Robert Vogel: Painting a Portrait of an Artist, Author, Father, and Life-Enthusiast

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Thursday October 22, 2015

While winding through Vermont’s bountiful back roads, Robert Vogel has drawn inspiration throughout the years. With the stroke of a brush - whether it is fall’s fiery foliage colors, a heavenly fog, or summer’s sunbeams warming a beautiful home - the 93-year-old local artist uses the essence of the Green Mountain State as his muse for his watercolor paintings.

Currently, Vogel, a longtime resident of South Burlington, has 12 works at Harpers Restaurant at the Holiday Inn, 1068 Williston Road, through October 31. All large watercolors are matted and framed in glass and are for sale.

In the past two years, Vogel has also had juried work at Shelburne Farms (Art at the Coach Barn), Bryan Memorial Art Gallery in Jeffersonville, the Red Mill in Jericho, and a solo art exhibit at St. Michael’s College.

Vogel’s watercolor sketches tell a story in and of themselves, but beyond watercolor, Vogel’s history reveals an additional story of a former commercial artist and an all-around life-enthusiast.
The Commercial Artist

Vogel discovered his artistic talent at a young age. He attended Brooklyn Technical High School, and then went on to Pratt Institute. He started his career as a commercial artist, working for an industrial designer in New York.

Shortly after, Vogel was drafted and served during World War II in Greenland. When he returned, he decided to take a vacation, and sailed to Vermont in 1946. It was instant love, and he returned to become a permanent Vermonter.

Having been a watch repairman in the military, Vogel’s first job in Vermont was at Tick Tock Jewelers in Burlington. He went on to work for General Electric for 15 years before owning his own business (he continued working for GE as a contractor) up until he retired in the mid-80s, which was also around the time he married his wife, Barbara.

Having worked for GE over the years, Vogel has a full portfolio of commercial work at hand. On a side table in his living room rests a pile of some of his work for a number of different architects and businesses.

“This is work up in Montreal for the Canadian-Pacific Railway,” he said, holding up his piece depicting an aerial shot of the Port of Montreal on the St. Lawrence River. Downtown Burlington shows up next as he shuffles through his work. “This one’s right in this town. This is Maine. This is Norwich University. This is Sugarbush--I did practically all the ski areas.”

In an age before computers, Vogel explained how he used to commonly work off of topographical maps and blueprints at the snap of a finger. If something needed to be changed, it was back to the drawing board so that they could be used for demonstrations for investors when needed.

Watercolor, Writing, Sailing, and
Everything In Between

After retiring from commercial work, Vogel was ready for a new artistic venture.

“My wife got me interested and said, ‘why don’t you do some fine artwork?’” he said. And so he did. The transition took some time.

“My tendency is that I do it just as fast as I can,” he laughed. He was used to working under pressure. “I’m stuck with realism mostly.”

The Vogel home is adorned with several of his watercolor works on the walls. He points to the one in front of the living room of a small, single-story building surrounded by trees in an overcast setting.

“This one is pleasing and homey,” he said. When asked where it was located, he responded that, “It’s nowhere. I figured it would be a rainy day and all of the sudden the sun would come out and you’d have a little mist left over, so I threw this together. Most of these places are nowhere . . . It’s just whatever I feel like doing, there’s no particular place.”

By the kitchen, Vogel has a painting of a tree in full foliage, its brilliant red color mirroring itself on a body of water. It was a painting they had owned for years in a different home. Eventually, they agreed to try selling it at the Bryan Memorial Gallery in Jeffersonville.

Knowing how much Barbara enjoyed the painting, Vogel decided he would surprise her by pulling the painting from the gallery and bringing it back home. Little did he know, Barbara’s children, also aware of their mother’s love for the painting, ended up paying for it, too.

“It’s complicated, but she ended up with the money and the painting!” he chuckled, watching Barbara the entire time he retold the story.

“And you ended up with nothing!” she laughed. “I loved that painting, and I hated to part with it.”

Even though every room is filled with Vogel’s paintings, watercolor is not his only talent; he is also a published author.

Having spent a lot of time on the water as a long-time boat club member of the Mallet’s Bay Boat Club, and after designing boats (he built his second steel hulled tugboat, named “Volendam,” in 2000, which he continues to pilot on Lake Champlain), Vogel published the “Lake Champlain Atlas of Navigational Charts.” Vogel said that he thinks he has already sold over 10,000 copies, and it is even used by the Coast Guard.

Vogel’s other publication, “Just My Luck,” narrates his time in Greenland during the war. He paired the story with his own illustrations. The book will soon be available in an e-book format.

That’s not all. Vogel is also responsible for designing the 10-foot steel cylinder war memorial at Veterans Memorial Park. It is located at the end of the “Pathway of Honor” and has all the theatres of war carved out in letters.

Additionally, Vogel spent years designing and building local theatre sets; he helped start Lyric Theatre Company when he was still living in Shelburne.

With all of that under his belt, one may think that he would not have time for much else. With his thirst for adventure, this is far from the truth.

Up until he turned 90, Vogel could be found carving up the trails at Smuggler’s Notch. For about a 10-year stretch of time, he could be spotted in the sky piloting his plane ,“An army surplus. You could buy them cheap those days,” he said. Ice-skating at Leddy Park was a frequent occurrence. And he could be found grooving at the middle school cafeteria not long ago, which was rented out for a dance club, of which he was a member.

Finally, of course, Vogel has always been a family man. His daughter, Karin, has witnessed his developing career and interests, and even shares artistic talent herself, particularly with crafts. His family expanded after marrying Barbara, who is a mother of eight.

Though life is not as ramped up as it has been in prior years, you will still find Vogel’s mind and hands reeling. Whether it is his next watercolor project, catching up with family or friends, or chatting with his wife while preparing the next meal, the air around him exudes the sense of a man’s life well lived, a life that is still ready for more that comes his way.

“That’s why we’re here!” Vogel said, recalling his decision to become a Vermonter, a state that encourages its residents to enjoy life to the fullest.

“That’s why we’re here.”

SOURCE: Miranda Jonswold, Correspondent