The Mason Library. Photo courtesy of Library Land Project.
Greater Barrington— Representatives from The Mason Library presented their preliminary plans for a WEB Du Bois sculpture at the Select Board meeting on Monday 8 August.
Du Bois, a civil rights and social justice leader, was born in Great Barrington on February 23, 1868.
At the meeting, board chairman Stephen Bannon said the board would await formal final recommendations from the library and the historical commission before any votes to approve the sculpture and that the presentation was a “first look ” of the project.
Before the discussion began, Ed Abrahams, a member of the Select Board, recused himself because he said he was a scorer at library property.
Several years ago, library trustees approved Du Bois’s sculpture in front of the library. However, resident Freke Vuijst, who started the project, died shortly after receiving project approval. The project was revived at the end of last year by the administrators of the library.
The library features a life-size statue of Du Bois “and on top of a favorite book, gazing out over the new plaza from a marble bench. The statue would be accessible, inviting us to join Du Bois – to sit, visit, read and learn.
According to library documentation, she will select a sculptor through an open competition, with library administrator and gallery owner Lauren Clark leading the search committee, and “we are already reaching out to black sculptors who are interested in commissioning”.
The sculpture will be outside the library building in a plaza, which is expected to be redeveloped for the project.
The total estimated cost for the commissioning and pouring of the monument is estimated at $200,000, while the repairs and redevelopment of the plaza will cost $125,000. The project would be funded by donations and fiscally sponsored by the Nonprofit Center of the Berkshires.
Bobby Houston, who was one of the project representatives, said the redevelopment of the sculpture and plaza is a “confluence of two projects that somehow go together perfectly.”
“I was originally thinking about creating places along Main Street, which has long served as a freeway and lacked green spaces and gathering places for citizens,” Houston said. “The Mason Library already presents itself as a prominent place, and people congregate there often and in large numbers on weekends.”
Houston said “we’ll bring this to the city as a gift” and the city will maintain the entire project once it’s complete.
While Select Board member Leigh Davis said she supported the project, she said she had concerns about the removal of grass in the planned plaza and location of the sculpture for the project .
“It’s going to be a lot of concrete,” Davis said. “If we remove the grass and we have this space, I’m just afraid we’ll overbuild it. My first reaction is, are we making it too big and too big for this space?”
“That’s a very valid question,” Houston said. “It is one that the Historical Commission also brought to us. We hadn’t really settled on a paving or landscaping plan for the flat area. But we want the apron to be level so people can set up tables, rest or talk without being on the side of a hill.
Houston said a lawn would be part of the project because “it involves less drainage engineering, less stormwater management, and it’s permeable.”
Board chairman Bannon told representatives that for the project to be approved, the board needed to see the final plans.
“We’re putting our best foot forward,” Houston said. “What we have submitted to you is our current best thinking.”
Project representative Julie Michaels added that the project has already received significant donations.
“I think once we’re halfway there with our money, we can also pay our architect and get more and better designs for you,” Michaels told the Select Board. “I also want to say that we are definitely going to be as open as possible with this sculptor selection process. One of our ideas is that often when you do something like that, if you have two or three finalists, you hire the sculptors to do what’s called a mock-up which is a small model of the sculpture. I think when we get to that stage, we’ll show them to the community and get some feedback. We are also very keen to have the participation of an African American historian who can certainly work with us and our team and the sculptor we ultimately choose. My goal is to be open and inclusive.