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Freezing with the Friesians: Great art hidden from all eyes

Musicians from Donatello’s Cantoria Frieze. Photo by Rob Spring.

On the second floor of the Kellogg-Hubbard Library in Montpelier, reproductions of bas-relief sculptures called friezes direct the view up and around the reading room. Hundreds of figures from ancient Greece and Renaissance Italy surround the room. A gala celebration on September 29 will feature a lecture and tour of the Frisians with historian Michael Sherman, and activities for all ages – including gelato! The public is invited to ‘Freeze with the Frieses’ from 6pm to learn about the historical art and how the reproductions were made, then practice making a plaster cast with Ryan Mays, composing your own classic laurel wreath and ending with a Scavenger hunt and photo station. It’s free and open to everyone. The room with the friezes is part of the library, but years ago it housed the wooden art gallery and a concert and lecture hall. Rehearsals for the Onion River Chorus took place directly beneath these plaques, and singers were able to view the carvings of cheerful singers and instrumentalists for inspiration as they prepared music with Larry Gordon on Monday night. Many of the lucky musicians in this frieze carry instruments, as this sculpture by Luca della Robbia reflects parts of Psalm 150 and exhorts all to praise with cymbals, stringed instruments, lute, harp and dance. Originally created for a choir loft in Florence Cathedral, five centuries later the musicians’ record provided a delightful accompaniment for Vermont musicians. The Onion River Arts Council also used the hall for concerts. On the other side of the room is a frieze by Donatello full of delightful dancing angels and on the sides is the famous Parthenon frieze telling stories of a procession with water carriers, drovers and a horse.

Michael Sherman has traced what we know about the acquisition of these tablets and how they came to Montpelier. Originally a gift from Samuel M. Jones of Morristown, New Jersey, in honor of a student of the artist TW Wood in 1896, these are plaster cast reproductions by a Boston firm still in business, PP Caproni and Brother. “They’re landmarks in their own right,” says Sherman, “and cataloged for about $12 a record at the time. Artists made forms of classical sculpture that were often sold to art schools, museums, and theaters.” When the Wood Gallery moved to College Hall on the Vermont College campus in 1985, the Kellogg-Hubbard Library, which owns Frieze, agreed take. New work was done to clean the sculptures, improve the lighting and create a brochure designed by Linda Mirabile with text by Sherman. The September 29 events also thank Rich Horchler for his work on the Give the Library a Lift campaign, as well as library donors. Visit kellogghubbard.org or #KHLFreezewiththeFriezes for more information

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