State of the Arts
You may or may not know the name Stu McGowan , but if you’ve tootled around Burlington at all, you’ve definitely seen at least one of his houses. McGowan, 47, is an unusual developer who deals in low-income housing in a most colorful way. Literally. Each of his buildings — primarily old housing stock turned into condos — features a cheerfully unorthodox paint job, such as bright pink, orange or lime green with contrasting trim. And next month, McGowan will grant one hue-happy individual an unorthodox opportunity: to select the colors for his next house.
That’s one of his auction donations to benefit CarShare Vermont  — McGowan is on the board of the Burlington nonprofit — so if you want a chance at it, you’ll have to attend CarShare’s first-anniversary party on February 12. The idea behind the “Share the Love” auction — aside from raising money for the organization, which provides an alternative to private vehicle ownership — is “to get something really unique for your sweetie before Valentine’s Day,” McGowan explains.
And this man knows from unique Valentines: For 25 consecutive years, McGowan has created a deeply idiosyncratic, large and usually quite public testament to his wife, Joan Watson, for V-Day. Last year the project involved making a giant heart composed of hundreds of keys — “Every time we get a place we change the locks,” McGowan notes — and covered with red construction paper. It sat in front of their Archibald Street house for a week; “then I cut out the actual heart part, and it’s hanging in our house,” he says.
That inspired McGowan’s second auction gift, a smaller version of the key construction. His third donation is a “bowl or planter” made by Watson, a potter and longtime director of the University of Vermont’s Living/Learning Center Pottery Co-op.
McGowan admits he has “no freaking clue” what he’ll do to proclaim his love for Watson this year, but it’s a safe bet he won’t just buy flowers. Meanwhile, he’s got a key-heart thingy to make for someone else, and a few more buildings to buy. Oh, and the starting bid is $75 for the chance to “leave your mark in Burlington with an eclectic house painted in your honor.” Now, that’s romantic.