With an open hand beckoning the viewer on one side and a remarkable likeness of the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous on the other, Rutland’s newest sculpture is designed to celebrate one of the world’s most influential people while inspiring thought and contemplation.
The sculpture, honoring William G. Wilson, known as “Bill W.,” was unveiled Nov. 26 in the Center Street Marketplace and highlights his life-changing impact on millions of people around the globe. Wilson was born in Dorset and moved to Rutland as a young child.
As an adult, Wilson battled alcoholism for years and was hospitalized four times before he gained sobriety in 1934. He co-founded AA with Dr. Robert Smith, a St. Johnsbury native, in 1935. Wilson wrote many of the core tenets of AA and the 12 Steps.
The sculpture, carved in Danby white marble donated by Vermont Quarries, includes a large base designed as a seating element. “The piece is intended to connect the viewer in an intimate way, while celebrating the incredible life of Bill W.,” organizers said. “He is undoubtedly one of Vermont’s most important historical figures, and continues to inspire people fighting to obtain and maintain their sobriety.”
The sculpture, designed and created by Alessandro Lombardo, Kellie Pereira, and Steve Shaheen, is the sixth completed piece on the Rutland Sculpture Trail, honoring regional history and planned through collaboration with The Carving Studio and Sculpture Center, Vermont Quarries, MKF Properties, and Green Mountain Power. The sculpture was funded anonymously by three local families and donated to the city of Rutland.
“It was a privilege for us to design and sculpt a commemoration for someone whose legacy is enormous,” Shaheen said. Added Lombardo: “We thought of the hand as symbolic both of asking for help and that of giving help. It represents the heroic actions of a man who found the strength to help himself and others, who would no longer be left to face the challenge of alcoholism alone.”
“The seating element is an important component, in that it offers a communal gathering point on the side of the open hand. We designed this so that the sculpture could be ‘inhabitable’ and reflect how AA creates community,” Pereira said.
The unveiling marked the 134th anniversary of Wilson’s birth on Nov. 26, 1895, behind the bar of a hotel, in the midst of a snowstorm. His family moved to Rutland several years later, where he stayed until his parents divorced and he returned to Dorset to live with his grandparents at age 11.
Wilson dedicated the last 35 of years of his life to sobriety and helping others. He led AA until 1955, when a board of trustees began to manage it, which by then was helping people gain and maintain sobriety worldwide. Wilson died in 1971, was buried in East Dorset, and was named by Time magazine as one of the 20th Century’s 100 most influential people in the world.
“Wilson’s contributions to mankind demonstrate that it’s impossible to underestimate what any one person can do for their friends, family, community, and beyond,” project organizers said. “His strength, wisdom, and compassion have affected untold millions of people across the planet – and by his own account, it all started with his upbringing in Rutland.”
The Rutland Sculpture Trail is a collaboration of the Carving Studio, Green Mountain Power, MKF Properties, and Vermont Quarries. Other sculptures in the series include:
“Stone Legacy,” a tribute to the region’s stone industry funded by GMP and MKF, which also stands in the Center Street Marketplace.
A tribute to Rudyard Kipling’s “Jungle Book,” which stands outside Phoenix Books, which underwrote it.
A piece honoring Olympic skier and environmentalist Andrea Mead Lawrence, funded by John and Sue Casella.
A sculpture of Revolutionary War hero Ann Story and her son Solomon, funded by the extended Costello family, which stands at the corner of West and Cottage streets.
A piece honoring African Americans enlisted or drafted in Rutland to fight in the 54th Regiment in the Civil War, funded by Rutland Regional Medical Center, installed on Center Street.
A tribute to Martin Henry Freeman, a Rutland native who was the first African American college president in the country, is expected to be completed this winter. It is funded by Donald Billings and Sara Pratt, Fred and Jennifer Bagley, and the Wakefield Family.
Sculptures honoring Julia Dorr, a Rutland resident who was a leading author and founder of the Rutland Free Library, and Paul Harris, who grew up in Wallingford and founded RotaryInternational, were commissioned this fall and will be carved and installed in 2020. The Dorr piece is funded by Joan Gamble, Mary Moran and Mary Powell. The Harris piece is funded by The Rutland City, Rutland South, Killington and Dalton, Mass., rotary clubs, Rutland Blooms, Mary Moran, and an anonymous local family.
Organizers continue to work on fundraising for other potential pieces for 2020 and beyond.