Closing of museum viewed as huge loss
By Bruce Edwards
STAFF WRITER | December 05,2012
To say Carol Driscoll was disappointed would be a understatement.
As executive director of the Carving Studio & Sculpture Center in West Rutland, Driscoll has more than a passing interest in what becomes of the Vermont Marble Museum and the artifacts that chronicle the history of state’s marble industry.
Last week, the Preservation Trust of Vermont announced that it could not raise the $880,000 necessary by the end-of-year deadline to buy the private museum in Proctor from Martin and Marsha Hemm.
The Hemms have said they will fall back on their previous announced plans to close the museum and sell the museum’s repository of artifacts and documents. If that happens, the history of the marble industry in the state could be disbursed to other museums or private collectors out of state.
By its very focus, the Carving Studio (www.carvingstudio.org), has a connection with the marble industry. But it also has a much closer connection. It’s located on the site of the former Vermont Marble Company fabrication plant and quarry in West Rutland.
The goal of raising $880,000 in a few months was a challenge that Paul Bruhn of the Preservation Trust readily acknowledged.
But given the museum’s historical importance to the state. Driscoll said the goal should have been attainable.
“It seems like this is such an important legacy that goes beyond just Vermont, I would have thought there would have been a much greater outcry and response in favor of raising that money to save the collection,” Driscoll said.
That legacy includes white Danby marble used in the Thomas Jefferson Memorial, the USS Arizona Memorial, the U.S. Supreme Court building and the White House interior.
Bruhn has said the short five-month time frame to raise the funds combined with a still anemic economy, made reaching the goal difficult. In the end, the Preservation Trust was able to raise only $200,000.
The Hemms announced in April plans to close the museum. Although, the museum and gift shop managed a small profit, a spike in Proctor’s commercial electric rates convinced the Hemms that the time had come to close the business.
Megan Smith, commissioner of the state Department of Tourism and Marketing, said Tuesday she hopes the Hemms will reconsider their decision to break up the museum and its contents and give the fundraising effort more time.
Smith, too, said she was surprised about the lack of support to save the museum, a popular tourist attraction.
She said faced with budget constraints the state doesn’t have the funds available to either purchase or run the museum.
“We’re struggling with the historic sites that we have,” Smith said, “and we can’t turn around and get another one and have less resources for the ones that we have.”
If the Preservation Trust had reached its goal, it would have turned ownership of the museum and its operation over to another nonprofit group like the Carving Studio, which teaches and preserves the stone carving tradition.
That’s a responsibility Driscoll said her group would have seriously considered.
She said the museum and its contents deserves to remain in Vermont. But if broken up, Driscoll didn’t hesitate when asked whether the Carving Studio would be willing to give part of museum’s collection a home in West Rutland.
“Oh, in a heartbeat,” she said.
If that were to happen, the Carving Studio, which owns two buildings, would need more space in West Rutland. Driscoll said the Gawet family, which owns the former Vermont Marble Company property, might be willing to make another building available.