This Place in History: Embodiment of Agriculture

Vermont History

MONTPELIER, Vt.

At ‘This Place in History’ we’re in Montpelier, Vt. with Executive Director of the Vermont Historical Society Steve Perkins.

“We’re going to be talking about statues on top of the State House. There’s one behind us right now, but I think many Vermonters know that just went up last year. It’s brand, spanking new. But not only is that the second statue, it is, in fact, the third,” began Perkins.

“Statue number one, we’re going to call it the Embodiment of Agriculture for a title, went up in 1859. A few years before that, the State House burned. When they built this State House behind us, they put that nice big dome on top and they felt they needed something on that dome, some sort of statuary.”

“Vermont in the 1850s still was very much an agricultural state, a lot of sheep, a lot of wool production at the time. Agriculture was really the driving force in Vermont at the time. Agriculture was what defined us.”

“They found this guy named Larkin Goldsmith Mead, a very young man, a young artist who had just opened a studio in Brattleboro. He decided to do a stunt to get people to see him as this artist so he could start getting commissions. He built a snow and ice sculpture in Brattleboro on New Year’s eve and it was called the Recording Angel. It was a very, very cold winter, so the statue lasted for a few weeks. People came from all over New England to see this statue he built in the middle of the night with his buddies. And it made his name. So, these folks up here, who were working on the State House hired him. He ultimately designed it, but as the true 19th-Century style, he hired someone else to execute it,” explained Perkins.

“It was made out of pine. Large chunks of it were glued together, carved up and then it was covered with a coat of probably gesso, and then a number of layers of white paint.”

“He created this great statue of what we know think of as the Roman goddess Ceres, holding a sheaf of wheat and a scroll, standing atop the State House. She stayed there for 80 years until it started to rot in the 1930s.”

“The statue really disintegrated on its way down. We’ve got some good photographs of it coming down. There are few remnants left. We have a piece of the hand and that’s going to be on display at the Vermont History Museum in a brand new exhibit on the statues of the State House,” said Perkins.

“Behind us, on the porch of the State House, is a statue of Ethan Allen. Mead was commissioned to do Abraham Lincoln’s tomb, too. One of the studies of his head and bust for that tomb is also on display in the State House. He decorated a lot of architecture. So, you can go to big buildings in New York and Washington, D.C. and you look at those friezes and entablature on the top of buildings. A lot of that is his work as well,” said Perkins.

“So, statue number one was falling apart and Ceres II was created by Dwight Dwinell, who was the Sergeant at Arms of the State House, but you know what, that’s another story and I think we need to get into that next week,” concluded Perkins.

At ‘This Place in History’!

For more from our ‘This Place in History’ series, click here.

To view a map of Vermont’s roadside historic markers, click here.

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