Photo by Julia Purdy
Retired Vermont Marble Co. carver Renzo Palmerini and his portrait in local marble of a Huron warrior.
Proctor plans town gala
Saturday, May 23 — PROCTOR — This Saturday the town of Proctor will host a gala celebration from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. to celebrate the reopening of the Vermont Marble Museum. Linda Doty, new manager of the Vermont Marble Museum and Cafe, described the event as the “next leg of the Proctor Prosperity Plan.” The catalyst for both the Plan and the grand reopening was the purchase of the Vermont Marble Company mill building by the Vermont Preservation Trust in December 2014. The Trust had already purchased the collection from the previous private owners.
Doty herself gew up in a “marble family,” making marble ashtrays as a teenager. The museum board plans to revive the building and reestablish “the world’s largest marble exhibit” as a national historical and tourism destination.
With the Marble Museum at the epicenter, the event will draw in the whole town of Proctor. The town park in front of the museum will be a buzz of activity, with exhibits by many groups, including Carris Reels, the New England Maple Museum, Omya, the Pine Hill Partnership, the Crown Point Military Road Association and the Proctor Historical Society; baked goodies and children’s art activities; and music by the Proctor H.S. Jazz Band, performing in the gazebo.
Nearby, the Union Church will host day-long activities, including a rare opportunity to view its Tiffany windows with illustrations of the mountains around Rutland.
The College of St. Joseph will also offer an exclusive treat for participants: a sneak preview of the buildings donated to the college by Omya.
The mill building will feature a display on marble lettering and memorials by Proctor Marble, along with the Marble Museum exhibits on the art of carving and the work that was done there during its heyday.
Recalling the old days of shipping marble by train, red-and-white cars and locomotives of Vermont Railway—the event sponsor— will make three trips during the day to Proctor, leaving the Rutland train depot at 8:30, 11:30, 2:30. Tickets are $15 for adults, $5 for children, and can be purchased at the Rutland depot.
Food and ice cream will be provided to complete the celebration.
History: A town springs up almost overnight
Settlers recognized early the marble deposits in the ridges around West Rutland and Sutherland Falls (present-day Proctor), but the tiny companies faced financial and technological obstacles. In 1880, the Vermont Marble Company was formed by Governor Redfield Proctor, the village of Sutherland Falls was renamed Proctor, and in 1886 the town was carved from portions of Pittsford and Rutland.
Promoted as the “Marble Capital of the United States,” Proctor became a multinational village. In search of accomplished carvers, Redfield Proctor visited the Carrara area in the 1890s. In addition to the Italian workers, he also hired French-Canadians, Scandinavians, Eastern Europeans, Germans, and Irish. Proctor’s wife Emily helped the immigrants assimilate with lessons in the English language and social skills, home economics classes, and a community vegetable garden space.
The odyssey of Renzo Palmerini
Renzo Palmerini’s first job in America was with the Vermont Marble Company.
In the early 1960s, sculptor Carl Paul Jennewein had designed two monumental statues—the “Spirit of Justice” and the “Majesty of Law”—for the entrance courtyard of the Rayburn House of Representatives office building in Washington, D.C. Jennewein insisted on hiring academically-trained carvers. A company official made a recruiting trip to Carrara and brought 23-year-old carver Renzo Palmerini back to Vermont.
Palmerini (known to all as “Renzo”)was born in 1940 in Pietrasanta (“holy stone”) in the Carrara region. He graduated with a master’s degree in sculpture from the Stagio Stagi Institute of Art’s five-year program.
“I don’t know how I got here,” Palmerini admitted with a smile. He arrived in the U.S. on Feb. 11, 1963. He was expecting to return to Italy, he said, but the company persuaded him to stay, and the young people of Proctor welcomed him. He met his wife, Elsie, at a high school party and they married in 1965.
The youngest carver at Vermont Marble, Palmerini worked on the face, hands and finer parts of the Jennewein figures, while fellow carvers Francesco Tonelli, Eric Erickson, and Alberto Cecchinelli executed the other elements. Each statue was carved from an 85-ton block of Georgia marble. They completed the famed figures in 1964.
At Vermont Marble, Palmerini worked in the drafting/design room, where architectural elements were fashioned from architects’ drawings, and in the finishing shop, where the carving happened—“my real work,” Palmerini said.
He worked on a variety of projects, including 111-year-old marble statues of Justice and History on the Capitol Building, which smog had damaged. The figures were brought to Proctor in 1974. Based on early photographs, clay models were made and marble replicas were then carved and reinstalled the same year. At the National Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu, Palmerini carried out the exacting work of carving names in marble.
“I was fascinated by everything,” Palmerini recalled. “I started to dream.” His dreams led to major commissions, including the Gallery of the Presidents – 36 bas-relief portraits, on display in the Marble Museum. His lyrical yet powerful figures in local marble, range in scale from monumental to tabletop size, have attracted collectors on three continents. He also had solo and group shows from Florida to Montreal.
In 1986 he won the Academic Artists Association Medal of Honor.
The Vermont Marble company was purchased by Omya in 1976 and ceased operations at that time.
Local claims to fame
Rutland area marble was used in the Washington Monument and the U.S. Supreme Court building. The pure white Tomb of the Unknown Soldier (1921) was created in Proctor. The Jefferson Memorial (1943) used Vermont marble, as did headstones in Arlington National Cemetery. In New York City, the end walls of the U.N. building are sheathed with West Rutland pearly-white marble. Vermont marble is also featured in the wall of names inside the shrine at the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial (1962) at Pearl Harbor.