03 Dec sketching Laura Sumner

Yesterday, I arranged to draw Laura Sumner, the Halifax Town Clerk, a post she has held for forty years, when Margaret Crosier recommended her to the post back in 1967. We were both quite nervous, because our previous interactions had always been cordial and business-oriented, rather than creative and artistic. It was a very positive interaction for both of us, and broke the ice, which had been thick with misconceptions. I learned that Laura Sumner has a critical leadership role in the town of Halifax, and therefore my portrait sketches of her are invaluable to my series depicting the wide range of Vermonters that are part of my research for the Art of Action.

I learned a lot about Laura Sumner yesterday. Laura was born and raised in Vernon, Vermont, (where the nuclear power plant is), on a farm that is spread out along the banks of the Connecticut River. Personally opposed to house chores in her youth, she chose always to work hard outside on the farm with her father because she loved nature and the outdoors. She graduated from Aurora College in Illinois, and taught for three years in three different school systems before becoming Town Clerk in Halifax. In high school, Laura won a Smith-Corona typewriter for guessing the correct number of paperclips in a goldfish bowl. She positively does not like snakes, and, I quote, “will eradicate permanently whatever I have in my home.” About herself, Laura said, “I use bold colors, but I am not a bold, interesting person,” but I don’t agree with her assessment. Laura was quite forthcoming and animated about her life story throughout the portrait sitting, and the resulting sketch also points to a liveliness of character and a boldness of spirit.

She has two daughters, Holly and Marylee. Her grandsons love the way she prepares scrambled eggs, which they have for breakfast each Monday and Friday morning before school. Laura cherishes her family, which she takes great pride in sharing with others. During those two hours, Laura and I spoke primarily about the parts of her life which make her a three-dimensional person, and not defined by her role as Town Clerk. This is so important to me as I create these portraits of community leaders in a southern Vermont small town, to demonstrate the variety of identities as well as commonalities.