Should It Stay or Should It Go? Seven Days' readers weigh in on "The Leapfroggers" | Culture | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Should It Stay or Should It Go? Seven Days' readers weigh in on "The Leapfroggers" 

click to enlarge MATTHEW THORSEN
  • Matthew Thorsen

Last week we invited Seven Days readers to tell us whether the recently vandalized “Leapfroggers” sculpture should be returned to Church Street — and if not, what might go in its place. Not that your preferences, or ours, have any hope of affecting the fate of the frolicking little girl-and-boy statue: The Church Street Marketplace Commission is currently raising money — soliciting donations, even! — to have it repaired.

Still, the vehement opinions our query unleashed suggest that people love the opportunity to rant about that stuff called public art. Our thanks to the readers who shared your views, pro or con. We can only imagine the impassioned responses we might have received if we’d asked what should replace, say, the World Trade Center Towers.

If you missed the deadline and still want to be an Instant Art Critic — or react to the statements here — please send your missives to

THE QUESTION: Do you think “Leapfroggers” should be restored to Church Street? Why or why not? If not, what public art would you like to see in its place?

Eric Ford, Colchester: As I walked by a pair of small feet and a pile of rust, my heart rose and I thought of many things. Has the public finally revolted against bad art? Did an angry mob of black-clad hipsters descend upon the block wielding blunt objects and torches? Did they carry handpainted signs and chant “death to tasteless art?” Or was it drunken vandals? Whatever the case, it’s: BEAUTY, TRUTH and GOODNESS — 1; STUPID, CREEPY STATUE — 0.

Kim Kulow-Jones, Burlington: Speaking as an art appreciator as well as someone who has a sculpture degree and an MFA, the statue of the “Leapfroggers” should go. This silly, maudlin statue has nothing to do with the Marketplace, Burlington, Vermont, or contemporary life in the United States. And besides, it’s ugly. Let’s take this opportunity to put up something interesting or beautiful, or even leave the space open.

Hugo Martinez Cazon, Burlington: Thank you so much for opening up a dialogue about this use of public space. I strongly agree with those that think this is a wonderful opportunity to rethink our common space on Church Street. We do not need more pandering to the most shallow and cutesy parts of our collective tackiness.

Church Street has gone from being the heart of a living town to a walking mall of indistinguishable stores, a place that does not ask for our individual participation in the building of a communal culture. A statue like “Leapfroggers” asks that we complacently turn off our critical heart and blandly wander from store to store. Ultimately this can damage the identity of the town and diminishes the commitment people have to Church Street over, say, the Williston strip mall.

“Leapfroggers” is not a piece of artwork I like. Hopefully enough of us can make a difference and clear the street of its presence.

Notwithstanding my comments, the vandals that destroyed someone’s work should be sought and tried. Destruction is not the way to resolve our differences.

Maeve Kim, Jericho Center: Of course the “Leapfroggers” should return! And of course it’s not “great art.” It’s joyful and innocent and somewhat funny. It’s been a treat to walk along Church Street, intent on too many errands and too little time, and suddenly see the mischievous and lively smiles on the leapfroggers’ faces. The debate over their fate seems to pit innocent fun against overly self-conscious art snobbery. To those who feel that public art always must stretch the understanding of the common people, just think of this piece as folk art, sure to be affectionately revered a few decades from now.

Thea Dion, Burlington: Let us not fuss over the loss of the bronze leapfroggers. They are, at the very least, a bad example to restless youth who might decide it’s simply fine to go leapfrogging about the Marketplace, creating havoc for cart merchants and posing a danger to unstable senior citizens. At most, [it’s] a nice place to lean your bike while you stop walking it to pull up your sock.

Let it be gone, along with that eyesore drainage ditch at the top of Church Street that some people call a fountain.

Koi Boynton, Colchester: I’ve often wondered what is up with Burlington’s bad public art. Many people view us as an art town and, yes, our coffeehouses and art galleries hold many wonderful pieces. Yet on the streets we find ridiculous, insulting sculptures, from whale tails to the air ducts of upper Church Street and whatever the hell that stuff is that dots the landscape of Battery Street. Where will it end?

Well, I was hoping that the loss of the so-called “Leapfrog-gers” — although I’ve heard it called many more colorful things over the years — would be a nice start. Walking down Church Street that fine Saturday morning only to see nothing but rusted half-feet gave my heart a little thrill, and I must say my devious mind envisioned liberating many of the other horrible pieces of sculpture that we’ve all come to accept.

Millennium sculpture? Give me a break — unrefined, misdirected hunk of metal is more like it. We don’t question, we don’t even think about it… and then friends stop into town and we stroll through our quaint downtown only to hear them exclaim, “What the **#! is that?”

So, I say down with bad public art. Let us all take a stand here and now. Let dead leapers lie. Even drunken buffoons can see the light. Spend the money on something else… maybe the Firehouse. That fireman hasn’t made it to the top yet and, personally, I can’t wait until those gallery doors open again so we can see that true artists do exist in this town. But leave the rusted feet as a reminder that bad public art is not tolerated in this town — no sir, we won’t have it here — and besides, it still makes me chuckle.

Thomas DeSisto, Burlington: I would like to see a bronze statue of the vandals who destroyed “The Leapfroggers” erected in the spot where the statue used to be. Every year the residents of Burlington could have an annual citywide block party on the anniversary of the crime, during which the new statue could be ceremonially knocked over as a warning to all those who would dare deface our wonderful city.

Penny A. Gillander-Dame, Colchester: I think it should be replaced along with other statues celebrating children. [The hospital] and the mayor’s office celebrate children and support children’s causes so often, why not make it a theme?

…Also, we don’t seem to have statues that celebrate our… history or even the present people in office, such as the mayor downtown, which is where you want people to come. Marketing of your colleges, sports, lakefront and children will bring shoppers downtown.

There is so much artistic diversity here in Burlington, it shouldn’t be hard to find artists willing to create. What about the Renaissance theme along with the hospital? The fountain the children play in is functional, but very ugly in my opinion, and I think to myself, with all the artists in Burlington, why isn’t there more?

…Utilize your marketing skills and create marble statues that will last and celebrate for all…

Jodi Hoh, Burlington: The “Leapfroggers” statue had a cuteness to it and served its purpose — whatever it was — but, my goodness, let’s honor Richard Haupt [the late “Clarinet Man”]. This seems like a no-brainer to me. His presence on Church Street was a part of its definition, and I can’t think of any other person or persons, especially leapfroggers, who deserve this recognition.

Edwin Granai, Burlington: I vote to restore “Leapfroggers” to Church Street. It is a recognizable portrayal of childhood fun and spontaneity too quickly lost in the conformity of youth and decorum of adulthood. Abstract and symbolic art has its place, but it should not preclude realism, especially a joyful piece like “Leapfroggers.”

Noe Copley-Woods, MD, Burlington: I’ve often had to avert my eyes from the bizarre sculpture of the two children in a most improbable position, and it’s a pleasure to finally get to speak up! As a physician, it has long bothered me that the little girl’s back is overextended at an angle incompatible with life. I’m sure this must bother other people, too. It’s unsettling.

Let’s replace it with a sculpture that real kids can play on!

Mike Dumas, St. Albans: Whoever vandalized the “Leapfroggers” sculpture most likely did everyone a service by dislodging it from its base on Church St. Like Seven Days wrote in its article, sounds like many, including those at the paper, couldn’t wait for that sucker to get up and git! …

OK, here comes the sarcasm. I couldn’t put it off any longer. Let’s put something up down there that fits in with the times. A sculpture of a kid, sitting in front of his/her computer, hacking into NORAD. Yeah. How about a portrait, painted on a brick wall, depicting two fresh-faced kids entering University Mall, all happy and smiling, VISA and Master Cards sticking out of their pockets?

Listen, I know as well as anyone that today’s youth have an edge up on kids in my day. They are much smarter and less naive. I know they will lead this country forward in the years to come. But give me a break, please! The “Leapfroggers” are from a different time, when things weren’t analyzed or disseminated into issues of subversive sexual messages. Man, you got it all wrong. But I know there is no changing people’s minds, especially in this state.

Put the “Leapfroggers” in the Shelburne Museum. Place a plaque in front of it saying, “Mid-20th-century children at play, having unpretentious fun.”

Roger Donegan, Hinesburg: Maybe the “Leapfroggers” just kept on going. Kids always lose things. What’s a pair of shoes when it’s serious play time? Maybe they needed a rest, but the interruption of their leapfrogging on Church Street after 16 years is reminiscent of the story of “The Little Mermaid.”

The life-size “Little Mermaid” is perched atop a boulder at the water’s edge in Copenhagen, Denmark, and has been since 1913. On at least two occasions in recent times someone took a hacksaw to the bronze statue. Delicate statuary inevitably gets treated like facts in the media — they get abused.

Hans Christian Andersen wrote the fairy tale “The Little Mermaid” in 1834. But the statue was erected more in honor of a Royal Danish Ballet prima ballerina who had enchanted Carl Jacobsen, founder of the Carlsberg breweries and a patron of the arts. The statue has become more a symbol than a work of art.

Far be it from me to say thumbs up or down in this instance. Equally, I don’t have a problem with Norman Rockwell or Americana, especially when the original “Rosie the Riveter” goes for $4M.

I didn’t see the subversive message, “girls on top,” in “Leapfroggers.” After all, they weren’t playing King of the Mountain. It only captured a fleeting moment and, besides, one could just as easily read the girl’s glee and celebration of life as her being a right-to-life Republican.

The “Leapfroggers” should be welcomed back. But if Seven Days is looking for ideas, how about casting a kid on a skateboard pointed downhill on Church Street. And then cast a policeman in hot pursuit about 10 yards behind the skateboarder?

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About the Artist

Matthew Thorsen

Matthew Thorsen

Matthew Thorsen was a photographer for Seven Days 1995-2018. Read all about his life and work here.


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