'Big Frog, Small Pond' sculpture to be featured at Randolph lab

Randolph based sculptor Jim Sardonis poses for a portrait in his home on Monday evening. Josh Kuckens/Staff Photo

RANDOLPH — In a competition of stone and steel, Jim Sardonis, a full-time sculptor and longtime resident of Randolph, came out on top of four other competitors to have his statue selected to be featured in the courtyard of the Vermont Agricultural and Environmental Lab’s new building in Randolph. The competition was started by the Vermont Arts in State Buildings, a partnership between the Vermont Arts Council and the Vermont Department of Buildings and General Services, which chooses two  construction projects that will receive works of art. The statue, “Big Frog, Small Pond,” will be a large, granite sculpture that depicts a 4-foot-tall frog head emerging from a five-foot-wide base that  depicts water. The statue is meant to represent the Vermont Agricultural and Environmental Lab's work, specifically a large amount of waterway testing. It also contains an implicit environmental message. “The frog is kind of like the canary in the mineshaft,” said Sardonis. “Where they used the canary to see if the air (in a mine) was safe to breathe, if the waterways are becoming dangerous, the frogs will be the first to show the signs.” Originally slated to be featured in the lobby, the statue will now sit in the courtyard of the building. “Almost everything I’ve done is based on natural shapes, human, animal, plant, or otherwise,” Sardonis said. The other artists considered were Dan Snow, of Dummerston; Oliver Schemm, of Saxtons River; and duo Heather Ritchie and Ryan Mays, of Barre. Sardonis will receive $28,000 for building the sculpture. A self-described representational artist, Sardonis is an alumnus of Philips Exeter Academy and has been sculpting ever since his senior year of high school, 50 years ago. It was during his high school years that Sardonis first developed a love of art. “I had never taken an art class before,” Sardonis said. “And I was choosing classes and I saw sculpting and that interested me.” Sardonis’ first teacher helped him find his love for sculpting by introducing him to traditional materials like wood, plaster, and stone, and that early teacher remains a source of inspiration for Sardonis to this day. Sardonis' first big foray into art happened his senior year when a peer was attempting to building a foundry. He jumped at the opportunity to help build it, and for his senior project, made a bronze cast sculpture. He then began work in granite sheds in Barre, where he handled pieces of granite too large for his studio, which could only accomodate two-ton blocks. Sardonis has completed a variety of projects for a long list of clients, from Alabama to Vermont. His work has been featured around the eastern seaboard, but his most prominent piece is “Reverence," more commonly referred to as “Whale Tails,” which graces the northeastern side of Interstate 89 in South Burlington. The “Big Frog, Small Pond” statue may be Sardonis’ last granite sculpture, as he plans to move on to making statues out of bronze casts. The tools required to sculpt granite have taken their toll on his body, Sardonis said. “I’m proud of what I’ve done over the last 40 years,” said Sardonis.

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