Arts, Features

Inspirational dining at Roots

CU Professor Oliver Schemm painting in Roots.

Starting last week, Roots restaurant in Rutland has been hosting local artists to express their individualism and artistic knowledge by painting on walls in the dining area.

And this week, one of the artists is Castleton University art professor Oliver Schemm.

Because of COVID-19, local restaurants and other businesses have taken a major hit. Kelvans and Thomas Dairy have both recently closed their doors, but Rutland Redevelopment Authority Executive Director Brennan Duffy said that he wasn’t aware of any other restaurants on the brink of failure.

COVID-19 has brought the tough side out of everyone, forcing some big decisions to be made. That’s why Roots took a creative shot in the dark bringing artists to paint scenery while guests eat.

“The idea to do this was from Don Billings, the owner of the restaurant. He thought it was a cool and different and innovative idea and I agree. I think we are trying to create something that has a different energy and entertainment than what you would normally expect when you go out to dinner,” said Ross Lalancette, Manager at Roots.

The main idea behind the artists painting is all about energy. The one thing that everyone mentions is to create a positive and different feeling of comfort when eating at Roots.

Billings, in a recent Rutland Herald article, said, “I like energy and I like people to feel energy. I was just trying to figure out a way to create energy in a space, a restaurant, when most energy in a restaurant comes from the bar and the high top.”

To get the idea off and running, Billings got in contact with 77ART, a program that supports and promotes art in the Rutland and Vermont area.

John Broadowski, a representative from 77ART, expressed how excited he was when he got the call from Billings.

“This is something fun and new and new is always fun and I just felt very passionate about pursuing it,” he said.

The way it will work is 10 local artists will be coming in to paint on 20-foot panels within the span of four weeks. Four artists already painted murals last week when the event began.

Each week four artists will come in and begin painting their chunk of wall. The event will happen Tuesday through Saturday starting at 5:30 p.m. and ending at 8:30 p.m. The same two artists will come in every Tuesday for the four weeks. The remaining Wednesday through Saturday slot will be filled by an additional two artists and then it will change the next week.

“There isn’t enough space for all the art so at the beginning of each week, all the work will be white washed and the artists will start fresh,” Schemm said. “That’s what makes this experience so exciting. It’s meant to energize the area.”

Schemn has been teaching at Castleton University as an associate professor for the past decade and creates his own artwork to be shared within the Castleton and Rutland communities. Schemn is one of the artists painting until Saturday.

“What’s really cool about this experience is that I’ve never done anything like this before,” Schemn said. “I have done maybe a 5’ by 6’ canvas once but never anything this enormous before.”

Schemn plans to only use four main colors for his art; black, white, grey and blue. Going into this, he said he has no plan as to what kind of art he wants to make.

Last night, Schemm started off by grabbing a sponge and dipping it in black paint and chucking it like a baseball at the wall. Then he proceeded to use fluid motions to soften his art with long thick black half circles.

He started to use a window that was a part of his wall and painted what looked like small tadpoles swimming around the window. To the right of the window were much larger almost completed circles, almost like yin and yang.

Patrons eating at Roots in front of Schemm’s artwork.

As he continued to paint not only using his hand but also allowing his body to flow with his art, he made smaller details. He started with big bold thick black lines and then feathered in smaller lines to accompany the main black lines.

“My specialty is in sculpture and I’ve done very little in painting but I look forward to the challenge,” he said.

Thomas Merwin, the second guest, is a well-known Castleton artist. He said he’s fascinated with the idea that this is a performance and the art is his show. His artwork is more planned out and he wants to use a more abstract approach. There will be numerous squares and within each one shares a scene. When it’s all put together, each scene will make up a story in some way, he said.

Each artist has something to offer that is different and unique. Merwin plans to create a backwards storyline, meaning whatever he paints last may make more sense as the beginning of the story and Schemn has no concrete plan and will feel the energy of the space and will paint what he feels. Each is different and special.

Merwin painting in the restaurant.

“What’s so exciting is you get to see an image appear out of thin air,” Broadowski said. “At the beginning there’s a white wall and you get to see the artist wrestle with it and make mistakes and work through it. You get to see the process and it’s something you probably won’t see again.”