Student carve rail-inspired stone bench, offer it to Middlebury

MIDDLEBURY — The town of Middlebury during the 19th and early 20th centuries was known for its marble and the ability to export it via an active rail system.
Well, Middlebury’s Marble Works is now a shopping center and train traffic is sparse, but the town might soon get an artistic and utilitarian reminder of its industrial and transportation heritage.
The Carving Studio & Sculpture Center of West Rutland has offered the town an elaborately carved stone bench, featuring a rail motif. Made out of limestone, the bench was carved by eight Vermont youths under the direction of master carver Nora Valdez.
“I think it’s gorgeous,” Carol Driscoll said of the bench.
Driscoll is executive director of the Carving Studio & Sculpture Center, a nonprofit art education venue dedicated to “sculptural exploration.” Situated in West Rutland — at the epicenter of Vermont’s once thriving marble industry — the carving studio offers a variety of programs, including what it calls “The Stone Bench Project.”
The Stone Bench Project grew out of an exchange program between the Carving Studio and young artists in Peru. The organization began sending instructors to Ayacucho, Peru, in 2005 for the purpose of teaching carving skills to help teens reclaim their own cultural heritage. During January of 2009, Valdez led a group of advanced students there as they created monumental sculptures and benches for their local park.
Inspired by the success in Ayacucho, the Carving Studio initiated the Stone Bench Project in West Rutland for local teens, working with Peruvian exchange students. Since 2009, students have worked on two-week projects to create benches for four Rutland County municipalities. So far their benches have been permanently installed in West Rutland, Rutland, Fair Haven and Poultney. The Stone Bench Project is open to 10 area teens, ages 14-19, from around the region.
A new crop of students — culled from such venues as Rutland and Brandon Boys and Girls Clubs, the Mentor Connector, the Rutland Recreation Department and Vermont Adult Learning — set to work this summer creating the 2013 Stone Bridge Project. They picked a “rail” theme that produced an L-shaped limestone bench featuring rail car seating surfaces propped up by three bases, depicting a crouched man, a tunnel and a stack of suitcases. The young carvers used hand tools and air-powered hammers in construction.
As in past years, Carving Studio officials began looking for a community interested in taking possession of the bench and placing it in a prominent spot. The Carving Studio raised around $15,000 to pay for the materials, instruction and other aspects of making the 2013 bench. The organization asks receiving communities to contribute $1,000 toward the project.
Since the studio had recently produced a bench for Middlebury College to commemorate the Dalai Lama’s visit to the campus last year, Driscoll knew something about the Middlebury community and its rich history in stone working. She asked Middlebury Town Manager Kathleen Ramsay if the community might be interested in the newly created limestone bench.
“(Middlebury) was a great link to expand the program to another community,” Driscoll said.
Ramsay was indeed intrigued, noting Middlebury’s recent preoccupation with rail — specifically the upcoming replacement of the railroad overpasses on Merchants Row and Main Street. Driscoll reiterated the offer to the Middlebury selectboard this past Tuesday, Aug. 13.
“We’re definitely interested,” Middlebury selectboard Chairman Dean George said of the bench. He said the town will look for $1,000 in recreation funding in this year’s budget, or the coming budget, to secure the bench. Officials have not decided where in town the bench could be placed.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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