A Breakthrough Moment for Architect-Artist Tom Leytham

Grist Mill — Guildhall

by Nat Frothingham

During a brief meeting with Gov. Phil Scott at the Vermont State House in Montpelier on April 20, architect and artist Tom Leytham experienced the thrill of having six of his watercolor paintings added to the Vermont State Art Collection.

In many ways that moment was an affirmation of a critical turn that Leytham had taken with his career about six years ago, when he began documenting industrial landscapes that were fast disappearing from Vermont.

When Leytham first opened an architectural office in Montpelier in 1991, he was designing houses, offices, and the like. He was also teaching architecture at Norwich University.

It was drawing that was his delight. “I became an architect because I like to draw,” he said and “computerized drafting became a chore not a delight.”

Remarking on what it meant that his watercolor drawings are now part of the Vermont state art collection, he said, “It was a big honor for them to purchase those watercolors.” It was also an affirmation of his decision begun six years ago to embrace his passion for drawing and making art.

Five of the watercolor paintings were purchased for the state art collection by an anonymous donor from Burlington and a sixth painting was purchased for the state collection by the non-profit organization Friends of the Vermont State House, an all-volunteer group of Vermonters with a commitment to advocating for and conserving the State House.

Surely the power of Leytham’s watercolor paintings comes from his professional understanding of architecture. He’s a practicing architect who knows buildings, drawings, materials, specifications and throughout his career he’s had he had a deep personal commitment to architectural preservation.

The five paintings purchased by a friend of the arts in Burlington are these.

  • Waits River Village – 18  X 24, watercolor, 2016
  • Grist Mill – Guildhall – 18 X 24, watercolor, 2017
  • Granary – South Royalton – 18 by 24, watercolor, 2014
  • Granary – Danby – 18 X 24, watercolor, 2014
  • Tunbridge Mill – 18 X 24, watercolor, 2014

And a sixth painting purchased by Friends of the State House is of the Red Mill in Jericho.

Vermonters who write about the state’s pastoral beauty often account for that beauty by describing its farms and forests; rural homesteads; outbuildings and barns; the natural displays of hills, rivers, valleys; and the changing sky and weather, as “Vermont’s working landscape.”

What would Vermont be like without the farms, the animals, the hay, the barns, and the farming people who drive the machines that keep the fields open, the animals fed, and produce the milk and beef and crops that go to market?

But there’s another landscape that Leytham is celebrating with his watercolor paintings, what he calls “the other working landscape.” This other working landscape, now a part of the state’s art collection, consists of the sometimes forgotten, often neglected and abandoned industrial sites, played-out mines and factories, scuttled mill buildings and granaries—sinking back into the earth or being ravaged by the rain, wind, snow and ice of successive seasons, in various stages of disintegration, decay, and ruin.

Six years have passed since Tom Leytham started producing his watercolor paintings. Over time Leytham has created a body of work that he can share. Since 2015, he’s had seven shows. One of those shows was an exhibit at the Governor’s Gallery in 2016 at the Pavilion Office Building in Montpelier.

Speaking about the public’s reaction to Leytham’s paintings, David Schutz who is Vermont’s curator of state buildings, said. “It was a very popular exhibit.”

That show and the other shows and the general enthusiasm for his paintings has created a certain moment. Said Leytham, “It’s getting a life of its own in a way. I’m along for the ride. Doing the work is pretty exciting.”

Five of Leytham’s paintings are already on display at the State House, hung in various House committee rooms. Leytham is also looking forward to another exhibition of his paintings at the Ava Gallery in Lebanon (NH) from June 8 to July 8. This exhibition will show 35 of his watercolor paintings from further afield, including Beijing, China and San Juan, Puerto Rico.

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