by Nat Frothingham
In recent days, Calais sculptor Chris Miller visited The Bridge and talked about a new project—taking a slab of Barre granite and creating a sleeping bear for children to enjoy in Montpelier’s Hubbard Park. The Bridge spoke with Miller about his project.
Your enthusiasm for sculpture: How did you get started? How did it develop?
I was always making things. I was 17 years old and a senior at Milford High School in Milford, Connecticut. I was headed for art school but that got delayed by a skiing injury. I was urged to wait a year during physical therapy, and during that year, I began wood carving. In my home shop, I began making furniture. And through other woodworkers, I began to get work carving ball-and-claw table legs, Chippendale-type fans and carved headboards. I also did restoration work with carved moldings. I matched carved architectural features in old building and churches. Here in Vermont, I’ve done some carved restoration at the Vermont Supreme Court building and at the old National Life ballroom on State Street.
What other artists have influenced your work?
I’ve been incredibly lucky to work alongside a few artists and stone sculptors who know human anatomy. I’m currently studying drawing and anatomy with Billy Brauer from Warren.
Let’s talk about the Sleeping Bear Project.
Last June, I created a 1950s, step-side pickup truck. It was inspired by all these old, rusting, farm pickup trucks that you sometimes come across in the woods with trees sometimes growing through them. It’s a little roadside oddity. It’s definitely whimsical. It’s unexpected. People take pictures of it. It’s become a bit of a landmark there, right near the dam at Curtis Pond [near Maple Corner].
And then what happened?
Several people contacted me and also Hubbard Park director Geoff Beyer. They suggested something fun, like the stone pickup truck, in Hubbard Park. We had early discussions about what might be an appropriate sculpture—something that would be approachable and durable. After a lot of talking, Geoff’s original concept of a sleeping bear topped the list. After the parks commission vetted several sketches and a scale model, they voted to move forward with the project.
There’s an area near the ball field in the woods that they want to designate as a kids’ play area. And the sleeping bear will be near the ball field in the woods but accessible to children. We decided it should be low to the ground so that kids could climb on it and enjoy it. We’re doing it out of granite, and it will be there for children to enjoy for many generations.
An Endorsement of the Project
We also talked to Jody Brown of the Drawing Board in Montpelier about the Sleeping Bear Project. Here’s what she said:
I’m a big fan of art in the public arena. You don’t have to make a special trip to a gallery or museum. You just come upon it by chance. That’s a big part of something that I support.
I’ve seen Chris Miller’s art. I know he can pull it off. It’s in Hubbard Park. It’s family friendly. It’s something that kids can climb on. I absolutely hope people will support it.
To make a donation to the Sleeping Bear project, visit the project on Kickstarter.com.