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Vermont Ski Town's Heart Goes Out to Newtown

Chester artist sends an emotional gesture south to people he calls family.

There's an art shop on Route 103 in Chester, VT, just before the Depot section of the village on the way first to Okemo then Killington that's known for its bear wood carvings. I must have driven by it a hundred times over the years, occasionally taking the time to give it a passing glance.

Well, after Thursday, it deserves more than a glance. The artist, Barre Pinske, has turned the shop into a story about a ski town sending a gesture to its clientele that seems to go way beyond words.

"They butter my bread. They come here on vacation with their wonderful families and it just made me want to do something because they are family," Pinske said in a half-hour-long phone interview in Thursday. "They are family," he said talking about the town of Newtown.

Pinske and the town of Chester are just one year removed from Tropical Storm Irene, a rude visitor that came in with clouds, strong winds and plenty of rain that caused significant flooding in the region to the point that residents wondered whether they had to summon Noah. Some homes were reduced to a pile of splinters and the supermarket in nearby Ludlow had to operate out of a tent for months.

But Pinske said none of that entered his mind when he heard that the president travel to Newtown in the wake of the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School to make a proclamation.

"The president said our hearts are broken," Pinske said. "It moved me to tears. It moved me to do something. I kept thinking about all those broken hearts there."

Pinske is no slouch. Steven Tyler of Aerosmith has more than 30 pieces of his work, the U.S. Pentagon gave a carved Pinske Bear and Eagle to the Russians; Prince was given a Pinske sculpture by the Minneapolis Motion Picture and Film Board.

After the president's speech on Dec. 16, Pinske said he went out back, gathered a pine log and fashioned a heart measuring 38 inches long, 30 inches wide and 13 inches high. He then placed a cut in the center and mounted it on a base.

He took the broken heart and brought it to the center of town, not really knowing what to expect when he placed it in the lobby of the TD Bank branch office.

Word started getting out, by mouth and in a Facebook alert from the Okemo Valley Chamber of Commerce. Pinske built the heart and people came to see it, and they signed it.

Many names of Chester residents wound up on the heart. Pinske said he wanted to drive to Newtown this weekend. He said he has no idea where he might drop it off, but just wants to show up with it. A force is drawing him there, he said.

He said he wants to deliver it, head back the Chester and wait — wait until life in Newtown gets somewhat normal again and people want to go back to skiing and snowboarding.

Maybe it will never be normal again, he said, but the offer is there for the folks to come back and wipe their feet and a few bad memories on his welcome mat.

"I want to see those hearts mended," he said. "And for now, this is my way of saying we're thinking of everyone and we want to see them again."

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