By Julia Purdy
On Saturday, May 23, the Vermont Marble Museum celebrated its grand reopening, with all exibits intact, after several years of standing silent. In all, the day was a success, with 450 visitors browsing through exhibits and the gift shop.
The Museum’s revival began with the purchase in December 2015 of the cavernous mill building by the Vermont Preservation Trust, which had previously purchased the collection. Now the Museum and its new cafè are open daily, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The day of events began with a nostalgic train ride from the Rutland Amtrak Depot, on vintage passenger cars of the Green Mountain Railway, pulled by diesel engines of Vermont Railway, the sponsor of the events. Passengers detrained in the yard of the Vermont Marble Museum for a day of touring the museum, browsing displays in the town park, visiting the Union Church to see the famed Tiffany windows that depict the mountain ridges around Rutland, and enjoying hot dogs and ice cream.
The Museum itself was the epicenter of events. Those who had visited before were delighted to see the old exhibits in place, plus a new section on the many uses of calcium carbonate, mined by Omya in its East Middlebury quarry.
The Museum features many photographs and informative text about the marble quarries and the people who worked in them, going back into the 1890s. One space is devoted to the geology of Vermont and the place of marble in it, and includes diagrams of cross-sections of the major Rutland County quarries. Another vast room offers large panels of polished marble, each labeled with its origin. Vermont’s Danby white marble patterns are well represented.
The story of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is a strong draw. From its extraction from Vermont Marble Co.’s mountain quarry in Yule, Colo., through its odyssey by rail to the mill in Proctor, to its completion by carvers and dedication in Washington, D.C., this 36-ton pure white marble monument has an important role in our nation’s story.
The children’s room features a fully-articulated fossil skeleton of a triceratops, unearthed in North Dakota, as well as a display of fluorescent minerals and colorful murals. Children could assemble their own dinosaurs out of precut pieces.
Another room, named “The United Nations of Proctor,” describes the broad demographic of quarryworkers, millworkers and carvers who were recruited from Canada, Northern and Eastern Europe, and Italy, from the 1880s on. An installation features photographs and reminiscences recorded by the Vermont Folklife Center.
The work of marble carvers is well represented, from the serene Marble Chapel, which showcases Vermont marbles and was installed in 1934. Here visitors get a closeup look at a bas-relief copy of Michelangelo’s “Pietà,” carved by Renzo Palmerini, and a rendition in marble of Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Last Supper” executed by Francesco Tonelli. The Hall of Presidents contains 36 bas-relief portraits in pure white West Rutland marble of U.S. presidents from Washington to Nixon, exquisitely carved by Palmerini.
Palmerini himself was on hand to chat with visitors about his work and his old workplace. Renzo, as everyone calls him, arrived from Italy in 1963 as a classically-trained 23-year-old marble carver to work on the monumental statues of “Spirit of Justice” and “Majesty of Law” that frame the courtyard at the U.S. House of Representatives office building in Washington, D.C. At the Museum.
Modern carvers also share space at the mill, including Proctor Marble and contemporary stonecarver Allen Dwight, who was at work in his second-floor studio as part of Open Studio Weekend.
If you love all things marble, the Vermont Marble Museum in Proctor is a must-see. Even if marble is not on your favorites list, the mill and its contents will give you a new appreciation for one of Vermont’s historic industries. Learn more at vermont-marble.com.