In the past three years, Tyler Vendituoli's massive metal animal sculptures have become fixtures of the South End Art Hop, rearing from the pavement outside Conant Metal & Light on Pine Street in Burlington. Last year, he erected an 18-foot totem pole called "Waheguru" that featured seven creatures stacked head on claw, crawling toward the sky. The year before, it was "Ogden," a 3,000-pound rhino that eventually sold for an equally weighty sum of $10,000. Not one to rest on his laurels, Vendituoli has taken on two epic organisms this year: a 16-foot giraffe, "Carol"; and a six-foot raven, "Roger."
This will be the first year Vendituoli has entered one of his animal sculptures in the juried outdoor sculpture competition that is part of the Art Hop, put on by the South End Arts and Business Association. Previously, his creations were on display but not officially part of the Hop. "Carol" will keep watch on Pine Street, while "Roger" will perch at the Men's Room on Main Street.
The sculptor, who studied fine art and geology at the University of Vermont, has worked at Conant for five and a half years. Last November he registered himself as a business after "Waheguru" sold for a whopping $17,000.
Seven Days recently talked with Vendituoli about how his giant creatures come to be.
So, what's the story behind the giraffe and the raven?
The giraffe is a sort of funny commission. This woman has 35 acres, so I pitched the idea of a giraffe eating a tree in her yard. She's a financial adviser, and I think she's playing some sort of game, but I don't know what the game is, but it's almost to teach me some sort of sales lesson.
Why do you think she's playing a game?
She wanted me to make her something, so I gave her a rough idea and a budget. She then countered with "OK, but I need sketches and samples." Normally, I don't really draw or anything; I just make it. So I've come up with this pretty complicated way of doing it, with transparencies where you can see all the layers as I would build it.
I showed her that, and then I didn't hear anything for six weeks, and then I contacted her and said, "OK, this is the main project I've been thinking about. I'm going to be doing this anyway ... I understand you have no idea what it's really going to look like until it's done, and at that point, if you don't want it, no hard feelings."
So maybe she's testing you. Or teaching you?
I have some more copper "skin" to put on the giraffe, and at that point I'll contact her and see if she'll come look at it, if she wants it. And then I imagine there will be a sales pitch that she's going to coerce out of me. Normally, it's out there and you can buy it or not.
Why the raven?
It started as a toucan. In July, I was unexpectedly breaking up with my girlfriend and moving out of my house and moving back to Burlington. Oftentimes [in situations like that], I have this sort of nervous energy, and I need to do something. So I made a raven that started as a toucan that then became a robin that then became a crow. And then I painted it black and it was definitely a raven.
Where did you find parts for these guys — any interesting locations?
For two years I've been pulling this steam-powered barge winch out of the lake. I've sort of been shoving it, rolling it, tumbling it up onto the shore. Pickers — people who collect things and find people who want them — had, unasked, been collecting things for me, specifically farm equipment. [One of them] really wanted this barge winch, so he traded me all my materials for ["Carol" and "Roger"] for this thing that I pulled out of the lake.
Where did the names "Carol" and "Roger" come from?
Roger the Raven is fun because it's alliteration. Carol is one of the head monsters in Where the Wild Things Are, the movie version from six years ago. And I thought it was such an unfitting name [for a monster]. When I thought, What's the giraffe's name? it had that same sequence where it doesn't make any sense, and it's kind of fun.
So you had to register as a business. When did you do that?
Last November. The totem pole was a big enough check that I was worried about people noticing.
And in the past, Seven Days has published your price tags.
There's been enough out there about it. ... I got insurance audited the other day, which was sort of interesting. Sort of like my liability — they came and took my risk assessment. I either failed or did wonderfully, because he was only here for five minutes. So he either was like, "Oh, man," or...
You've got a torch in one hand, standing on a ladder with nothing securing you...
Hanging over the sidewalk.
So this is all kind of new for you.
Me making things is not new.
No, but registering yourself as a business is — getting liability insurance, people wanting you to make more formal proposals for them.
Yeah. It's really just been me making things because I wanted to, in the past. And maybe I have somebody in mind that I wanted to buy it, but there's been no agreement of any sort. And then, I don't think the person [I've had in mind] has ever bought it.
But somebody else does.
Yes. So I'm encouraged to keep going. And then Steve [Conant] has been so accommodating in letting me sort of do whatever I want, as long as I'm not hurting people.
Is there anything you'd like to add about your experience working on these?
I'll tell you a funny story. Two years ago, this guy came up to me, [and] he's just sort of watching me [working] for a long time. I get nervous when people watch me, because welding is dangerous to watch; the light burns your eyes. So I'm like, "Hi, how are you?" And he's just sort of staring at me, and I go back to welding.
Then he starts spouting off all these things about what I'm doing wrong, how I'm using the wrong kind of welding rod for this circumstance, and [asks,] "Haven't you gone to welding school?" I haven't gone to welding school ... And he made me feel so ashamed. So I took a welding class [at the Center for Technology, Essex] because of that guy. I was like, "Oh, I understand what he's talking about now."
Do you have any other projects in the works?
I'm aware that whatever you do is what people know you for. I'm becoming known as the guy who makes the big animals. And I don't know if I want to do that forever. [But recently the airport] contacted me and essentially told me I could have carte blanche [with a project]. And I'm going to be doing a sign for the Vermont Comedy Club.
Also, I have a five-foot-diameter steel ball. I still need to figure out what to do with that.
The original print version of this article was headlined "Art Hop's Man of Steel"