By Patrick McArdle
In contradiction of the old saying, something is now written in stone, with the unveiling of “The Jungle Book” in downtown Rutland.
The book, written by Rudyard Kipling while he was living in southern Vermont in 1893-94, is the inspiration for a sculpture that made its public debut last week in front of Phoenix Books.
The sculpture, a large bookstand holding a 3-foot-wide replica of “The Jungle Book,” with characters rising off the pages, was presented by sculptor Sean Hunter Williams; Carol Driscoll, executive director of The Carving Studio & Sculpture Studio; Mayor David Allaire; property developer Mark Foley and other officials.
The audience included a group of fourth-graders from Rutland Intermediate School, who listened to a reading from “The Jungle Book” after the unveiling.
Williams told the audience, which included leaders of economic development organizations and members of the Board of Aldermen, that the piece was his first sculpture in marble.
Before coming to The Carving Studio in West Rutland for a residency, he said, he was learning from his father, Jerry Williams, who works with granite at the Barre Sculpture Studios.
“It’s so nice to carve marble in a place where marble comes from, to carve so close to the old quarries,” Williams said. “… It’s nice to have it in such a prominent location to remind everybody that this kind of work still takes place in Vermont. There are still a handful of carvers left doing this work and really enjoying this work. I’m happy to be of a second generation that can carry this on.”
Williams said he tried to be true to the book, and designed the plants and animals based on what would be found in a jungle environment in India.
Foley said the project had largely started with Green Mountain Power and Steve Costello, a vice president at the utility, who wanted to bring an outdoor art project to Rutland.
“As many of you know and have been a part of, Rutland is becoming an art destination, and the sculpture projects, along with the beautiful murals and the galleries, are really an important part of the region’s economic and cultural brush,” Foley said.
Costello, who couldn’t be at the event because of the large number of people who were still affected by last week’s windstorm, said in a statement the sculpture was “the perfect first project in the series, because ultimately, the story is all about being part of a community.”
He added, “The story’s primary theme focuses on the importance of building bridges and connections — building a sense of community — and Rutland’s ability to do that has supported the revitalization that has already started, and is imperative to the region’s future success.”
Another sculpture is expected to be installed in the Center Street Alley next year, and Costello’s family is sponsoring a sculpture of Rutland-area Revolutionary War heroine Ann Story.
Michael DeSanto, who was at the event with his wife and Phoenix co-owner Renee Reiner, said the project was exciting because “The Jungle Book” is a favorite work for him.
“The other exciting thing was when I met Sean for the first time and we started quoting chapter and verse of ‘The Jungle Book’ to each other, as to what should be part of this sculpture and what shouldn’t be,” DeSanto said. “It made me feel like what the Medicis in Florence felt like, telling Michelangelo what to do.”
While DeSanto said he and Reiner own five bookstores in Vermont, he said the Rutland store, on Center Street, was special.
“In no community, in all the 20-odd years that Renee and I have done bookstoring, have we ever experienced the community and the support that has come from the Rutland community,” he said.
Driscoll pointed out the sculpture was being unveiled during The Carving Studio’s 30th anniversary year. She said she was happy it had provided a chance for Williams to try something new.
“The opportunity to do a one-of-a-kind commission and work with the Phoenix bookstore was really a thrill and unexpected,” she said.
Phoenix co-owner Tricia Huebner said she had experienced some worry when the sculpture was installed on Center Street on Tuesday, the day before it was unveiled.
“To then see it installed here against this green marble, is just breathtaking,” she said. “Unbelievable. And lucky me, I get to walk past this every day,”
Allaire formally accepted the statue on behalf of the city of Rutland during the brief ceremony.
Foley reminded the crowd there was still time to sponsor future sculpture in what’s expected to be in “the dozens” of works, before the overall downtown sculpture project is done.