A Vinyl Vision for Juneteenth and Beyond
Josie Bunnell ’19 spoke to On-Campus Reporter Halley Le ’25 about her collaboration with artist Raphaella Brice on Black Freedom, Black Madonna & the Black Child of Hope, a 16-foot tall mural now displayed outside of the Fletcher Free Library in Burlington.
Josie Bunnell ’19 met artist Raphaella Brice two years ago at a community art space in Burlington, Vermont. As young women navigating their artistic journeys, the two immediately hit off.
This summer, they collaborated to create Black Freedom, Black Madonna & the Black Child of Hope, a 16-foot tall mural now displayed outside of the Fletcher Free Library in Burlington in celebration of Juneteenth.
“I studied Printmaking and Astronomy at Bennington,” recalled Bunnell. “After graduation, I started living in Burlington. I wanted to continue with printmaking; however, it was difficult to pursue my passion. I need a studio space or proper equipment to execute my vision, but at the time, all art spaces were shut down because of COVID.”
Fortunately, Josie found the opportunity to join Generator, a community art space in Burlington, as an Artist in Residence. Here she met Raphaella Brice, an up-and-coming graphic artist who was also part of their residence program.
“[Brice and I] were around the same age and at a similar stage of life,” said Bunnell. “We are both young artists trying to figure out how to do art after college in this weird world we live in. So we became good friends and companions who created art in the same space for two years.”
In March 2022, Burlington City Arts and the Burlington Office of Racial Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging put out a call for submission for the annual Juneteenth public mural project. Brice submitted a proposal using a graphic design she previously worked on, and her piece was one of the two artworks selected and commissioned for execution by the city.
“[Brice] wanted to work with me to make her graphic physical,” said Bunnell. “We decided not to use paint because the design started out as a digital piece. The colors were extremely bright, vibrant, saturated, and smooth.”
The two artists started brainstorming. Out of the wide variety of materials and equipment available at Generator–including wood, metal, and 3D printers–the vinyl cutter caught their attention.
“You can send Adobe Illustrator files to the vinyl cutter. The machine will cut out the design with a blade, as if you are drawing lines into a huge roll of colored vinyl,” explained Bunnell. “After the cutting finishes, you can peel out the product and essentially make stickers out of vinyl.”
While Brice had never worked with vinyl before, Bunnell had extensive experience with the materials and even taught classes on vinyl cutting. Brice’s digital illustrations, along with Bunnell’s skills in vinyl craft, resulted in a remarkable work of art.
“We work together to print out Brice’s digital drawings on vinyl,” said Bunnell. “We cut out huge pieces of vinyl, then assemble them on aluminum panels like puzzle pieces. In this process, we could experiment with the colors a lot. Some of the vinyl is holographic, so when we move the pieces around and the light changes, the vinyl shimmers and creates a rainbow iridescent effect.”
The process, remarked Bunnell, was equally experimental and challenging.
“We had only tried working with vinyl stickers on a small scale, while our piece was supposed to be humongous. And we didn't find any other examples of adhesive vinyl murals,” said Bunnell. “So we were going head first into a new challenge. [The idea] was a bit crazy and we weren’t even sure if it was going to work, but we managed to pull it off!”
The result of Brice and Bunnell’s hard work was a 16 feet tall and 12 feet wide mural of a Black mother and child in vibrant blue, purple, pink, and gold, against a background of swirling black and gray. As an artist with Haitian roots, Brice wanted to embrace the idea of winning freedom and reclaiming history. In an interview with Seven Days VT, Brice shared that the mother, or Madonna, was a representation of Erzulie Dantor, a deity associated with Haiti’s liberation from the French in 1804.
The giant work of art is currently displayed outside of Fletcher Free Library in Burlington, Vermont. It will remain there for at least a year, said Bunnell, or for as long as the stickers stand against weather elements.
After the successful completion of Brice’s and her mural, Bunnell is excited to move forward with her artistic endeavors. She is currently committed to screen printing, a common technique in printmaking.
“There are screen printing studios built and run by printmakers, and these establishments work with artists who are not printmakers. I have seen painters, sculptors, ceramicists, or even dancers collaborating on a print together,” explained Bunnell. “The artist brings their world, imagery, and artistic visions, while the printmaker brings technical knowledge and skills. Together, they can make beautiful work!”
In fact, Bunnell enjoyed the craft of screen printing so much that it is influencing her next artistic initiative.
“One of my first Field Work Terms was at a place like [the screenprinting studio],” said Bunnell. “I found the collaboration process very inspiring, and I would love to start one in Burlington. There is no similar studio in the area, and I have met many amazing artists who are into the idea. So starting a collective studio practice is my next dream!”