Getting the Hang of It
State of the Arts
Theology's loss is the art world's gain.
C. Sean Horton, new curator at the Firehouse Center in Burlington, once had designs to become a Baptist minister -- he even launched an indie Christian record label. But designs of another kind eventually won out -- as a child, little Sean's favorite magazine was Decor. Then, he took a fateful college course, and the rest is... art history.
Horton's art history, that is. The path this Lone Star native -- born in tiny Dodd City, Texas -- followed to Burlington went like this: a BFA from the University of North Texas; working as a museum guard in Dallas; curating and exhibiting his own and friends' works in nonprofit spaces; an MFA from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston; a residency last October at the Vermont Studio School in Johnson.
Horton liked the small-town feel of Vermont. "It reminded me of home, minus the dust and heat," he says. But he was at a crossroads, career-wise, and thinking about returning to Texas when he saw an ad for the opening at the Firehouse. Beating out nearly a hundred applicants, he began his new job last month.
"I thought it was a great fit," offers Horton, who just turned 29. "There's a lot of community support, a great space, and a lot of enthusiastic artists here."
The Firehouse is a very different place than it was some nine years ago when Pascal Spengemann first took the curatorial reins. Now managing his own small gallery in New York City, Spengemann played an enormous role in luring the public to the Church Street venue. But with its $3.5 million renovation, the Firehouse has expanded both physically and in reputation. It will be Horton's job to pick up where Spengemann left off.
"Building the foundation is different than building on that foundation," he suggests.
What does he bring to the job? "Pascal had so much enthusiasm for doing shows and looking to the future," he says. "I can offer a strong sense of organization to it, envisioning it as an international artspace rather than an impromptu artspace."
Horton's laid-back demeanor, boyish looks and soft Texas drawl belie the ambition he reveals for the next phase of the Firehouse. Though he intends to maintain the gallery's Vermont flavor, Horton says he wants to "initiate conversations with artists across the country," pairing local and regional artists with national and international artists. The first such duo is scheduled for February, with Boston installation artist Hillary Baldwin and Barton, Vermont, sculptor Ann Young. "They're both interested in myth," Horton notes.
Like Spengemann, Horton is also interested in showcasing emerging artists, and suggests that the "space upstairs is a great way to have an artist come in for a short residency." The Firehouse's first artist-in-residence, however, is a highly accomplished Vermont native, Leslie Fry. An exhibition of her sculptures in September will replace the previously scheduled retrospective of Vermont landscape architect Dan Kiley, who passed away in February.
Horton's keeping his own work on the back burner for now; he says he doesn't want his personal proclivities to color anyone's impression of his curatorial aesthetics. But Vermonters might be interested to know that his recent exhibitions in Boston included the use of salt-water taffy and chunks of drywall slathered with joint compound. And speaking of color, his favorite is pink -- the hue of his grandmother's plates, which, according to a Globe review in January, is one of his "first memories of color."
Horton's debut exhibition, right after the holidays, is tentatively entitled "Storefronts." He describes it as "40 days and 40 nights of one-person shows." Sounds kinda biblical.
HOT TYPE Everybody knows that Phish played Nectar's -- after how many stories in the Freeps this summer? Fewer folks are hip to the fact that the downtown nightclub once housed the Lane Press. It's all spelled out in a handsome new book that marks the company's centennial while chronicling the history of commercial printing in Vermont. Lane hired the Vermont Folklife Center to conduct the interviews excerpted in A Celebration of Vermont Printers, 1904-2004. The book features 20 local printing pioneers -- including George Little, Lois McClure, Rocky Stinehour and Dick Schill-hammer -- waxing poetic about an industry that has come a long way from hand-set type and lead pots. Writer Chris Granstrom ties it all together with a lively narrative that required extensive research. Despite the materials they create for other people, observes Lane Market-ing Manager Tracey Moran, "Most printers don't preserve their own history." Now those oral testimonies are safe in the Vermont Folklife archives. And the book is on sale at Borders for $21.95. Photographer Michael Sipe, graphic designer Bill Harvey and book packager Julie Stillman all did their parts to produce a dazzling document that underscores the power of print.