Drive through any Vermont town and you’re bound to see a large, charming clock tower. It’s a signature architectural style of the state. At 180 Market Street – the future site of the city hall, library and senior center – South Burlington residents may soon get a unique take on the classic clock of their own.  

The South Burlington Public Art Selection Committee has chosen artist Phil Godenschwager and his original proposal, “Momentous Clock for a contract for design. The work is a three-dimensional, almost 100 percent stained glass clock that is illuminated from the inside. It features a spiral of leaves around the face that transition from green to white, symbolizing Vermont’s temperate climate. The original proposal shows scenes of life in the Green Mountain state on the clock’s side panels and has the piece mounted on a column in the library near the staircase.

The commission convened on June 11 to discuss the four finalists’ designs submitted for public art at 180 Market Street. Committee members walked around an oblong table examining and discussing the art prototypes before settling on their decision. After about two hours of deliberation, member Penne Tompkins made a motion to create the contract for design with Godenschwager. Committee members consented, while Michele Bailey abstained due to her absence at the previous art proposal meeting. 

The committee discussed using a portion of its $48,000 project budget to converse with Godenshwager and obtain updated designs. The new designs would take from his original proposal and explore possible changes in location and style, among other inquiries. A final design would go to the city council for commission approval, according to city project director Ilona Blanchard. 

“That’s part of this whole process, to ask the artist to work with you on developing something that works better,” Bailey said during the meeting. The group agreed Godenschwager, a near 50-year Vermont transplant, had seemed open to working with them on a final design during his pitch. 

“I’m elated,” Godenschwager said when reached for comment at his home in Randolph.

Pending the city council’s final approval, the piece would be the artist’s seventh public art installation. Godenschwager creates a variety of artwork from sculptures to drawings but would employ his stained glass acumen for “Momentous Clock.”

He said he was inspired to pursue working with stained glass by his great uncle who spent a lifetime crafting artwork with the medium. Over four decades ago, Godenschwager took a 10-day stained glass course in Oregon, and after, continued as a hobby. 

Godenschwager later moved from Oregon to Vermont, where he got a job with Great American Salvage, an organization that dismantles buildings and preserves their historic elements.

“I took a lot of old windows out for years,” he said. “That was my opportunity to self-educate.” 

He continued bettering his personal stained glass endeavors over the following decades.

“It’s the kind of shiny things that bring people through a door,” Godenschwager said of the medium. “People are naturally drawn to it.”

And while he hopes that theory would apply to a piece at 180 Market Street, he’d also want the work to be “more than just stained glass.” 

Godenschwager’s inspiration for the piece derived from the city’s call for public art that considers the culture and people of South Burlington. 

“You take that and you tie it to the state, its history,” he explained, adding, “while also staying true to your own artistic input.” 

Committee concepts

During deliberations, the committee imagined a multitude of possibilities for “Momentous Clock.” Some ideas included moving the piece outdoors, over one of the building’s entrances, inside the building’s lobby or even creating a double-faced clock through one of the library’s glass panels that opens to the lobby. They also discussed changes in scale and simplifying the sides of the piece, which were originally designed to depict scenes of Vermont-life. Bailey suggested that during the discussion process the artist might come up with suggestions they hadn’t even considered. 

Next steps 

The public art selection committee hopes to meet with Godenschwager this summer as scheduling allows, according to Blanchard. A final design could be ready by the end of the summer and sent to the council for commission approval this fall, Blanchard said. She added the ultimate deadline for a commissioned artist/their work would be before the building is complete, which is currently projected to be sometime in 2021.  

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