Photo by Danny Clinch
Russ Bennett is the founder and owner of NorthLand Visual Design & Construction Inc. (1978) in Waitsfield, VT. Russ is a designer, builder, sculptor, social activist, and planner within his community as well as an artist and a musician in his own right. He can often be found in his studio or office experimenting with architecture, metal, music, fire and other odd materials. He is often surrounded by an eclectic group of business people, artists, craftspeople and the occasional pyrotechnic folks. Russ Bennett can often be found bringing a panoply of ideas into reality.
Russ’s visual design/artistic projects have ranged from sculpture to the layout and Visual Design for large music and arts festivals for 70,000-90,000 per day. Included in that work are well-received Visual Design/site layout work for all of Phish’s large extravaganzas beginning in 1996 and continuing through the jam band’s show in Coventry, Vermont, in August 2004. Russ has created the visual design, ‘scene’ and site plans for Ben and Jerry’s One World One Heart Festivals, the incredibly successful Bonnaroo music festival in Tennessee, Vegoose in Las Vegas and Outside Lands in San Francisco. Each of these events has presented unique design challenges and opportunities for creative visual artwork that is often iconic, interactive, and challenging on a multiple levels.
Northland’s projects, whether they are domiciles or faux wedding chapels or burlesque boutiques or 60 foot interactive fountains, are varied and diverse. All of these undertakings incorporate the design and planning and artistic skills of Russ, other members of the company and a wide network of artists and designers from around the country. Whether the project is designing and building a high end energy efficient custom home, a restaurant or bar, (we recently completed the new Artifactory and bar for Magic Brewery) or a theater, hotel or the re-birth and revitalization of buildings on the National Historic register, the design process and the attention to quality and the visual arts remain the same.
When creating homes for clients, Russ’s forte is taking their initial vision and ideas and working with them to help them realize their ideas while creating new realities for them. Design and construction are inherently about change and creating a better environment for the participants, whether in a new home or a new business or a public park or a music and arts festival for 100,000.
Russ has been involved in social and political issues for his entire adult life and shows no sign of stopping now. His volunteer efforts range from advisor to the high school vocational programs, to officer in many civic organizations (such as president of Sugarbush Chamber of commerce and serving as chair of the local planning commission for fifteen years, member of policy board for Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility). He has served as a director of Jaycees, chair of transportation committee responsible of bus service in the Mad River Valley, member of the Mad River Valley’s three town regional planning commission, director of affordable housing coalition, director of walking path commission, past delegate to state political convention, and remains active in many social movements and is supporter of many arts organizations and a regular supporter of young, fledging artists, musicians and artisans.
Russ Bennett was born outside of Boston and raised in the shadow of New York City, with an amusement park, Playland, as part of his backyard, and an accomplished pianist for a mother. The artistic realm – whether, music or painting or sculpture or architecture – has always captivated him. In elementary school Russ was part of an experimental Shakespearean theatrical program, directed by a Professor from Columbia University. This popular and successful program had youngsters reading Shakespeare in the fifth and sixth grades, as well as performing many of the classic plays and some were shown on PBS in New York. A documentary A Touch of Greatness was made of this endeavor.
Russ’s artistic endeavors reflect the influences of his young adulthood as well as his subsequent personal and professional work: the New York World’s fair of 1964; the museums and vibrant artistic scene of Manhattan; the Civil Rights’ movement; the Vietnam War; an interest in social activism and responsibility; the study of fine arts and philosophy in college along with playing drums with his buddies in a rock and roll band; performing for years with the internationally famous and political Bread and Puppet theater and owning a design/build company.
If it’s fun and has the ability to pique the mind, then it’s probably a project Russ and Northland get involved in. If it involves fire, well that could be the icing on the cake.