Vermont Public is independent, community-supported media, serving Vermont with trusted, relevant and essential information. We share stories that bring people together, from every corner of our region. New to Vermont Public? Start here.

© 2024 Vermont Public | 365 Troy Ave. Colchester, VT 05446

Public Files:

For assistance accessing our public files, please contact or call 802-655-9451.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

VPR's coverage of arts and culture in the region.

Harrington: Granite School

Imagine that a community decided to put lots of art into their children’s new school. Beautiful, enduring objects, produced in the town - from local material, using skills that many residents practiced for a living.

The city of Barre has been associated with granite for more than 100 years. Immigrants came from Italy, Spain, Scotland, Canada, and elsewhere to quarry the stone, then shape and carve it for buildings and memorials. Today there’s competition from overseas, but many families remain involved in the business.

Barre City Elementary and Middle School was built 20 years ago to replace seven neighborhood schools and today it serves about 900 students. It makes sense that granite was invited into the new consolidated school. Granite is “still a symbol,” says school co-principal James Taffel. “It’s the pride of the city.”

Donated sculptures of Barre Gray enhance the school inside and out. Near the entrance, a lifesize granite mailbox greets children, parents, and visitors. No letters can be mailed there - but sculptor Mark Fredenburg clearly had fun. It bears a label addressed to the Eternal Revenue Service in Andover, Mass.

Nearby stands a granite desk – in the old one-piece style, for several kids - with a view of city and mountains beyond. Also, several flat pieces of granite form a rowboat.

As to the building itself, the school gym is constructed of large tan blocks, with a course of large, carved granite plaques set into them, about one-third down from the roof line.

The subjects are charming but realistic animals – including two horses, two eagles, a large grinning cat - deer, turkey, and bears. An adult bear and cub stand sedately in one plaque – but they face a riotous group of six Teddy bears. Two of these dangle their feet over the edge of their sculpture in a friendly gesture to the new arrivals for kindergarten.

My favorite plaque shows a boy playing soccer – kicking the ball right down at the observer. Jim Taffel likes to think of this sculpture as inspiring kids - “to be the soccer player or to create the art.”

Inside are more treasures. A large square book, held by the small hands of a child, indicates that a library is nearby. It was carved in 1995 by Vincent Illuzzi, Sr. Inside the library stands a grandfather clock of granite, carved with the flora and fauna of Vermont. Sculptors Sofia Shatkivska and Butch Gandin created this unique timepiece in 1999. A granite sculptors’ symposium took place in Barre in 1995 and some works were immediately given to the new school.

Today there’s still room, under the roof line of the gym, for a dozen more new granite plaques.

The late Elaine Keen Harrington of Middlesex was a lecturer in the English Department at the University of Vermont. A former editor for the Rutland Herald and Times Argus, she also owned a fiber arts business.
Latest Stories