Clinton sculpture remains unfinished at marble museum

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(Host) Former President Bill Clinton will be in Vermont over the weekend to deliver the commencement address at Middlebury College.

At the Vermont Marble Museum in Proctor, the owners are trying to give visitors a more permanent view of the man.

VPR’s Nina Keck has more.

(Keck) Thirty thousand people visit Vermont’s marble museum every year. Director Robert Pye says one of the most popular attractions is their hall of presidents.

(Pye) “I actually kind of like Nixon – oddly enough- in that everyone touches his nose. You can see it if you were here that his nose is brown and shiny. And that’s because everyone who comes here has to put their fingers on Nixon’s nose. I suppose it was a prominent nose.”

(Keck) White marble reliefs of 42 of the nation’s commanders in chief line the walls. You can check out the noses on all the former presidents except Bill Clinton’s.

(Pye) “When you bring a group through this area. There are many comments made about presidents and there are always comments made about Clinton’s absence, either positive or negative. You hear it a lot.”

(Keck) When it came time to add President Clinton’s likeness, museum administrators decided to change the display and create full three dimensional busts instead of flatter style reliefs. Pye says it took two years just to find a suitable piece of marble for the project. Then they had to find a sculptor.

Vince Forte, a Korean War Veteran and artist from New York, offered to do the job at half price – saying he wanted the presidential sculpture to be his legacy.

(Pye) “Vince spent quite a lot of time researching it. He was extremely concerned about catching the spirit of the man in the art. And it comes through when you see the piece.”

(Keck) Marcia Hemm, who owns the marble museum, says Forte had completed about 75% of the sculpture when he died suddenly.

(Hemm) “What do you do? Do you have somebody else finish it? Do you leave it as it is as a tribute to the man? We’d love to have the bust of President Clinton up there. We want to do it and we need to do it. And we want to honor him. But to come up with the money to do it a second time has been one of the stall points that we’ve had.”

(Keck) Hemm says completing the existing sculpture will cost about $6,000. Creating an entirely new one would cost more than twice that. Since the former president will be in Middlebury this weekend, Hemm says she’s toyed with the idea of driving up and asking for a contribution.

(Hemm) “I’ve actually already sent an email with some pictures of the state of completion and our story to President Clinton’s office and to Hillary Clinton’s office. And I’m hoping they’re going to get some response when he gets here. Maybe he even wants to come down here and see it.”

(Keck) If he did, Marcia Hemm and Robert Pye say they think he’d be impressed.

For VPR News I’m Nina Keck in Proctor.

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