The Slate Quarry Park Narrative: Evolution of a Park Design

The Slate Quarry Park Narrative: Evolution of a Park Design

 

Summer 2015

 

At a temporary site on Main Street, Sculptor Kerry O. Furlani of Poultney, Vermont was carving a slate stone monument that would be installed on the town hall green opposite a second stone to be carved the following year. This stone would honor those who worked in and those who owned the quarries and mills that have contributed significantly to life in the Slate Valley since the mid-1800s.

During that summer and fall numerous residents and visitors stopped by to watch her work and chat with her about stone carving and their connection to the slate quarries. Many of them remarked that the temporary location, a sixth of an acre from which an unlovely house had been recently removed, seemed a perfect place to install the stone.

At the time, Kerry remarked to Paul Hancock, a collaborator from the Poultney Historical Society to which a grant had been awarded funding the project, that she had grown fond of the site as it afforded an unobstructed view of the historic Methodist Church a few hundred feet away and of charming brick structures housing a hardware store, book store and auto parts store. The auto parts store was in a building that was built in the 1930s as a Chevrolet dealership.

It seemed the perfect site for the stone except the grant from the Vermont Arts Council had specifically called for the stone to be part of a pair placed on either side of the main intersection of Route 140 and Route 30 about 150 feet away.  It was an “animating infrastructure grant” that would bring public art to Vermont’s downtowns. That the land was owned by the auto parts store owner and the price was quite steep were additional obstacles.

Kerry Furlani carving the Town Green monolith

Kerry is a small-framed but powerful woman who can wield a chisel and mallet for four or five hours at a stretch. She has many years of training and work as a stone carver and had recently spent time in Wales with a master stone carver to further develop her skill with slate. This was the first opportunity to exhibit her work in a public space during which she could interact with passersby.  She especially liked the interaction with children, “…seeing this tiny woman work on a massive stone”.

 

To Ms Furlani each letter carved is a miniature sculpture requiring a “V” cut to open up the stone [“…usually somewhere in the middle (of a letter and a word) to avoid the tension at the start”] and a terminal cut in the shape of a small diamond that ends a letter.  To appreciate the effort and delicacy of stone lettering one has to look closely. The precision and beauty seen up-close produces a shock when it’s realized it is completely hand carved.

Furlani carving on the second monolith

 Working with slate can also be frustrating for an artist as iron and other mineral deposits create fissures that can produce unpredictable cracks when struck with a chisel. One summer afternoon as Paul Hancock pulled up at the carving site, Kerry and her partner Greg were clearly upset at something. Kerry was exclaiming in anguish that the bas relief carving of the crossed mallet and chisel had snapped off where the handle of the mallet crossed the chisel.  In a matter of minutes the stone carver considered her options and simply reversed the position of the handles – the chisel handle would now cross over the handle of the mallet; a switch that would require carving a deeper recess for the entire design.

       

 

As fall 2015 approached the Silent Friend Slate Project (the name given by Kerry, inspired by a 19th c. Poultney slate company) faced considerable difficulty finding a site on the town green that pleased all the partners. Kerry mused that maybe it could stay right where it was and become part of a park owned by the town.

It would take another eight months for the two slate monuments to be completed and installed on opposite sides of the intersection. Well before that time in January of 2016 the first members of what would come to be called The Slate Quarry Park Group began to meet.

 

Spring 2016

 

The Slate Quarry Park – First Design

 

 A chance meeting between Larry Jensen and Ms Furlani at the Mad Hatter coffee house below Kerry’s studio was the catalyst for the park idea to be reanimated. The small lot owned by the owner of the adjacent auto parts store was the dream space from the beginning.  The odds of pulling it off seemed insurmountable.

Several years prior to this meeting, a movement known as Poultney 2020 had been formed to establish, among other things, a town park on that very site. It ultimately foundered on the inability to come to agreement on the price. The lot was on the market for $70,000, a price well above market but inclusive of the cost the owner incurred in purchasing the land and removing the building.  It was said at the time that the park idea was dead – a good idea with no chance of being realized.

 

The serendipitous meeting between Kerry and Larry was instrumental in bringing the park plan back to life. Larry Jensen is a tall, strapping fellow who has spent most summers on Lake St. Catherine since he was a child. An entrepreneur, non-profit corporate organizer, fundraiser and building contractor, Jensen had complete confidence that the lot could be purchased and monies raised to build the park. By the spring of 2016, after a meeting of the newly-incorporated Slate Quarry Park Group, using a sketch drafted at a meeting, Larry purchased a 3-D rendering of the drawing from a Chinese graphics website for $50. These images (one shown) were largely responsible for the energy and enthusiasm generated within the SQPG. Although we would find many issues with this initial design and make substantive changes to it, it was inspiring. We thought we might actually be able to do this.

This sketch was saved to my folder on March 10, 2016.

                                         Larry Jensen’s Drawing from a March 2016 meeting of the SQPG

  Unfortunately, there is no mention in the minutes of who drew the first design (or any mention of design sketches at all). The following sketch by Kerry may have been drawn prior to Larry Jensen’s sketch. The first sketch I saw was done by Larry at Tap’s Tavern.  The sketches look very similar and I recall both of them working simultaneously. Maybe it was a tie.

Kerry Furlani’s Drawing in early 2016

 At one of those meetings, Larry Jensen came in wearing a long fur coat – verboten in the town of the Environmental Liberal Arts college. Kerry couldn’t resist trying it on.

The computer drawing below (first of many) was clearly based on Larry’s sketch, albeit both sketches were virtual carbon copies except for the center fountain/sculpture in Larry’s design with a circular path around it.

Rendering of Jensen’s Drawing by a Chinese Graphics Design Company

A significant factor in bringing the park plan into existence was Kerry’s contacts within the local slate industry. She had worked with the owners of the quarries for a number of years and her work was on display at the Slate Valley Museum in Granville, NY. Three of the owners, Richard Rupe, Steve Taran and Shawn Camara, were enthusiastic about this small park with a slate theme. Slate would be used in the entrance, on the paths and in the design of the amphitheatre.  The slate quarry owners pledged $10,000 toward the purchase of the lot and a gofundme website was quickly uploaded. Within a few months $23,000 had been raised toward the purchase price of $40,000. A pledge of $5,000 made by the Poultney Downtown Revitalization Committee and $4,000 by the Poultney Development Corp. were conditioned upon the SQPG raising $30,000.

The original design placed the amphitheatre at the back of the park away from the street, included a sunken performance space and called for slate cladding of the entire seating area and the stairs leading down from the main level of the park. A fountain was placed in the center of the design with a slate walkway circling it. Slate blocks lined the park on both the west and east sides.

Some concerns were raised about the amount of stone fill required to support the slate amphitheater and performance circle and that hand rails would be required for the stairs. Eventually concerns would be raised about the linearity of the stone slab barriers on the sides of the park. All this brought up the question of handicap accessibility. Eventually these issues would be addressed with a new design.

The members of the SQPG spent the summer and fall getting the word out, staffing tables at the Earth Fair, the July 4th parade, the August East Poultney Day event, the Chili Cook-off and the Poultney Town wide Yard Sale in October.

Photo of Craft Fair Tabling           Photo of CommUnity Project

The CommUnity Project, organized by board member Bianca Zanella, Sustainability Coordinator of the college, and students at Green Mountain College, drew significant numbers of people to the park during the town wide yard sale giving us an opportunity to promote the project. We raised a little money and a lot of awareness.

 

 

Fall 2016

 

The Slate Quarry Park – Second Design

 

By the fall of 2016 the SQPG had built a community profile and an online presence.  The idea of this small space becoming a park was becoming accepted by a growing number of people in the town including members of the Select Board who voiced interest in eventually assuming ownership of the park and the Poultney Downtown Revitalization Committee which pledged money towards the cost of planning and designing the park.

The committee decided to forego a grant opportunity from the Land and Water Conservation Fund because we had yet to determine costs of construction and out of concern that the SQPG might sacrifice control of the design and operation of the park by adhering to the conditions of public financing.

 

First Flyer 2016

By August, concerns about the first design resulted in the group bringing in Manchester Center architect Alan Benoit who facilitated several sessions with members of the SQPG to draw out what we wanted in a park.

Again, Larry Jensen drew a sketch that captured the attention of the board. It changed the character of the park from a straightforward and rather bland design to one with more aesthetic appeal. The park became an art project intended to lure visitors into a journey through a small green space.

Jensen’s 2nd sketch (overhead looking East)

 

The new park design would have an organic feel to it with winding pathways; low, grassy mounds, a tiered amphitheatre (placed in the middle and slightly to the west side of the lot) that rose up gradually as you entered and declined gradually to the rear where slate monoliths would evoke the geological origins of the stone prior to being quarried. In front of this amphitheatre was a space for performances (music, poetry reading, dance etc.) At the entrance, tools and apparatus of the slate industry would be incorporated into a permanent archway that led to a large slate-covered plaza where event tents could be placed. Slate benches would be placed in four or five separate locations around the park. All this in only 6,900 square feet. Within this design, room was set aside for a replica quarry pile and perhaps a carved stone chess and checkers table.

                                                                                                Alan Benoit (Sustainable Design) rendering in early 2017 (overhead looking West)

 

Alan Benoit’s firm Sustainable Design followed Jensen’s design rather closely with, it appears, as many as seven slate monoliths in the rear of the park with the amphitheatre space in the middle, closer to the entrance of the park. This was a design that emphasized performance while affording a quieter space in the rear for contemplation of the history of the slate quarries.

Subsequent concerns raised about the height of a retaining wall that would be built to the rear and sides of the amphitheatre led to a request to reduce the number of seating levels from three to two and eliminate the tiered lawn area on the west side. Alan Benoit produced the modified design below in 3D.

Alan Benoit Rendering (overhead looking East)

Spring 2017

In a final iteration, it was decided that a more organic feel to the park was preferred and that the sense of enclosure should be more pronounced. Lastly, it was suggested that the amphitheatre be moved to the back of the park where it had been placed in the original Jensen design. Alan and Andrew came through with a wonderful design that had us salivating at its stunning beauty.

Benoit Design 3 – Entrance

Benoit Design 3 – Overhead

The only changes made to this design were to add a second entry point from the schoolhouse apartment property at the upper left side of the drawing and to reduce the seating levels in the amphi-theatre from three to two.  Subsequently, we dropped the west side entrance due to the understandable concerns voiced by the property owner.

We couldn’t wait to build this park.

We then went looking for a landscape architect to draw up the construction plans. Enter Brian Post of Standing Stone Landscape Architecture of Springfield, Vermont.

Post Design 1 – overhead looking East

 

Brian Post’s first design proposal in the fall of 2018 was undertaken after considerable discussion about the cost of the proposed project and significant revisions of the previous designs.

We narrowed the hardscape paths, reduced the length and size of the walls, eliminated one enclosure and decreased the amount of seating in the park. We also moved the monoliths from the center enclosure to the rear of the park.  The park still had the meandering, intimate feel of Alan Benoit’s design. The amphitheatre now had three monoliths recessed into the seating and only two tiers of seating. The board made these decisions but there was still concern. It seemed awkward to have visitors/spectators sitting next to the monoliths. More changes were to come (notice the westside entrance which we would eliminate in the final design).

 

From the summer of 2018 to the spring of 2019 the board engaged in its biggest fundraising drive with a direct mail campaign, a slate bench auction and multiple grant applications. Then in January of 2019 we learned of the successful grant submission to the Land and Water Conservation Fund that brought us $104,000 in matching funds. By that time we had further changed the design to move the monoliths to the rear of the amphitheatre in their own space with an opening to this alcove. With the exception of a few more changes, not shown below, this will be the final design of the park. The town has gone out for bids and we’re finally hoping to build the park this fall. It has been a long journey.

Post Design 2 – overhead looking West

Brian Post’s (Standing Stone Landscape Architecture) latest design minus the westside entrance and with the monolith alcove in the rear of the amphitheatre.

This is July 2020 and we are hoping to break ground in September/October. We’re almost there!