Local News

Covid-19 delays Martin Henry Freeman sculpture unveiling

Seventh Rutland Sculpture Trail piece to be unveiled in fall

RUTLAND—The unveiling of a sculpture honoring a ground-breaking African American Rutland resident, nearly a year in the planning, has been postponed until fall largely due to Covid-19, organizers announced June 25.

The sculpture honoring Rutland native Martin Henry Freeman, the first African American president of an American college and a leading African American education advocate of the 1800s, was designed by Massachusetts artist Mark Burnett and is being carved by West Rutland’s Don Ramey.

Freeman was born May 11, 1826 and lived on Main Street in Rutland. He attended Middlebury College, graduating in 1849 as salutatorian, and became a stalwart abolitionist and advocate for the education of African Americans.  The grandson of a slave who earned his freedom by fighting in the Revolutionary War, Freeman became president of the Allegheny Institute, later known as Avery College.  He later emigrated to Africa, where he was a professor, and later president, at Liberia College until his death in 1889.

“The only known photo is somewhat hazy, but what stands out is the expression of deep thought in his eyes,” Ramey said. “While Mark captured much of that in the eyelids and brows, which I was able to copy, the focus is determined by the treatment of the irises.  Since the darker stone we are using offers options not available with a white marble, we have been going back and forth on different approaches. I’ve held off completing them for several weeks, hoping Mark could come up to see it in person.”

Ramey and Burnett hoped the Covid-19 pandemic would ease so travel restrictions could be lifted, allowing Burnett to visit. The artists recently spoke over the phone instead, exchanging different ideas before deciding to have Ramey hollow out the corneas as opposed to leaving them rounded.

“There are different techniques or styles to represent eyes and their color,” Burnett said.  “In this case, we felt the hollowed corneas would provide greater realism and help portray a greater depth of emotion.”

With that decision finally behind them, Ramey will complete the piece, but the unveiling will remain on hold till fall so everyone involved – artists, funders, Sculpture Trail partners and the general public – may attend the unveiling.

The sculpture is being funded by the Wakefield family, Jennifer and Fred Bagley, and Donald Billings and Sara Pratt.  The artwork will be the seventh in the initiative led by the Carving Studio & Sculpture Center, Green Mountain Power, MKF Properties, and Vermont Quarries to create art and beautify downtown, generate community pride, and honor local and regional history.

Completed sculptures in the series include:

“Stone Legacy,” a tribute to the region’s stone industry, which stands in the Center Street Marketplace, funded by MKF Properties and GMP.

A tribute to Rudyard Kipling’s “Jungle Book,” which stands outside Phoenix Books, which funded it.

A piece honoring Olympic skier and environmentalist Andrea Mead Lawrence, on Merchants Row near Center Street, funded by John and Sue Casella.

A sculpture of Revolutionary War hero Ann Story and her son Solomon, which stands at the corner of West and Cottage streets, funded by the extended Costello family.

A piece honoring 20 African Americans who volunteered in Rutland to fight in the 54th Regiment in the Civil War, the first official black regiment in the North, mounted on the Center Street wall of the Castleton Downtown Gallery, funded by Rutland Regional Medical Center.

A sculpture honoring “Bill W.,” founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, who was born in Dorset and raised for much of his childhood in Rutland.  The piece, funded anonymously, is in the Center Street Marketplace.

Sculptures honoring Paul Harris, founder of Rotary International, and Julia Dorr, an author, philanthropist and founder of the Rutland Free Library, are also expected to be completed in 2020. The Harris sculpture was funded by the Rotary Clubs of Rutland City, Rutland South, Killington, and Dalton, Massachusetts; Rutland Blooms; Mary Moran; and an anonymous donor. The Dorr piece was funded by Joan Gamble, Mary Moran, and Mary Powell. Organizers continue to seek funding for other pieces.

Mountain Times Newsletter

Sign up below to receive the weekly newsletter, which also includes top trending stories and what all the locals are talking about!