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Live Culture: Vermont Arts News and Views


August 01, 2013

R.I.P., Vincent Illuzzi Sr., Granite Sculptor, 1920-2013

618f-illuziGranite sculptor Vincent Illuzzi, Sr. — father of the well-known former Essex/Orleans County senator — passed away yesterday, July 31. He was 93. 

Born in 1920 in Giovinazzo in southern Italy, Illuzzi immigrated to the U.S. at the age of 17. He made his way to Barre, Vt., and became a granite sculptor and carver — one of the many Italian artists of the storied Barre quarries.

Illuzzi volunteered for the U.S. Army during World War II and was honorably discharged in 1946. Six years later, he married Angela Piscitelli, who was also born in Giovinazzo. The couple's three sons still live in Vermont: Vincent Jr. (Derby), Frank (Brattleboro) and Joseph (Berlin).

One of Illuzzi Sr.'s best-known commissions was for a large granite sculpture near Dupont Circle in Washington, D.C. It is dedicated to the liberation, freedom and independence of all citizens of captive nations, and was unveiled by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1964, with the artist in attendance.

Closer to home, one of Illuzzi Sr.'s many projects was a "book of learning" carved for the lobby of the Barre City Elementary School. He was a member of the Barre Historical Society and a supporter of the restoration of the Old Labor Hall and formation of the Barre Granite Museum. The latter is in the old granite shed where Illuzzi Sr. created many of his monuments.

Kevin J. Kelley wrote a story about Vincent Illuzzi Sr. for Seven Days in March last year. Kelley spoke with Ray Rouleau, the retired manager of the Rouleau Granite Co. plant where Illuzzi worked for about 20 years until he retired in the mid-90s. Rouleau remembered Illuzzi fondly, telling Kelley, "He was a very talented sculptor and a real gentleman."

A funeral mass will be held this Saturday, August 3, at St. Monica's Church in Barre.

Photo of Vincent Illuzzi Sr. by Kevin J. Kelley.


July 31, 2013

What's in a Name? On the Trail of Edmunds, Barnes, Wheeler, Hunt and Flynn

Name-tag-b-town-schoolsBurlington residents can easily deduce the sources of the straightforward names of two of the city’s nine public schools: Burlington High School and Champlain Elementary. But who was Lyman C. Hunt? How about Lawrence Barnes? H.O. Wheeler? And did Edmunds even have a first name?

Don’t look to those schools’ websites for answers. They have nothing to say about the historical figures who gave them their names. That seems odd, given today’s obsession with localism. Besides, doesn’t a school have a responsibility to acquaint its students with some basic facts of history — starting with, say, information about the person for whom it is named?

Props, then, to J.J. Flynn and C.P. Smith elementary schools, both in the New North End, for providing easily accessible biographical summaries of their namesakes.

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July 23, 2013

What's in a Name? Not Horned Animals Having Sex in the Streets

Nametag-rutland Would Burlington have become the coolest place on earth if it were named Bummerton? Maybe not. So is an unfortunate handle what's been holding back Rutland?

The lack of a university and a scenic lake probably accounts more for Rutland's rep than does a name with at least a couple of negative connotations. But if a do-over could be arranged, branding specialists would surely recommend calling the city, the town and the county something other than Land of Rut.

As an anonymous chatter pointed out in an online forum in 2010, the name suggests "someplace people are stuck in and can't get out of. Either that, or horned animals having sex in the streets."

There's also the Rutles.

Former Monty Python member Eric Idle created this Beatles parody band for BBC television in the 1970s. He named the group for England's smallest county — a landlocked, nondescript placed viewed by hip Londoners as a sad-arse backwater. Yes, the Rutles came from Rutland.

Jokes about mental depression, badly maintained roads and moose in heat are cracked only by those who "want to see it in a negative way," objects Mike Coppinger, director of the Downtown Rutland Partnership. "I've lived in Rutland all my life, and I've never perceived it like that."

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July 16, 2013

What's in a Name? Sleuthing a Mountain Called Mansfield

Nametag-mansfieldAt 4393 feet in elevation, Mozodepowadso ranks as the biggest thing in Vermont.

What? Never heard of Old Mozo? OK, maybe you know it by the translation of its Abenaki name: Moosehead Mountain.

Still doesn't sound familiar?

That's because neither the native name nor its English language version remained in use after the mid-18th century. Vermont's most prominent natural feature instead came to be called Mt. Mansfield.

No one knows for sure why a few Abenaki place names — Winooski, Missisquoi and Ascutney among them —survived the coming of the white man while many others, including Mozodepowadso, did not.

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July 15, 2013

Brian Anthony Wilson: From "The Wire" to 'The Whipping Man'

Brian Anthony WilsonIs anyone else smitten with this guy? He's not quite a household name, considering that a number of his films, and small parts in them, are pretty forgettable.

But Brian Anthony Wilson's guest turns on "The Wire" are not forgettable. On the HBO series, sadly long over, Wilson had me at "detective." That is, Detective Vernon Holley. (Who comes up with these names?) And I remember his face, if not specific roles, on the "Law and Order" franchise, and spotted him in the more recent Silver Linings Playbook.

Wilson, 53, has played numerous film and TV characters since his 1997 breakout in a movie called The Postman. A big man with a bald head and piercing brown eyes, he seems a natural for tough-guy parts. (Me, I love his freckles.) But, btw, he can sing, too.

Right now, Wilson, a Philadelphia native, is summering in Vermont. That is, by acting in Dorset Theatre Festival's production of The Whipping Man. The show, penned by Matthew Lopez, is lately being produced all over the place, perhaps because it is the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. In it, Wilson plays a character named Simon, who is a former slave and a de facto father figure to other characters. In an interesting wrinkle, he is also a Jew, having been "owned" and raised by a Jewish family.

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July 09, 2013

What's in a Name? You Say Winooski, I Say Onion


Name-tag-winooskiThe first installment in this series suggested that the settlement south of the mouth of the Winooski River came to be called "Burlington" because of a clerical error.

This week, we're tracing the origins of that river's name. And this etymological investigation appears to lead to a marketing ploy by 18th-century real estate speculators.

"The river's name has caused more dispute than any other place name in Vermont," historian Esther Munroe Swift wrote in her 1977 book, Vermont Place Names. Disagreements begin with how to render into English the Algonquin (or Abenaki) word for the 95-mile-long river that rises in Cabot and empties into Lake Champlain.

To Swift, it's "Winooskitook" — which, she tells us, should be pronounced "Weenooskee." Frederick Wiseman, an Abenaki scholar, transliterates the name as "Winosik" in an essay included in The Mills at Winooski Falls, edited by Laura Krawitt. And local historian Vincent Feeney goes with "Winoskitegw" in his 2002 book, The Great Falls on the Onion River: A History of Winooski, Vermont.

These and other historians do agree — more or less — on the English definition of the Abenaki word. Its root means "onion" or "leek," they all say, noting that the tangy bulb once flourished in wild profusion along the river's banks.

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July 08, 2013

The Read on 'Legendary Locals of Burlington'

Legendary-locals-1Fitting Burlington into a book is no easy task. The eccentric gamut of its residents included in Robert J. Resnik’s recently released Legendary Locals of Burlington leaves you with a sense of just why that may be.

Forty years as a Burlington resident and 13 as a reference librarian at the Fletcher Free Library qualify Resnik for this job, for the story of Burlington is catalogued in its people. (Full disclosure: He is an occasional contributor to Seven Days.)

Arcadia Publishing approached Resnik to write the Burlington installment in its Legendary Locals series.

"You get these emails that say, 'Congratulations, you have been selected for the jerks of New England. Write the book and you'll receive your $25 check in the mail,'" Resnik quipped in a phone call.

But that email lingered in his inbox until he decided to take on the challenge of writing short-and-sweet stories about nearly 100 Queen City residents, past and present, who have some claim to fame. More than 200 photographs help tell their tales.

"It's amazing how I got a real sense of responsibility," Resnik said. "What can you do in 120 pages of pictures and captions? There's no way you can touch all the bases."

As a self-professed foodie and music nut, Resnik resisted the urge to weight the book too heavily toward his personal interests. Instead, he divvied up Burlington's "legends" into seven chapters and included an introduction detailing Burlington's origins as a township, granted on June 7, 1763. A century later, the lucrative trading post founded by Ethan and Ira Allen evolved into the city of Burlington. And the rest is history, literally. Legendary Locals brings us up to entries as recent as Dave and Jenny Rooke, who began home-brewing all-natural Rookie's Root Beer in 2005.

"With every entry I had to ask, 'Has this person really done something to make Burlington what it is today?'" said Resnik, explaining the challenge of winnowing down the multitude of eligible candidates.

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July 02, 2013

What's in a Name? The Origins of "Burlington"

Name-tagNames tell more about those who give them than about those who get them. That’s as true for places as for people.

So who or what is behind some of the names that Burlington-area residents encounter nearly every day? Why was a town, a street, an institution or a natural feature given a particular label? Seven Days decided to find out.

We begin a weekly, summer-long series on the name game with the most obvious one: Burlington.

As it happens, historians disagree on how Vermont’s largest city got its name. Evidence has been submitted for two competing theories, according to Sylvia Bugbee, a Vermont-history reference specialist at the University of Vermont’s Bailey/Howe Library, but, she says, “there’s no smoking gun.”

Bugbee personally ascribes to the view that Burlington’s name derives from the Burling family of New York City. She favors this choice mainly because the alternative — that the city is named for the British earldom of Burlington — “doesn’t make sense.”

Burlington, Vt., came into being in 1763 through a grant of land by Benning Wentworth, the governor of the royal province of New Hampshire. Those supporting the aristocratic origin note that the names Wentworth conferred on some other towns in Vermont were based on the nobility titles of families with whom he was politically allied — for example, the duke of Dorset and the marquis of Halifax.

Bugbee points out, however, that Richard Boyle, the specific earl of Burlington likely to have inspired the naming, died a decade before Wentworth made the land grant. “That’s too long a time for him to have been the source,” she argues.

New York’s 18th-century Burlings, on the other hand, had a documented connection to lands in several towns in what became Vermont. In addition, the family was “politically prominent and wealthy — a combination that always appealed to Wentworth,” observes Vermont Place Names, a 1977 book by the late Esther Munroe Smith.

Edward Burling (1713-1789), a Quaker real estate mogul who apparently also dabbled in the slave trade, was among those granted land by Wentworth in an area north of the Winooski River that became known as Colchester. “From this fact,” states the section on Burlington in the Vermont Historical Gazetteer (published in 1867), “it is supposed by many that the name was intended for Colchester … and that by some clerical error the name of Burlington was given to this town instead of that.”

Whoa! B-town’s name is the product of “a clerical error”? How deflating is that?

But how inflating for local self-esteem if the city were, in fact, named in honor of an earl? And not just any earl, but Third Earl of Burlington Richard Boyle (1694-1753), who worked in London as an architect and who is described in the Encyclopedia Britannica as “a patron of the arts, interested in the visual arts, music and literature.”

In other words, a proto-Friend of the Flynn!

Smith notes in Vermont Place Names the feel-good association with the Third Earl of Burlington. “Burlingtonians point with pride to the noble ancestry of their community’s name,” she wrote 36 years ago.

Such a link would also be consistent with Burlington’s royalist nickname: the Queen City — one it shares with several other towns in North America.

There’s just one explanation for that moniker — or at least there’s only one readily found via Google. It’s laid out in a blog called “Long Live the Queen City!” created in 2010 by someone identified only as Britta. She is described in an initial posting as “a recent graduate of the University of Vermont’s historic preservation master’s program and a Burlington resident for a number of years.”

Britta declares that Albert Catlin, the city’s first mayor, crowned Burlington with the Queen City title. The blogger quotes Catlin’s hubristic mayoral address of 1866, the year after Burlington was incorporated as a city:

“We represent a young city, which may in time be known and distinguished as the Queen City of New England. It has just been launched upon a career that I trust will prove prosperous and happy. Its location for natural beauty is not equaled in any part of our country — and for natural and acquired advantages in a business point of view, for manufactures and a general business-character, few places are its equal, and none surpass it.”

June 27, 2013

Photographer Peter Miller Talks About His New Book, A Lifetime of Vermont People


Waterbury-based photographer Peter Miller, who prefers to say his residence is in Colbyville, has published a lot of images we like to call "iconic." And that's because they are. In his previous books Vermont People and Vermont Farm Women, we can see older Vermonters, primarily living close to the land, and recognize that the photos document a passing way of life — and yet it's one that continues to resonate in the still largely agrarian Green Mountain State.

Maybe it's the "new" agricultural consciousness in Vermont that keeps the interest in Miller's images alive. Maybe it's just that he wanted to repackage previously published photographs with others never before seen. Either way, Miller's new A Lifetime of Vermont People — released on his own Silver Print Press — is a handsome, 9-by-12-inch coffee-table volume.

The photo on its cover is a head shot of Carroll Shatney, a Scottish Highlander breeder in Greensboro Bend. It was taken in 1993, when Shatney was 98. His grizzled, time-worn face is offset by a jaunty cap that says "Fun!" and appears to be a souvenir of the Champlain Valley Fair.

Shatney died in 2009. His son, Ray, and wife continue to sell Highland beef to individual customers, restaurants and stores, according to A Lifetime of Vermont People. And that's one of the lovely things about the book: that Miller provides updates about many of the people in his photographs. It illustrates not only how much research he has done, but also how much he cares about the folks he's captured on film.

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June 14, 2013

Dizzying Paintings by Three Generations of Wyeths Hit Shelburne Museum

Andrew Wyeth, Soaring, 1942-1950, tempera on Masonite, 48 x 87 inches. ©Andrew Wyeth

There's something unsettling about the paintings of N.C., Andrew and Jamie Wyeth. All three — father, son and grandson — use disorienting perspective and ominous imagery to "knock you off your pins," said Shelburne Museum director Thomas Denenberg, who co-curated the remarkable exhibit. "Wyeth Vertigo" opens next week.

"Strange is a term of endearment in the Wyeth world," Denenberg told a group of reporters at a preview of the show today. He stood before the enormous, foreboding Andrew Wyeth piece "Soaring," in which a trio of turkey buzzards seem to be descending toward a small white house that sits unnervingly exposed in an open field.

The tempera painting, part of the museum's permanent collection, was the impetus for the ambitious exhibit, which includes 39 works on loan from personal collections, the Wyeth family and museums such as the Whitney Museum of American Art, Portland Museum of Art, Farnsworth Art Museum and Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.

The show also includes preparatory drawings for "Soaring" displayed alongside the finished painting for the first time. Wyeth kept a captured turkey buzzard in his studio for reference, Denenberg explained, after enlisting a neighbor to lure the bird into a trap with a calf placenta.

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