By ANDREA SUOZZO
VERGENNES — Mirrors cropping up this month in local Vergennes businesses are reflecting well on the Little City’s record of public service.
This spring, local artists decorated 47 of these mirrors as part of a fund-raiser for the Vergennes Lions Club. Pieces in the project, entitled “Reflections on Vergennes,” will be on display all over town until July 18, when they will be auctioned off in a silent auction to benefit Lions Club community projects, including efforts to help with vision and hearing disabilities.
The project’s creator, Vergennes resident Betsy Benton, had the idea to decorate mirrors last year, and started planning the project this April. She wanted to do something along the lines of Brandon’s 2003 pig fund-raiser, which brought in local artists to decorate statues of pigs. Mirrors provided a similar canvas in a smaller size.
“I’d been trying to find a small project, but also something that would be useful,” she said.
While Lions Club members built pine frames for the mirrors, Benton looked for people willing to participate.
“The most difficult part was getting a list of artists,” she said.
But after contacting the artists she had found, Benton was surprised at the response: over 30 artists were eager to participate, and many wanted to do two mirrors.
“I was thinking it would be 25 (mirrors) at most,” she said. “But it’s turned into something much greater.”
Many of the mirrors show pastoral scenes, but they feature a variety of techniques, from painting to etching to collage. Gary Starr, a woodcarver in Weybridge, has been carving birds since he was nine years old. Now he specializes in birds and duck decoys. For his mirror, he attached six bird carvings to a painted background of sky and trees.
“I guess there aren’t penguins in Vergennes,” he said of the one unusual bird on the mirror.
Starr saw the project as an opportunity to help the Lions Club, but also as an opportunity to meet people and other artists in the area. He plans to attend the “Reflections on Vermont” open house and artist’s reception on July 16.
“I’ll go to meet a few people, see some old friends,” he said.
Shayne Cushman, owner of Bumble Beads in Vergennes, decorated two mirrors and was also active in promoting the project to other local artists and to the community. She is enthusiastic about the project because it brings together the local artists’ community and gives smaller artists the opportunity to be seen.
“This project was a great way to involve people who were good but kind of shy,” she said.
The project did not only involve established artists, however. Seven students at Vergennes Union Elementary School participated as well, decorating two mirrors in Laura Pettibon’s 5th grade art class. Pettibon offered the class an end-of-the-year community service project, and seven girls chose to do it.
“This group of kids was really into painting,” she said. “They had so many ideas. But they also knew they had to make something that someone would buy.”
Though the groups only had two class periods in which to decorate their mirrors, both managed to finish in time.
Pettibon described the techniques that the girls used as “Van Gogh-ish” — one depicted a lake scene, while the other was a landscape with orange-leaved trees.
“They had a good time,” said Pettibon.
Many of the mirrors occupy a donated space in the Basin Block building in Vergennes. Benton is also cycling the mirrors through a number of other stores in the town, including Jackman’s Fuels and Marble Works Pharmacy. In the coming weeks, they will be on display in storefronts all along Main Street, until they are gathered together for the open house on June 16.
The silent auction will also take place in the Basin Block space, on July 18 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. The auction is a part of the Vergennes French Heritage Day celebrations.
Benton hopes that the mirrors will sell for around $100 a piece, which would raise $4,700 for the Vergennes Lions Club. The money raised will go into a variety of Lions Club community projects, which include projects that focus on sight, hearing and other handicaps. The club helps to fund sight and hearing checkups and to build handicap ramps.
“Everything goes back into the community,” said Benton.
And beyond the project’s earnings, Benton has already received thanks from several of the artists, who enjoyed the opportunity to experiment with the medium.
“I think it’s been fun for people,” said Benton, “and the quality of the work has been absolutely wonderful.”