June 17, 2012

The Sculpture of Hope Cemetery

Hope Cemetery, established in 1895, is not an ordinary place of burial: located in the small city of Barre, Vermont, the "Granite Center of the World",  it's a sculpture garden with some unique and personal works. In the late 19th century Barre attracted many Italian and other European stone workers to mine and sculpt the grey granite that lay in vast deposits in the town.  (I wrote a post on one of the disused granite quarries which you can read here.) These men took, and still take, great pride in their work, some even carving their own memorials. There are many standard images here, but there are also surprisingly unusual ones: who could imagine coming across a copy in granite of Michelangelo's Pieta?

There are many angels, but this one especially touched me with its simplicity of form, enclosed in a circle.

Hope is most famous for its quirky personal monuments, tributes to the deceased's special interests, such as a soccer ball...

or a stock car, complete with the driver's number...

or a biplane...

or a cello. I find the personal tributes so affecting, with touches of whimsy.

There were some vivid relief carvings of landscapes with figures, such as this one with a motorcyclist alongside his house.

The symbolism and beauty of flowers makes them a perfect addition to a funerary monument, and here, hand carved calla lilies express sympathy for the death of a child. 

This sculpture, of hands holding a dramatic bouquet, is a stunningly inventive and powerful piece of work. I wish that I knew more about the sculptors, whose work is usually anonymous.

That is not the case with this beautiful portrait. In her brief history of Hope and another Barre cemetery, Elmwood, Sally Cary explains that this memorial was carved by the deceased, Elia Corti's, brother and brother in law. The story of his death at 34 in 1903 is a fascinating one: he was shot at a meeting at the Socialist building in town. It "was the outcome of a general discussion between the socialists and anarchists present." Imagine such passions of these political groups, all but extinct now in the US. The Socialist Labor Party Hall, built by the Italian community, still exists in Barre, but is no longer a meeting place for union members and laborers. Many granite workers also died young of work related diseases such as silicosis and tuberculosis.

Lastly, a more contemporary figure study: a man and his wife gently embrace, their ordinary coats ward off stormy weather. It is such a simple gesture of love, the everyday kind, and a modest yet lasting tribute to their affection. 


  1. Those monuments are all wonderful. Amazingly personal and yet all so dramatically different. My sister-in-law just put up a monument for her husband who died a few years ago. It is just a simple one with name and dates, but she had his signature carved for the name rather than using a typeface. Very personal in yet another way.

  2. I'm really glad you enjoyed these, R Henry and Linda. Surprisingly, it was my first visit to Hope and I really enjoyed it.

  3. Wow, these are really amazing. I'm especially moved by the second and last monuments. The second has such an expression of power, love and surrender.. the last, so tender. Thanks for these.

  4. Very beautiful memorial stones; thanks for sharing these pictures of Hope, Altoon.

  5. I, too, am very moved by the memorial sculture in Hope cemetery. And the story of the immigrant workers of Barre is a fascinating piece of Vermont history. We have often driven guests slowly through Hope, our unique "outdoor" museum. It never fails to surprise and move them.

  6. Thanks everyone for the comments. I was happy to share the images and am pleased so many of you liked seeing them.

  7. Thank you for such a fascinating post! I lived in Montpelier and went to Barre for its summer festival but never saw this wonderful cemetery.

  8. Thank you for sharing such a unique place with us, Altoon. Those sculptures are beautiful and interesting pieces of American history.