Restoring the Future of Barre's Granite Industry
"Restoring the Future of Barre's Granite Industry" The Times
Argus, Barre-Montpelier, Vermont. April 7, 1988. Commentary
by Philip Cryan Marshall.
The means of keeping Barre Gray out of the red is not a black-and-white
issue, as was suggested by the tenor of several articles in last
week's Times Argus supplement on Barre's granite industry.
Ninety percent of that industry now is engaged in manufacturing
cemetery memorials. So it comes as no surprise that concerns about
the future of a declining "death-care" market were addressed.
Factors affecting this aspect of the industry were defined to
include: a flat, or stagnant, market; erosion of the local industry's
market share to competition; and a trend toward less "memorialization"
of the dead.
This denies the development of a new Stone Age and a renaissance
in urban planning, design and construction in America.
Between 1980 and 1986 there was a 2,100-percent increase in American's
demand for granite, mostly from the construction industry. A project
entitled The Barre Granite Industry: A Monument To Architectural
Artisanry is currently exploring how Barre can claim its fair
share of this expanding market by employing existing resources
and industry artisans. In doing so, Barre can contribute to the
future of its industry and the quality of urban design nationwide.
The project is sponsored by the University of Vermont's Historic
Preservation Program with funding provided by Laurance S. Rockefeller
and a grant form the National Endowment for the Arts. Significant
support for the project initially came from Barre itself, through
commitments of in-kind services of $20,000 from the Barre Granite
Association and $2,000 from the Trow and Holden Company. Since
the project's inception, strong support has been contributed from
many members of the industry.
The purpose of the project is to develop Barre's monument-oriented
industry to better serve the needs of design professionals working
on design and execution of:
- contemporary architectural ornament, urban landscapes,
civic monuments, and public art;
- existing masonry structures, ornament, sculpture and monuments;
- complementary additions to historic structures and districts.
We have approached design professionals, national organizations
and federal agencies to determine their interest in Barre's products
and, importantly, its services: its ability to assist in the design
and development of a project.
The professionals include architects, landscape architects, historic
preservationists, interior designers, industrial designers, engineers,
urban planners and artists. Their clients include federal and
state agencies, civic authorities, corporations and developers.
These colleagues visited Barre to work with project team members
in evaluating the existing industry resources.
Outside World Discovers Barre
It was no surprise to find that all these professional were amazed
at the heretofore unknown capabilities of the industry and its
ability to meet their design and production requirements.
They discovered that Barre is an exceptional example of a comprehensive
design — and quality-oriented industry whose tradition in
sculpting stone ornament has been kept alive, as it were, through
the monument business. Here, a complete infrastructure and the
support system for the artisan remains intact.
They discovered that Barre industries are in a unique position
to provide a wide range of materials, manufacturing and artistic
abilities and design services to those professionals who wish
to consider employing stone — specifically granite —
In fact, Barre is one of the country's best examples of an industry
that has saved its artistic heritage during the last half-century
of modern architecture. By example, it can lead the way for the
reintegration of art and architecture.
Twenty years ago there was good cause to wonder if granite could
be employed in contemporary architecture or preservation. Since
that time the energy crisis, a rise in the cost of competitive
construction materials (metal, glass), the development of the
Post Modern architectural style, and the need for durable building
materials have all contributed to an increasing demand for building
Philip Johnson, the architect who created the modernistic "glass
box" architecture in the 1930s, also hearkened its demise when
he designed the now-famous American Telephone & Telegraph
corporate headquarters — in granite.
Art and Architecture, Old Partnership Renewed
Since classical times, urban planners have employed statuary
to harmonize space and mass in cityscapes; sculptural work —
statutes, fountains, memorials — become the focal point
for other architectural features. This tradition has been revived
through the integration of art and architecture and the development
of art-in-public-places programs nationwide.
The work of the Barre sculptures is unique. While other centers
of the granite industry have lower operating costs or quarry more
popular color stock, none can equal the abilities of Barre artists.
Even Cold Spring (Minnesota) Granite, which has invested $40 million
in its operations in the last decade, cannot compare to the artistic
resources available in Barre.
Despite such resources, if Barre chooses as its competition other
industries who are producing inferior products, if it exclusively
seeks mass production to achieve rock-bottom prices, then it will
likely claim a self-fulfilling prophecy. It will all but bury
itself and reach an early grave.
On the other hand, Barre can harness its production capabilities
to meet the demands of the construction industry, and create a
value-added product of the highest quality: architectural ornament
The same pressures that act to discourage cemeteries from employing
traditional memorials also serve as a compelling impetus for employing
stone in the construction industry. Rising market values of urban
property and a demand for the best service-free product have created
this tremendous demand for granite in cities — not cemeteries
— across America.
The March 5 issue of The Economist describes the increasing
role of developers in the construction of corporate headquarters.
It notes, "More developers are abandoning the build-cheap-sell-cheap
principals. They reckon that better design and better materials
produce buildings that command higher rents and remain fully occupied
during the downswings of the boom-bust property market."
To emphasize this trend, the article includes the following caption:
"I want that granite, dammit."
Let Barre focus on promoting excellence in its product and skilled
labor force. The unique artistic work and fabricated products
available in this central Vermont city can be integrated into
America's modern, designed environment.
When business and entire industries are filing Chapter 11, Barre
is working to write a new chapter in America's history of industrial
enterprise and the design arts, a new chapter about Vermont's
commitment to quality products, and a new chapter on Barre's ability
to meet challenges.
A three-day symposium will be held in Barre, from December 1
to 3, 1988, to address the design potential and use of stone.
Design professionals will present case studies to their colleagues.
Results of this project, including an industry inventory, will
be summarized and available through publication. Members of the
industry will host tours, on-site and technical demonstrations,
and studio exhibits. The Vermont Department of Development will
co-sponsor this event and work closely with the industry and project
in its development.
We continue to seek assistance in developing both the project
[Caption for photographs]
In 1982 sculptor Michael Heizer came to North Barre Granite Co
to execute a commission for the IBM Corporation in New York. The
company provided design assistance and fabricated the sculpture
using its existing resources. Today "Levitated Mass" stands as
testimony to the collaboration of design and industry.