When Lou Scott made his first military diorama with his son Chris 35 years ago, he had no idea where it would lead him. He has expanded well beyond this narrow theme, and the 150 dioramas on display at the B & G Gallery in downtown Rutland just begin to scratch the surface of Scott’s seemingly boundless creative energy. It’s hard to believe that there are still 150 more dioramas stored in Scott’s Chittenden barn.
Art Is Vital, a collective of local galleries based in Rutland, has converted the former Boys and Girls Club space into a wondrous world populated by Scott’s myriad mini-worlds. Scott is a consummate storyteller, both visually and in words. Each of the dioramas has a number and corresponding text, which Scott writes immediately upon finishing a piece. He works in a small 10-by-10-foot heated space carved out of an old barn and creates one work at a time, which can take anywhere from eight to 15 hours. The texts are thoughtful expositions of the issues that inspired Scott to create the work.
A veteran of 50 years in the advertising industry, Scott sold his medical advertising company in 2000 and relocated to Vermont, where the idea of the “Visual/Word Dioramas” originated. The artists who Scott hired in his business were essentially frustrated fine artists. He would give them a thumbnail doodle on yellow paper and they would go about executing it.
Despite not having any formal art training, Scott credits his experiences with these graphic designers with giving him a natural sense of layout. He also speaks of his “muses” — a favorite being a childhood friend, Alfonso D’Imperio, a natural engineer who could “build anything.” Even now, Scott often carries on a “conversation” with “Fonzi” as he builds his works.
When Scott retired, he trained as an EMT and worked at the Rutland Regional Medical Center emergency room and with Hospice. He had a desire to “give back” after his business years. One thing that he noticed immediately was the fact that people in difficult situations were grateful for any assistance, as opposed to his former clients, for whom money was the bottom line. He remembers distinctly the day that he realized, “One day you’re going to be there, but not today.” This spurred him to appreciate each day, and to do the work that was closest to his heart — and now we see the results of that dedication in this first exhibit.
The dioramas are intriguing. They draw you in with their charm and story. Once you are hooked, you begin to look deeper. Scott’s thoughtful writings, easy to read, will help you make the journey. When one enters the gallery, the sheer number of dioramas is astonishing. There is no set path to follow. Every direction is equally interesting. The visitor knows immediately that he or she is on the path of adventure, and Scott does not disappoint.
Although one theme, e.g. global warming, might animate several pieces, it is never repetitive. The colorful scenes express the particular point of view of an artist whose eye is always fresh, inspired by his deep interest and also by his irrepressible sense of play.
In “Strange but Same World,” a baby turtle gazes directly into our eyes. He is balanced on a coffin, atop a complex tower that includes a variety of characters such as an angel, giraffe, frog, Greek columns, flora and fauna. It looks like an interpretation of Noah’s Ark, and in fact, Scott speaks of the origins of the world in different cultures — various creation myths — Eden built on the back of a turtle, or beginning with an egg, or divine intervention. His underlying message is that we are all one people, despite surface differences.
Each diorama is a journey that often combines past, present and future. In “Multiple Dimensions,” Scott explores intertwining layers inspired by String Theory with cowboys, Indians and Greek gods, all of which are endlessly reflected in a background mirror.
Scott also journeys into unresolved contemporary questions. “Rescue” features a family of polar bears on an ice floe that threatens to spill over the edge of the frame, while a moose with a lifesaver on his antler stares at them from a forest habitat. The piece speaks to the changing nature of our world, not only global warming, but refugees displaced by circumstances beyond their control. Scott sees the lifesaver as a symbol of hope that America will again resume its role as a protector of nature and freedom.
Scott was drummed out of a military modeling club because he refused to make scenes where people shot at each other. A social consciousness and freedom of association and expression are key elements for him. He calls his approach “impressionistic.” As a self-taught artist, Scott brings together disparate objects and ideas in a surrealistic approach that shows real range, from pared-down essential statements to Baroque towers of objects where several layers of history are jumbled together.
“And and And and And,” an unusually stark black and white diorama, features a zebra, pandas and a unicorn in a cosmic scene presided over by a serene Buddha image. Scott writes about the essential questions of life, why we exist, and why the world is the way it is. Religions often attempt to give black-and-white answers, whereas the realities that we live with are much more nuanced.
In complete contrast, “T-Rex and Santa Claus” is a mélange of prehistory and contemporary times. The fantasy of Santa flying over the complicated world that has evolved over eons is dreamlike and magical. Scott has often included Santas in his works, and donates some of these to veterans’ children at an annual Rutland Rotary luncheon. On a recent visit by Boys and Girls’ Club members, Scott arranged a scavenger hunt and the gallery was filled with excited children dashing from diorama to diorama.
Scott’s pieces are filled with light, wonder, a love of nature and compassion for the human plight. He is always approaching life with a question, and is willing to keep exploring the central thesis and see where it takes him. It’s an open-ended journey. The art piece is resolved at a certain point, but the question remains and enters our consciousness, thereby provoking more thought, more life.
In fact, Scott is doing us a favor by framing contemporary life questions — global warming, species extinction, refugee issues — in a mode that is different than what we are accustomed to. This is not the evening news, or digital communication, or Facebook. This is the imagination, concern for humanity, and questing the consciousness of an unusual artist seeking to do his part in waking us up more deeply to the issues of our increasingly complex world, while entertaining us at the same time. The dioramas are like 3-D New Yorker cartoons that have a quirky way of engaging our attention and adding an unexpected punch line.
Scott’s work is marked by a sense of invention and play — a transformative vision that animates commonplace objects and creates endlessly fascinating mini-worlds. He invites us to travel into the far reaches of the human and animal journey on this planet. There is a global feel to the work that honors a vast consciousness on a diminutive scale.