Happily Ever After
One Buffalo graduate's dream of artistic expression, and how it came to be
By Miriam Orr
Imagine, for a moment, watching your child penciling their imagination out on paper with crayons, pencils, pens, and whatever other artistic material they can get their hands on. Over time, their imaginations begin to take form from strange shapes and colors on paper, until suddenly, there sits a creative masterpiece – which your child doesn't hesitate to flap in your face, in search of praise and recognition.
For kids around the world, this is the genesis for artistic expression. For Scott Gray-Burlingame, it was the beginning of the rest of his life.
A 1993 graduate of Buffalo High School Scott Gray-Burlingame is no stranger to Buffalo. Despite the fact that he now resides with his own family in the Kellogg, Minn. area, his roots are still strong in Buffalo, with his parents still living in the area. Now a co-owner of LARK Toys in the Kellogg area, Scott is one of the few career professionals who get to explore his dream and live out his passions, while earning a living at the same time.
Leigh Burlingame, Scott's father, remembers his son always being creative, since childhood. "He was always drawing these fantasty creatures – dragons, elves, monsters, it didn't matter. He was always creating something up in that head of his. Now, it's paid off – he's really living the dream."
Of being a creative kid – meaning, one who explored his passion and love for drawing, design, and creation – Scott recalls that ever since his youth, he'd always wanted to create characters of his own and make the imaginations in his mind come to life for others.
"I remember watching E.T. as a kid, and thinking that I wanted to make characters like E.T. of my own and bring them to life for other people," Scott remembers, "I just loved fantasy stuff and always wanted to write it for myself."
Throughout his growing up years, Scott recalled that he spent his time drawing and building characters with back-story from the banks of his mind; creations that he wanted to someday share with other people on a larger scale. He stated that he considered becoming a make-up artist in Hollywood for film, so that he could fulfill that creative desire for fantasy characters and the like, and eventually make his way up in the world of film.
"That's hard in Minnesota and the Midwest," Scott explained of the dream, "It became apparent that this wasn't the avenue for me, since I didn't want to move away. It was a matter of figuring out another way to achieve that here in the area."
As he grew in his talents and his projects, Scott shared that he drew a lot of inspiration for Jim Henson's work in film and fantasy creation, and that his works were a huge influence.
"All I've ever wanted to do was just make drawings physical and animated for people in the real world – something you can touch, and is tangible. I didn't just want my imaginations to stay on paper. It really was never about how I was going to make it possible – it was that I had to, someway."
2008 to 2018
Scott's father commented that after attending a number of vocational schools, and studying multiple different trades, nothing was really sticking. For awhile, Scott did graphic design and other jobs, but nothing entirely curbed his desire for creation and artistry. That was, however, until an opportunity in 2008 arose that would carry Scott and his family to today.
"In 2008, Scott and his family had the opportunity to take over LARK Toys in Wabasha," Leigh explained. "When he took over the company, he decided to simplify the business plan and branding. From there, it became the LARK we know and love today."
Scott, his wife Miranda, and their two children, Gwendolyn "Winnie," and Murdock, now oversee the toy company in the Wabasha-Kellogg area of Minnesota, which is south, and near the plains. Of the business, Scott commented that his vision for the company was slightly bigger than a "Mom and Pop" feel, but not by much – he wants to keep the business local, and to be separated from big-box names.
"We're lucky we get to do this, because not many people can," Scott shared. "People find a new appreciation for this kind of work around here, and that's how I want to keep it – local and real to the people. They can come in, and see us working on toys and creations, and that's the down-home kind of feel that I want to maintain at LARK."
Now, LARK maintains a staff of roughly 20 people, ranging for 30+ year employees with years of experience, to newer individuals.
The project of all projects (thus far
Recently, however, Scott's creative abilities were really stretched by an opportunity presented to him by the Wabahsa-Kellogg High School's theatre arts program. It really all began when his daughter, Winnie, decided to participate in the school's production of "Shrek: The Musical," which was under the direction of Chris Medina. Slated for April 26 through the 29, and it wasn't long before the school made an offer to Scott that he wasn't about to refuse.
"They wanted this dragon," he said, "about ten feet tall, that they wanted kids to carry around. It's a bigger part of the production, and they were looking for someone to design it and put it together, and everyone just so happens to know that's what I do. So, they asked me if I'd do it, and I said sure."
The undertaking was bigger than Scott could he could imagine. "When I sat down to begin really thinking about this, I immediately realized it would be bigger than I thought."
What started out as plans for a ten foot dragon developed rapidly into a 21 foot, fire-breathing dragon with mechanical wings, color-changing eyes that blinked, and moving arms. After a series of drawings and sketches, Scott was underway with the project; his 30+ year LARK employee, Tim Monson, by his side to help him through.
"Tim's been doing this kind of thing forever," said Scott, "and having him on this project was insanely important. He did so much and helped design a lot of the foundations and the framework. Without him this never would've worked."
For the dragon to breathe fire, Scott had to design and fabricate an extinguisher, which is triggered inside the dragon, to expel smoke. That wasn't the only thing he designed and built, however – from the mechanisms that move the wings to the framework of the beast itself; Scott and his fellow workmen uniquely designed all of it.
"It is truly a masterful work of engineering, art, mechanics, and math," Leigh stated of the project. "It was so much work, but Scott did it. It is truly fantatic."
The dragon takes almost eight people to work and operate. Roughly a week before production was slated, it became apparent that Scott's original plan to have the dragon hoisted on backpacks wasn't going to work – instead, they developed a platform system for the dragon to rest on, which allowed students to operate the beast during stage-time. The dragon is broken into three separate platforms, which come together to make one whole.
Overall, Scott stated that he had approximately six weeks of work put into the dragon, if not more. Since the project was commissioned, the high school now owns the prop, though it is far too large to store on campus. Instead, the dragon is currently residing in a rented space, awaiting future use – Scott hinted that the school was exploring the option of potential renting the dragon for other productions, though that "rumor" hasn't been confirmed.
"Knowing that I've done this, from an artistic perspective, you always feel like things could've been better because you have this image in your mind of how it will turn out," Scott shared. "But for me, the art is in the process, not the finished product. This is the biggest project I've ever done, and I learned a ton about myself, my abilities, and the process of building and engineering. I would one-hundred percent do this again, difficulties and all."
From the experience, Scott went on to explain that every artist desires to learn new things and stretch their abilities. For him, the stretch came when he had to entrust work on this endeavor to a team, since many of his projects were just solo efforts that he did himself. Of the dragon's construction, he stated that it almost didn't feel like art at all.
"This is the most technical, mathematical, engineering-like project that's ever come across my path, and that was hard. But, it has this feeling of accomplishment, knowing that I did something I normally don't do, and that's satisfying."
Currently, Scott and his family are working on developing a series of stories featuring Scott's own creations, called "Blufflings." He's been working on this project a number of years, and already has eight complete creatures created for a photoshoot he hopes to adapt into a book, which will discuss the importance of the environment, while incorporating his own fanciful realm.
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