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Any mention of memorial art is lacking if it does not include the town of Barre, Vermont. Unfortunately, though, Barre is often neglected in the memorial art literature written in the United States. This article will help change that.
Barre is known the world over for its unique style of memorial art sculptures. Tourists flock by the bus loads to its legendary cemeteries each spring and summer, and the city staffer in charge of keeping the cemeteries pristine has a title the fits the city’s priorities: Director of Cemeteries and Parks. (Most other towns of 10,000 or so in the United States do well to find one or two volunteers to maintain their cemeteries. And the cemeteries certainly do not have their own, very popular, websites.)
But few Americans outside of Central Vermont know of Barre or its famous Barre Granite that has been (and remains) the rage among those who create memorial art. Newspapers and documentary film crews from Holland to Spain to Germany have told the story of Barre’s memorial art. But few Americans have heard it.
Barre came to international acclaim in the mid 1800’s when a resident named Robert Parker set up a quarry and began delivering to the world the area’s untapped stockpile of natural granite. Parker’s first customers for Barre Grey granite were builders. The material was sturdy (unbreakable even) yet malleable, and that was perfect for the many industrial construction projects that were taking shape in cities across the world. (Barre granite was also much less expensive than granite from almost any other place in the world.)
And then thousands of Americans began dying in the Civil War. Grave markers, not construction, suddenly became the main priority for Barre granite. Customers from across New England called Parker’s company for long-lasting stones that would be grave markers for years to come.
Industrial customers never returned in steady numbers to Robert Parker’s quarry. Memorial art became the focus, and never lost its reign.
As orders for Barre Grey grave markers poured in, sculptors from across the world began to realize that Barre would be a great place to drum up commissions from families wanting to memorialize loved ones in a unique way. Having high quality granite nearby (at far lower prices than anywhere in the world) meant more money free to employ artists for elaborate pieces. Barre became an international artist’s haven. Highly accomplished sculptors from Italy, German, Spain, Russia, England and more arrived in Barre and turned the city into an eclectic, artists community that turned out some of the best modern-day sculptures – all in the name of memorial art.
Today this strong tradition of memorial art continues in Barre despite the fact that Barre granite is no longer the least expensive in the world. (Quarries in China and India have the honor). Barre’s international artistic community is still going strong, and orders continue to pour in for their talent. Much of what Barre artists produce is on display in the city’s two largest cemeteries – the ones that tourist buses continue to stop at daily.
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