Friday, November 21, 2008

On Fire

My project is going to be about the community of Vermonters. It was my friend Eric Mach who inadvertently pushed me in this direction. He was the guy who told me he was optimistic about the future of Vermont because of the people. That really stuck with me and ultimately changed my focus - I had been leaning towards doing something about preserving the landscape.

From the idea of focussing on the community and its future it was but a short step to focussing on the institution at the heart of our community - the Pawlet Volunteer Fire Department. The firemen are at the center of Pawlet life. We rely on them not only to provide help and protection in case of natural disaster, but to provide a steady stream of rituals that bind our community together: pancake breakfasts on Mother's Day and New Year's Day, at the height of summer the Fireman's Auction (chance to get rid of your old stuff and buy someone else's), and, grandest event of all, the Annual Wild Game Supper in November.

These days the fire department is under stress. Every year at town meeting the fire chief rises to plead for volunteers. Everyone is busy and fire training takes many hours of commitment - not to mention time spent flipping pancakes. Our community grows richer and grayer by the year - that's fine for the library, but no help for the fire department. We need young people and, increasingly, they can't afford to live in Pawlet or, if they can, must work so many hours there is no time to volunteer. I want to do a series of paintings about the fire department, highlighting their role from fire-fighting to providing the means for people to reinforce their bonds as a community. The fire department's indirect work is to bring home the awareness that ultimately we depend on each other for our survival and our identity: "No man is an I-land..." The immediacy of this awareness is, I believe, one of the unique aspects of life in Vermont and one that I very much want to see continue into the future. Perhaps my paintings will inspire a couple of young folk to join the fire department or, at the least, spark serious consideration of how we are going to cope with our fire department's dwindling population.

And the idea of painting that Game Supper really gets my artistic juices flowing.


Eulalia (Lali) Benejam Cobb said...

I'd been waiting for this post! Did you ever get anything to eat after all the sketching? I love what you say about the fire department. I had sort of ignored them so far, but that will have to change. So, see? You're already having an effect.

Elizabeth Torak said...

George and I did sit down to eat at the end after we had both reached a point of visual surfeit.

I'm thrilled by your comment that your consciousness of the fire department has been raised. Wow - maybe art really can have an effect - who knew?

jeff f said...

Interesting idea Elizabeth, so many possibilities. Night fires, smoke, people in motion, sounds like a fun project.

Clair said...

Elizabeth --
Just last week or so there was trouble in St. Albans over a tentatively proposed cut back of the fire department full-timers-- to the point of threats being made-- and ending with someone being forcibly "hospitalized".

I can't find the story in the Messenger now -- they don't appear to have a search function!! -- but just wanted to say, that at least in St. Albans this is a "hot" topic!