Karl Rinker loads one of the sculptures at the Vermont Granite Museum in Barre for delivery to downtown Barre later this week.

BARRE — Blame a busted boat drive that stranded Karl Rinker in Catskill, New York, four years ago for a fundraiser that is now hours away from transforming downtown Barre into an outdoor art museum.

Make that “more of an outdoor art museum,” because when it comes to public sculpture — from the kneeling naked soldier known locally as “Youth Triumphant” to the country’s largest zipper — Barre already has an out-sized collection.

It’s about to get a lot bigger.

The half-mile stretch of North Main Street that runs through the heart of the Granite City will have 37 new additions — some cats, some dogs, some race cars some coupes — that should have heads turning Wednesday morning.

The installation will literally happen overnight, according to Rinker, who says the same wasn’t remotely true of a project that was inspired by his unexpected overnight in Catskill.

With his boat in the shop, Rinker and his family toured downtown Catskill in 2017 and he liked what they saw.

“There were cats everywhere,” he said. “Beautiful cats.”

The annual fundraiser — a play on the city’s name — creates an always changing summer-long display that culminates when dozens of fiberglass cats are auctioned off in September. Though last year’s numbers were down significantly due to the pandemic, 58 cats decorated by artists brought in $55,000.

Rinker loved the idea, but when he first pitched it to fellow members of the Barre Rotary Club upon his return, there were more than a few skeptics.

“We had some naysayers at first,” said Rinker, whose persistence and flexibility eventually paid off.

Initially conceived as an all-feline fundraiser, Rinker soon added dogs the mix and eventually race cars.

Rinker will tell you the dog decision was prompted during a ski slope conversation with Soup-N-Greens owner Doug Doenges.

“He (Doenges) said: ‘You know Karl, I don’t like cats,” Rinker said of a comment that soon put dogs in play.

Credit for the race cars goes to local artist Linda Kiniry, who doesn’t have a problem with cats — she painted the demo that sparked sponsors’ interest last summer — but noted Barre is home to Thunder Road and four-wheeled vehicles might sell faster than four-legged pets.

Rinker said Gov. Phil Scott was among those who liked Kiniry’s game-changing idea and suggested in addition to creating a late model race car, the club could try a 1932 Ford Coupe — the three-window, open-wheeled cars that raced at Thunder Road when it first opened in 1960.

That was in the summer of 2018, when Rinker was still an awfully long way from the finish line. The club hadn’t yet approved the project and there was already an expensive new wrinkle. While fiberglass cats and dogs could be ordered off the shelf, creating similar-sized race cars meant investing in molds, which cost $4,000 apiece and required fundraising to set the stage for a fundraiser.

Thanks to some generous donors, Rinker said that wasn’t a problem, and with the club’s blessing, he spent most of last year laying the groundwork for what he hopes will become a reliable annual fundraiser.

It’s already off to a good start and, technically it hasn’t started yet.

Despite the pandemic Rinker said he easily exceeded the 25 sponsors he was initially aiming for. When he hit 37 he reached out to Bob Pope, of Swenson Granite, which was donating granite bases for each of the art items.

“I said: ‘What do you think Bob?’ and he says: ‘Well, I think you better stop,” Rinker recalled, noting Pope, a fellow Rotarian, wasn’t concerned about needing to create more of the 210-pound bases.

“He said: ‘If we have too many, we might not be able to sell them at the auction,” Rinker said.

Rinker did leaving the final count at five cats, nine dogs, 11 late model race cars and 11 of the Deuce Coupes. The cats and dogs cost sponsors $550 apiece and the cars and coupes were $650.

Arcana Workshops in Barre Town created the cars following a mold-making process that involved more than 200 hours of 3-D printing, using measurements — some of which were obtained from Lloyd Hutchins’ fully-restored 1932 Ford.

Enter Kiniry.

The former president and current vice president of the Paletteers of Vermont who recruited artists — some better known than others — to participate in the project by transforming the white three-dimensional objects into colorful pieces of art.

Kiniry tackled three of the pieces, including the cat, “Bernice,” that was used as an attention-grabbing demo last summer.

Kiniry’s cat sports a painted sweater with a dozen different Barre landmarks featured prominently.

Kiniry painted “Bernice” last April and tackled two of the coupes this winter. One, sponsored by Ayer Auto, is a striking likeness of the one once driven by Henry Montandon and later restored by Hutchins. The other is a whimsical take on the same car — this one sponsored by Posh Salon.

“It’s a beauty salon on wheels,” Kiniry said of the Posh car, which has curlers on top, a front fender featuring a lady’s lips and a pair of scissors and a women driver.

Kiniry created the embellishments using epoxy modeling clay she said sculptor Heather Milne Ritchie suggested.

Ritchie was late to the party and was initially “bummed” when she learned all of the pieces had been assigned to artists.

“I said: ‘We have to do more,’” Ritchie recalled, explaining that when she was told that wasn’t an option she asked to be called if any artist backed out.

About a week later, one did and Ritchie had one dog to do. Then she was asked if she could take on a second dog.

Ritchie did, with the caveat her niece, Isabella, a talented sophomore at Spaulding High School would assist. Together, she said, they created “Fetch” — a dog with a baseball glove and ball beneath it front paws — and “Hunter” — a muddied up dog with a hunting vest and a stick in its mouth — for sponsors Chase & Chase Land Surveyors and Fresh Coat Asphalt Services.

“It was a really fun project,” she said.

Another local granite sculptor, Giuliano Cecchinelli II, was asked to convert one of the coupes into a vehicle resembling something its sponsor, Tibbits Equipment Services might rent. Using some rubber tracks, the arm of a toy back hoe and a pneumatic hammer he crafted by hand, Cecchinelli created the yellow “Crawler Coupe” that fit the bill.

John Landy, president of the Paletteers said he enjoyed painting the German shepherd, “Schatzi,” sponsored by Bertil Agell.

“I’m looking forward to doing one next year,” said Landy, who serves with Agell on the board of the T.W. Wood Art Gallery.

Landy said he’d never met Agell’s former pet and wasn’t provided any pictures.

“He (Agell) said: ‘I trust you,’” Landy recalled, noting his “client” was pleased with the end result.

So, was Landy, who spent a week with the fiberglass dog perched on a lazy Susan atop his kitchen counter painting the lifelike dog he spent most of the winter with.

The pieces, which were all clearcoated at Cody Chevrolet and stored for more than a month at the Vermont Granite Museum will be installed on both sides of North Main Street starting at 9 p.m. tonight.

“I can’t wait for them to be on the street,” said Rinker, who spent a couple hours Saturday loading them on to three trailers with a bucket loader.

That was a three-man operation — Jeff Blow and John LePage pitched in. A bigger crew will be needed tonight when three teams, each with a loaded trailer and a bucket loader, will begin placing the mounted art pieces that will start just north of the Route 62 intersection and run all the way to City Hall Park.

Blow said he thinks people will be impressed, well, because he was.

“Anybody who hasn’t been involved, until they see them, will never appreciate the effort,” he said. “I can, and I wasn’t involved, … until now.”

The big pay-off will come during a Sept. 18 auction at the museum, when the pieces, many of them cars autographed by living drivers, are auctioned off. The minimum bid per piece will be $500 and the artists get a 25% cut.

Until then, Rinker said, the local Rotary Club’s first annual “Barre Art Splash” will create some buzz and generate some business.

“I’m hoping that people come downtown to see these art items and go into the stores and shop,” he said. “That will be a good start.”

david.delcore @timesargus.com

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