The 54th: Next sculpture in series to honor Rutland’s black Civil War soldiers

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By Patrick McArdle
Staff Writer

The next sculpture in the series that has already seen a piece unveiled on Center Street will honor 20 black soldiers from Rutland who fought for the Union Army in the Civil War.

The 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment was the first black regiment formed in the North after the Emancipation Proclamation allowed black soldiers to serve in the military.

The sculpture will honor the 20 members who came from Rutland, which includes farmers, teamsters and George Hart, a former slave.

The sculpture is part of a series intended to add 10 pieces to the city’s downtown by 2022. One, based on “The Jungle Book,” has already been installed outside Phoenix Books and another, “Stone Legacy,” is expected to be unveiled soon as part of the Center Street Marketplace.

Steve Costello, who conceived the sculpture project, said he expects the piece will be installed by the fall.

The various sculptures have been supported by local businesses or families, and the 54th Regiment piece is supported by Rutland Regional Medical Center.

Tom Huebner, president and CEO of the hospital, said the history of the 54th was a “fascinating story” that he hadn’t known well until the idea for the sculpture was presented. Huebner said he was like many people who knew about the regiment because they were the subject of the movie, “Glory.”

“But I had no idea there were Rutlanders involved in that,” he said. “I thought it was just a cool story that more people in Rutland should know about. I think Rutland is becoming a more diverse community than it was and it’s important to recognize the contributions of African-Americans.”

RRMC officials also support the sculpture project and the effort to bring attention to Rutland’s history with the marble industry.

“The hospital needs Rutland as a whole to be successful,” Huebner said. “Things that enrich it are things we’re going to want to support.”

Carol Driscoll, executive director of The Carving Studio & Sculpture Center, has asked West Rutland artist Don Ramey to carve the sculpture, a relief which will be about 5 by 10 feet and will depict scenes from the service of local members of the 54th Regiment.

Ramey’s local work includes the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Rutland, which was re-dedicated in November. He said both of his parents served in the military.

“I have a special feeling for military veterans,” Ramey said last week.

Ramey said the story of the 54th Regiment was an “important topic and a very meaningful subject” on which he was happy to be working.

Costello said, after a walk through the city’s downtown with Huebner, Driscoll and Ramey to try to identify a site for the 54th Regiment sculpture, that the work is expected to be mounted on a black granite section of wall on the south side of Center Street, near the intersection with Merchants Row and Evelyn Street.

All of the sculptures in the series are expected to depict important people or events from the history of Rutland or the Rutland area.

“The goal has always been to tell parts of Rutland’s history and try to highlight people, both famous and less well-known, but equally worthy of note,” Costello said.

Other possible subjects in the series include Rutland residents and Civil War figures Edward and William Ripley, Rutland’s John Deere, Norman Rockwell, Ethan Allen, skier Andrea Mead Lawrence and Martin Henry Freeman, a Rutland native who became the nation’s first black college president in 1856.

The sculptures will be carved from Danby white marble from Vermont Quarries.

Costello said a fifth piece is likely to be announced later this year.

In addition to the 54th Regiment sculpture, the “Jungle Book” sculpture and the “Stone Legacy” piece, another pending sculpture, based on Revolutionary War hero Ann Story, is being sponsored by the Costello family.