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Downtown Rutland opens new chapter with Jungle Book unveiling

“The Jungle Book,” the first in a planned series of sculptures highlighting local and regional history, was unveiled today, beginning a new chapter for downtown Rutland and the city’s ongoing revitalization.

“The Jungle Book is one of the most important pieces of literature ever written in Vermont, so it’s fitting to honor the book and its place in Vermont history,” said Michael DeSanto, co-owner of Phoenix Books-Rutland, which funded the project.  “Through seven stories, the book teaches children and adults alike about friendship, loyalty, trust, family, and the importance of rules.

“These themes are often subtle, but they are the backbone of ‘The Jungle Book,’ and add depth and importance to what is far more than a series of simple children’s stories,” DeSanto said. “We are thrilled to honor this important Vermont book, and present this sculpture as a gift for generations to come to enjoy.”

“We’re pleased to donate this marvelous piece to the City of Rutland,” co-owner Tricia Huebner said.  “The sculpture represents not only an important piece of literary history, but a way to say thank you for the fabulous support we have received as a new business during this time of rebirth in downtown.”

The sculpture, a massive bookstand holding a 3-foot Jungle Book, characters rising off the pages, was carved by Vermont artist Sean Hunter Williams and funded by Phoenix Books in collaboration with the Carving Studio and Sculpture Center, MKF Properties, Vermont Quarries and Green Mountain Power. The book honors Rudyard Kipling’s landmark stories, written while living in southern Vermont in 1893 and 1894 and combined into a book in 1894.

The sculpture features Baloo the bear, Akela the wolf, Bagheera the panther and Mowgli the “man-cub,” key figures in the two most famous of the seven stories.

“Parts of ‘The Jungle Book’ are dark and scary, but ultimately it’s a parable about the need to be part of a community,” said Steve Costello, a GMP vice president.  “From the strength of the wolves as a pack to the effort by Bagheera to help Mowgli find ‘a people,’ ‘The Jungle Book’ highlights the importance of belonging and sharing, in a family or society.  That’s a wonderful message, and it resonates in the greater-Rutland area, where community and collaboration have become touchstones for success.” 

Mayor David Allaire, in formally accepting the gift to the city, thanked Phoenix Books-Rutland, Williams and project organizers for what he called a wonderful first step in what is expected to become a trail of world-class marble sculptures in downtown. “The planning, quality and detail that have gone into this bode well for the entire series,” Allaire said.  “On behalf of the city, and the thousands of people who will view and enjoy ‘The Jungle Book’ and future pieces, we are indebted to everyone who is making this happen.”

This sculpture is part of a planned series honoring local and Vermont history.  “Stone Legacy,” a 10-foot sculpture of a stone carver commissioned by MKF and GMP and honoring the region’s long connection to the industry, will be installed in the new Center Street Marketplace in spring.  A third piece, commissioned by the extended Costello family, will honor Revolutionary War hero and Rutland residents Ann and Solomon Story. It will be carved next summer by artist Evan Morse. 

Williams, a second-generation stone carver who created “The Jungle Book” over several months, said the piece brought out childhood memories of the book and various adaptations.  “As a carver, I am usually provided a very specific vision of what the buyer would like, but this project allowed a lot of discussion with Mike DeSanto and Tricia Huebner, and we developed a collective vision that tied into all of our views of the original story,” Williams said.  “I’m pleased with the piece, and excited to know it will be on public view for decades, contributing to Rutland’s revitalization. I am thrilled to play a part in this series, which I see as having transformative possibilities for downtown.” 

Mark Foley Jr., from MKF Properties, said he hoped the project would inspire others to get involved and underwrite future projects.  “From John Deere’s invention of the modern plow, to the Civil War heroics of the Ripley brothers, to Paul Harris’ founding of Rotary International, this area has produced some outstanding historical characters,” Foley said.  “Our goals are to honor their contributions, beautify our community, and create public art that builds local pride and visitor appreciation for the region.”

Carol Driscoll, executive director of the CSSC, said the sculpture series has already provided a boost to the non-profit center, which features classes, a gallery and open sculpture gardens.  “The interest in and attention to the sculpture series has been wonderful, bringing hundreds of new visitors to our gallery, shows and gardens,” Driscoll said.  “The project is already a success in my eyes, and I look forward to it having the same kind of impact here in downtown Rutland.”