or at least, that’s the feeling you get from a new mural currently in progress.

If you haven’t noticed it yet, the retaining wall that keeps the parking lot of the Moose Lodge from being the steep hill next to the Moose Lodge is getting a facelift. For years the otherwise blank concrete was adorned only with a graffito of a shark fin pursuing a hastily drawn swimmer. Not without its charms, granted. But the new fully realized mural takes things to the next level.

Not yet completed, the canvas is now painted a fresh sea green, and features cavorting whales and colorful mandalas, courtesy of a couple of hard-working artists, with a little help from the Downtown Rutland Partnership.

Though the whales are more readily apparent, those who know the local arts scene will immediately recognize the mandalas as the hallmark of local artist Brian Sylvester, whose work has been popping up around Rutland since he arrived in the area a little less than three years ago.

0717_RHV_CirlesOriginally from Arlington, Va., Sylvester moved around quite a bit before crossing the high school finish line in Charleston, W.Va. From there his path forked to include education both in jazz and classical guitar, and greenhouse production and management, in which he holds a degree from Ohio State University. After an internship in the Netherlands, Sylvester settled into life as a head grower for many large-scale greenhouse production facilities for 15 years.

That may be where one would find him now, had the economy not done its graceless swan dive a few years back. Without a job or prospects, Sylvester turned to what most would consider an unlikely calling in hard times: he hung out his shingle as a full-time artist.

“My style is very specific, and I don’t have a lot of figurative experience,” Sylvester concedes. “My background is in music and science. I have always had an attraction to mathematics, the how and why of things, and the unknown. When I was laid off and had time to truly focus on my painting, the mandala form is what came out.”

And thus he finds himself, the past few Saturdays, seated on a sidewalk in Rutland, VT, carefully laying flowering geometric shapes onto a wall while his partner in crime, Ailsa Diancia, puts the finishing touches on the humpback whales that complete the work.

Diancia, a South Hero artist, has lately been focusing in her work on whales and whale conservation.

”They are dear to my heart, and as key players in the health of our oceans, they deserve some recognition,” says Diancia.

“Ailsa is a brilliant painter and can do just about anything. I have learned a lot by working with her, and I admire her talents greatly,” says Sylvester. “I thought the blending of the two styles would be something bold and different.”

“Bold and different” perfectly defines the new mural. The colors alone are enough to catch the eye, let alone the sudden appearance of whales where whales never swam before. Though a decidedly unscientific poll of passersby yielded a lot of positive comments, one onlooker who did not consent to be named for this piece, expressed skepticism and described it as, “kind of out there, don’t you think?”

Anytime you take something ordinary and unobtrusive and turn it into art, you can be sure you’re not going to please everyone. After all, art is something that should inspire opinions. And to paraphrase my father, opinions are like a certain necessary body part in so far as everyone is possessed of one. And public art is a special opinion-grabber because it’s so, you know, public.

Meanwhile, it’s hard to get really emotional about a wall.

But Sylvester and Diancia seem to have found an overwhelmingly enthusiastic audience for this piece so far. And their enthusiasm for the mural and the city itself is clear. Reflecting on his work’s impact on the community, Sylvester is optimistic about both. “Rutland is in the midst of a great energetic shift,” he says. “The negative drumbeats of the naysayers are becoming fainter and fainter, and a new youthful vitality is emerging. I hope that this mural echoes this energy, from the bright, bold colors, to the power of the mandalas, and the majestic forms of the whales. It all represents a connection to our deeper selves, the outside world, and the vast cosmos beyond that.”

“Whales are community,” Diancia echoes. “They travel in pods long distances together, hunt and feed together, and raise their young together. Rutland feels like it’s really pulling together as a community, and this mural seems to fit right in.”

Editors note: Local writer Bridget Scott will write columns for the Reader during Joanna Tebbs Young’s absence.

Joanna Tebbs Young, MA-TLA

Joanna Tebbs Young is a freelance writer, author, and expressive writing coach living in Rutland. Email her at joanna@wisdomwithinink.com.

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