By Patrick McArdle
WEST RUTLAND — The town of Proctor is about to get benched.
A group of young people who have ties to the town have created a bench as part of The Carving Studio and Sculpture Center’s Stone Bench Project, which is marking its 10th year. Of the six participants, four live in Proctor and one attends the town’s high school.
Like the other benches, placed in towns such as Castleton, Fair Haven and Rutland, the bench was designed and carved to reflect elements of its intended new home. The bench includes depictions of the town’s marble bridge, a tribute to the Proctor Phantoms basketball team and the fish caught by local anglers.
The bench has been completed, but probably won’t be installed until the spring.
Nora Valdez, director of the bench project, said the bench was created in two weeks, and about half that time was spent designing it. Each year, the teenagers participating in the bench project have designed it and carved it.
“I talk about public art and the importance of putting something in the community that’s going to be for everybody, from the kids to your grandmother to anybody that’s passing by,” she said.
Valdez said her dream goal is to see a stone bench created for every municipality in Vermont, and to give teens a chance to express their creativity.
Jadella Rivers, 17, of Chittenden, who is a Proctor student, has been part of the Stone Bench project for three years.
“I love stone carving. It’s so much fun. I love seeing the stone going from a solid block to something that’s beautiful and has life to it,” she said.
Nicholas Blongy, 16, of Proctor, a senior at Proctor Junior-Senior High School, said last Thursday he wanted to serve his community.
“I just wanted to give something more to Proctor than I already do. I found out the bench was going to Proctor this year so I thought, ‘What better opportunity?’” said Blongy, who is also a junior firefighter in Proctor.
As the project moves into its 10th year, Valdez said some parts of it have become easier. Benches have many common elements that allow the young sculptors to learn from their predecessors.
“But, we’re just always trying to create a different bench. Sometimes we modify the top while still keeping it rectangular. Always trying to do something different so it’s good for me and good for them. Everybody has their own identity and individuality” she said.
Some of the highlights for Valdez include a bench made for Castleton that has a hand and eyes coming out from a log, sending the message that “nature is watching you,” and a bench in Poultney that has a beautiful landscape on one side and a polluted landscape on the other, to convey a message about conserving natural resources.
Valdez said she hoped the project would appeal to people because of its creativity from young people combined with a classic piece of public accommodation.
“Nowadays, we live in this fast world. A bench is where sometimes, I don’t know, in the old days, they used to come and talk to somebody. Sometimes even people have proposed to love in a bench. Sometimes people have a problem, and they talk to somebody they trust or they love. There’s just so many beautiful things that can happen just sitting on a bench,” she said.
Valdez said she was proud of the educational aspects of the program, which is offered for free to the teenage participants through sponsorship. Because students are often strangers to each other, learning stone carving as a new skill and creating only one product, a bench, from their collaboration can teach them compromise, teamwork and other skills.
The students working at The Carving Studio’s West Rutland site on Thursday said they plan to continue to pursue the art form.
Rivers, who said she also draws and paints, said she enjoys having an annual opportunity to pursue stone carving.
“I’m definitely more confident. I know what’s going to be going on and how to use all the tools,” she said.