Up Close: Vermont’s Whale Tail Sculpture

For years, drivers on I-89 have pulled over to marvel at Vermont’s massive whale tail sculpture.

By Ian Aldrich

Aug 28 2023


Call it double vision: Vermont is home to not one but two massive whale-themed sculptures by Jim Sardonis, the most recent being Whale Dance [shown here] in the artist’s hometown of Randolph.

Photo Credit : Alexander Royce/Alamy Stock Photo

More than 40 years ago, a powerful dream came to Vermont sculpture artist Jim Sardonis. “I was standing on a beach looking out [at the ocean] and saw these two whales’ tails emerge from the water,” he recalled in a 2019 interview with Seven Days. “I woke up thinking, I’d like to make that.”

It was a dream Sardonis simply couldn’t shake. He envisioned it as the centerpiece of a proposed project for a museum in Anchorage, Alaska, but as things turned out, it would be in his own hometown of Randolph that the whale tails first came to life.

Sardonis was commissioned to create a grand entrance piece for a planned conference center on a patch of Randolph farmland overlooking Interstate 89. While construction on the center never commenced, Sardonis’s sculpture of two massive whale tails, standing about 13 feet tall and carved from 36 tons of African black granite, was installed on the site in 1989.

Named Reverence, the sculpture of two whales diving into the Vermont landscape was meant to be a symbol of Earth’s environmental fragility. Its grand scale, however, also made it a local landmark—and Randolph residents felt a deep sense of ownership of the whale tails, even after they were sold in 1999 and relocated to a 177-acre business park off I-89 in South Burlington.

So it was with considerable fanfare that in 2017 the Preservation Trust of Vermont and the Vermont Community Foundation purchased the original site of Reverence and commissioned Sardonis to make his dream a reality once more. 

Installed in July 2019, the 16-foot sculpture is the tallest piece ever completed by Sardonis, whose other work can be seen at such places as the New England Aquarium, Yale University, and Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center. But unlike “Reverence,” this second version, called Whale Dance, is made of bronze. And in his view, that gives these whales a slight advantage over their South Burlington brethren. 

“Bronze is strong, so I could make things bend and twist and lean a little more than I could with the stone,” he said. “I could make the whales dance.”

To learn more about Jim Sardonis and to see a short documentary about “Whale Dance,” go to