No shortage of ideas for Marble Museum’s future
By Bruce Edwards
STAFF WRITER | February 26,2013
Vyto Starinskas / Staff Photo
Residents and interested parties meet Monday to discuss the future of the Vermont Marble Museum.
PROCTOR — The Vermont Marble Museum — one of the state’s major tourist attractions — is likely to take on an expanded role in the future that involves a more active role in the community that’s the birthplace of the marble industry in the state.
At the first of two community meetings Monday, Proctor residents and interested parties turned out to weigh in on the museum’s future under its new owner, The Preservation Trust of Vermont.
Ideas included film and speaking engagements, and collaborations with other groups.
At the very end of last year, The Preservation Trust of Vermont purchased a large portion of the museum’s collection, raising $250,000 in a few months to meet an end of the year deadline.
Now, the Trust is seeking public input from Proctor residents as it tries to raise another $480,000 to purchase the 96,000-square-foot building that houses the collection from Martin and Marsha Hemm.
The Hemms were no longer interested in running the for-profit museum that houses the history of the Vermont Marble Company. They were ready to put the museum and collection up for sale and that greatly concerned the Preservation Trust.
“We were really concerned the museum collection would be sold off piecemeal and disappear,” Emily Wadhams, a Trust consultant and director of the Historic Places Revolving Fund, told the early meeting of 20 people at the Proctor Free Library. “Our goal is to keep the museum intact, in Proctor and in Vermont because of the significance of the Vermont Marble Company to Vermont history (and) national history.”
The Trust’s purchase also included the museum gift shop and several thousand glass negatives that chronicled the history of the Vermont Marble Company.
The Trust is serving as the interim owner until it can find and transfer ownership of the collection to a permanent nonprofit organization.
Of concern to several in the audience, including Jim Davidson of the Rutland Historical Society, was the future of the paper archives and the library of stone samples from around the world.
“Will that potentially remain with a Vermont institution,” Davidson asked.
But Paul Bruhn, the Trust’s executive director, said because the Trust was unable to come up with an additional $150,000, the Hemms are negotiating the sale of the archives, the paper history of the Vermont Marble Company, to an out-of-state university.
He said the Trust is hopeful that a digital copy or some other arrangement will be worked out to make the archives available to the museum.
The Vermont Marble Museum has been a seasonal tourist attraction and will remain so. But the goal is for the museum to take a more active role in the community.
“Our interest and our goal is to connect the museum with the community,” said Ann Cousins, the Trust’s field service and major gifts coordinator.
Proctor Junior-Senior High School is planning an active role in the museum, one that includes “an ongoing rotating exhibit,” said Principal Adam Rosenberg.
Rep. David Potter, who represents Proctor, suggested that the Carving Studio, would make a perfect fit as the museum’s permanent owner.
“There’s a logical connection between what’s going in Proctor and what’s going in West Rutland, that would be advantageous to both,” Potter said, referring to the West Rutland home of the Carving Studio .
But Bruhn said he thought the Carving Studio was focused on its own mission and was “disinclined” to take over the museum.
Contacted after the meeting, Ann Driscoll, the Carving Studio’s executive director, said her board of directors would make a decision when they meet Friday. However, Driscoll indicated that a more likely scenario would be some kind of collaboration with the museum rather than an outright purchase.
In kicking around ideas, Bruhn said a future exhibit might feature the role that Vermont marble played in the construction of buildings and monuments in Washington, D.C.
“Just having an exhibit on that … the buildings in the capital that have Vermont marble would be a fascinating exhibit,” he said.
June Wilson, who leases space in the Vermont Marble building for her marble fabricating business, liked the idea of bringing in speakers to talk about their experience working for the Vermont Marble Company. She said that could help create additional interest in the museum.
The Preservation Trust has raised $125,000 toward the $480,000 needed to purchase the building by the end of the year.
“It’s going to be a challenge,” Bruhn said.
Phil Keyes of Brandon said linking the museum’s marble heritage with other stone industries in the state, including slate and granite would help raise awareness.
“If we could just get that word out in terms of the importance of the marble industry, and link that to the granite industry, the Slate Valley industry, there are connections there that might help,” Keyes said.
A woman in the audience suggested that given the number of buildings and monuments in the nation’s capital built with Vermont marble, the state’s congressional delegation might be able to help.
But Bruhn said funding that congressional earmarks once provided “have gone away, unfortunately.”