The Burlington Free Press recently ran this fascinating story of the history behind the numerous granite sculptures that dot the urban landscape and cemeteries in Barre, Vermont (be sure to flip through the story’s photo gallery). We did manage to find a photo (shown above) of the Italian-American monument that celebrates the Italian immigrants who brought with them the craftsmanship necessary to create such works of art. From the article:
Even though I’m a big fan of art and history, I almost always walk past public statues with barely a glance. They blur into the background, like so many trees and telephone poles.
Yet you can tell a lot about a place, especially a place like Barre, by its public sculpture. Italian immigrants came to the central Vermont city in the late 1800s to work the local granite quarries. They brought their sweat and muscle, but they also carried just a little bit of Michelangelo in their valises.
I’ve noticed in passing some of the sculptures these craftsmen created, but never really stopped to look. It was time to change that. I didn’t do a ton of reporter’s research in advance of my trip Wednesday to Barre; I let my eyes be my guide.
I’ve seen the Italian-American monument at the corner of North Main Street and Maple Avenue before, while waiting at the red light coming off of Vermont 62. I always turn right, toward downtown. Like a lunkhead, I sit at the light noticing the statue, but not really seeing it. This time I head straight and park my car near Dente Park, the scruffy little strip of land dominated by a 1985 statue paying tribute to Barre’s Italian heritage, across Maple Street from Mister Z’s restaurant (“Great pizza — great pasta — great times”).
“In honor of all Italian-Americans whose achievements have enriched the social, cultural and civic vitality of this city, region and state,” the giant block pedestal reads, above the dedication note for “Carlo Abate, artist, mentor and friend, born Milano, Italia 1860 — died Barre, Vt., 1941.” This statue designed by Elmo Peduzzi and sculpted by Philip Paini from a model by Giuliano Cecchnelli is a strong visual reminder of Barre’s rich history of granite sculpting, but I’m not the only one who typically bypasses it.
Hundreds of cars go through the busy, noisy intersection that’s cluttered with light poles and road signs, but in my 30 minutes in the park no one stops to look. I sit on one of four granite benches; the other three are unoccupied. Carlo commands attention — at 23 feet tall and wielding a hammer and chisel, how could he not? — yet the two of us are alone in a crowd of endlessly passing traffic.
This is one of the things we love about living in Northern New England. Needless to say, since granite is everywhere, sculpting it has been a part of urban designs for a very long time. There is nothing like arriving into a town we’ve never been to before and suddenly finding yourself face-to-face with a granite monument that is over a hundred years old but looks like it was made yesterday.
Alas, it seems to use that this unique urban feature of Northern New England towns is a dying practice. What do you think? Are granite monuments passe? Or are we likely to see a new granite monument renaissance? One encouraging sign is that the famous granite quarry in Hallowell, Maine recently reopened.