On the second floor of Montpelier’s Kellogg-Hubbard Library, reproductions of low-relief sculpture called friezes draw the eye upward and around the reading room. Hundreds of figures from ancient Greece and Renaissance Italy surround the room. A gala celebration on Sept. 29 offers a talk and a tour of the friezes with historian Michael Sherman, as well as activities for all ages — including gelato!
The public is invited to “Freeze with the Friezes” beginning at 6 p.m. to learn about the historical art and how the reproductions were created, and then practice making a plaster cast with Ryan Mays, putting together your own classical laurel wreath, ending with a scavenger hunt and photo station. It is free and open to all.
The room with the friezes is part of the library, but years ago it housed the Wood Art Gallery and a concert and lecture hall. Rehearsals for Onion River Chorus happened right under those panels, and singers could gaze at the carving of joyous singers and instrumentalists for inspiration as they prepared music on Monday evenings with Larry Gordon. Many of the happy musicians in this frieze carry instruments, as this sculpture by Luca della Robbia reflects portions of Psalm 150, exhorting everyone to praise with cymbals, stringed instruments, lute, harp, and dance. Originally created for a choir loft at the cathedral in Florence, the musicians’ panel provided a delightful accompaniment for Vermont musicians five centuries later. The Onion River Arts Council also used the hall for concerts.
Across the room, a frieze by Donatello is full of adorable angels dancing, and on the sides is the famous Parthenon frieze telling stories of a procession with water-bearers, cattle drivers, and a horse.
Michael Sherman has traced what we know of the acquisition of these panels and how they came to be in Montpelier. Originally a gift by Samuel M. Jones of Morristown, New Jersey, honoring a student of artist T.W. Wood in 1896, these are plaster-cast reproductions from a Boston firm still in business, P. P. Caproni and Brother.
“They are landmark pieces in their own right,” says Sherman, “and cost at the time, according to the catalog, around $12 per panel. Artists made molds of classical sculptures that were often sold to art schools, museums, and theaters.” When the Wood Gallery moved to College Hall on the Vermont College campus in 1985, the Kellogg-Hubbard library agreed to take possession of the friezes.
New work has been done to clean the sculptures, improve the lighting, and create a brochure designed by Linda Mirabile with text by Sherman. The events on Sept. 29 also thank Rich Horchler for his work on the “Give the Library a Lift” campaign as well as library donors.
For further information go to kellogghubbard.org or #KHLFreezewiththeFriezes