BY KATIE FUTTERMAN
WEST RUTLAND – The sound of Harry Drum’s saxophone played over The Carving Studio on Friday, June 10, as it celebrated the opening of the month-long 35th Annual Members’ Exhibition.
“It’s not curated; we just got lucky,” Executive Director Carol Driscoll said as she walked around a stone room inside the studio filled with an array of art pieces ranging from rocks with painted faces to colorful paper maché.
Most of the art had arrived only days before, and Driscoll and her team had worked tirelessly to set everything up in time for Friday’s event.
One of the displayed items was Mary Fran Lloyd’s collage entitled Quarry Talk. About five years ago, she and her grandson came to The Carving Studio during the summers. She painted while her grandson worked on his projects.
“There’s a lot of history, as you know, here,” Lloyd said. Her piece, which ties together pictures of the one hundred years of writing about the room she was standing in, showcases just that.
The Carving Studio lies in what was the center of West Rutland in the 1830s when the marble industry began in Vermont. Back then, individual businesses bought pieces of property and exploited them for marble, according to Driscoll. In the late 1890s, however, Redfield Proctor suggested that these individual businesses collaborate to form The Vermont Marble Company. Thus began the importation of men — mainly from Ireland, Poland, and Norway — to work.
According to Driscoll, the marble industry was the reason for railroads in the area. A massive volume of marble was shipped to build monuments and buildings in the Washington D.C. area.
A lot of the activity ended after World War II because there was so much competition from other countries for building materials. The demand for stone became less popular; instead, building materials were steel, glass, and concrete. All of which caused the dwindling of workers down from 3,000 to 100 before it closed in the mid-1970s.
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The Carving Studio purchased properties from Gawet Marble and Granite between 1999 and 2002. The studio, which had started in Proctor as a three-week stone carving workshop, would be transformed into yearlong programs. Driscoll has been the director for over 20 years despite her originally coming for just one season.
Now, the Carving Studio holds classes throughout the year. It has offered students semester-long workshops on metal and stone working through partnerships with Castleton University, Green Mountain College, and the College of St. Joseph’s. However, the future of such programs remains unclear after both Green Mountain College and the College of St. Joseph’s closed in 2019.
There are still programs for youth through the studio. On June 27, there is a project for teens in which they work as a group to design and carve a stone bench during a two-week workshop, themed camps for children ages six through 12, as well as a partnership with the Rutland Middle School, which offers sculpture workshops, wood carving, and kiln glass training.
Classes for adults last anywhere from a few days to a week and include a free lunch once a week.
Joan Curtis, an artist member who showcased her paper maché piece Boardwalk, taught paper maché in the early 2000s at the studio. She described her piece as a bit of a “fluff” and less serious, but that did not detract from her pride.
“I’ve always done a lot of paper maché, but there’s armature inside, so it’s not like what we did in Girl Scouts,” she said.
For other projects, the studio does a call to artists within the budget and timeline, and a review board sees their previous work and makes a recommendation. Sometimes, the call provides a proposal to the artist, and other times it is more general. Artists receive housing, food, materials, tools, studio space, and a stipend—typically, $1,000 a month.
In the building adjacent to the exhibition lay clay sculptures, miniature versions of some of the larger marble structures. Included were a commemoration of the first African American college president—who grew up in Rutland—and Ann Story, a revolutionary war hero from Leicester, Vermont, via Connecticut.
“It’s amazing because people who live here, that’s their great grandparents,” Driscoll said.
The studio puts on about four shows a year. The largest one in September attracts a couple of hundred people. In response to a theme, artists work over the summer to create outdoor, site-specific art in the 180 acres of quarry space behind the studio. This year’s theme is ‘games,’ and the show will be held at the studio on September 10.
That is not the only time when nature and art come together at the studio. Dennis Yanashot displayed his sculpture Longneck, where he used metals he found in the ground, crafting them into a chain mail by hand.
“As a matter of fact,” he asked Driscoll, “can we metal detect here?”
“Sure, why not,” she replied. Driscoll pointed out that a train used to run between the studio’s two buildings.
“Maybe we’ll find some history; we can give it to the carving studio. You never know what you’re going to find in the ground,” Yanashot said.
So, look for future work from the Carving Studio, maybe with some original West Rutland metal.