There was sunlight after a storm, rousing band music in the background, cupcakes, and a large warm and welcoming crowd when the Elizabeth Taber statue was officially “unveiled” and given to the Town of Marion. Sitting in casual posture yet with an elegance and grace one can only imagine Taber possessed in life, the statue is art on a grand, lifelike scale. The Bicentennial Park location at the corner of Spring and Pleasant streets means that, at last, Taber is back in the center of community life.
For more than two years, a dedicated group of benefactors along with a supportive and hardworking committee of nearly 30 people combined efforts to make the creation and placement of the Taber statue a reality.
On October 17 it all came together beautifully, not unlike the many buildings given to the community by Taber, whom many called the town’s “Fairy Godmother.” Waiting in the wings seated on a bench in the recently created garden in the park was the statue. Before short speeches were uttered, a small tent shielding the statue from earlier rains was carried away, fully exposing the bronze figure to her adoring public.
Taking to the patriotically decorated podium first was Celebrate Elizabeth Taber Statue Committee Chairperson Judith Rosbe, who recalled a conversation that fellow committee member Tinker Saltonstall had had with former selectman Al Winters, in which Winters lamented the lack of recognition for all that Taber had done for the community.
Sometime thereafter the committee was formed and began the process of finding the right sculptor for their project. Rosbe said they had wanted to secure a local artisan. “We didn’t want to fly someone in from California,” she said. The committee eventually received three responses to its invitation for concepts and costs. When the voting was done, Erik Durant of New Bedford was unanimously selected.
The Sippican Historical Society started off the fundraising by pledging $50,000 to what would ultimately grow to more than $175,000, Rosbe said. The Fundraising Committee was chaired by Betsy Fallon along with committee members Priscilla Ditchfield, Susan Grosart, Louise Nadler, Shelly Richins, Carolyn Rubenstein, Maryellen Shachoy, and Lisa Whitney.
Other committees Rosbe said were critical to the success of the project were the Site Committee chaired by Bob Raymond with members Nancy Braitmayer, Debbie Bush, Priscilla Ditchfield, Norm Hills, and Nan Johnson. And last but not least was the Publicity and Outreach Committee chaired by Tinker Saltonstall with members Dana Anderson, Debbie Bush, Laurie Knight, Robin Shields, Amanda Stone, and Margot Stone.
Of Durant’s work, Rosbe said, “I love the intimacy of her sitting on a bench.” She said the committee had a lot of ideas, but in the end, it was Durant’s artistic vision that they agreed was the best. Rosbe explained that the statue’s posture is what is called contrapposto, an Italian term which means the arms and shoulders while pointed in a specific direction are somewhat turned but balanced when compared to the torso and legs. Taber’s statue shows her gazing slightly northwest towards the library bearing her name.
Board of Selectmen Chairperson Randy Parker spoke next, giving a verbal sketch of all that Taber had done for the community and her history that is now published in the New Bedford Whaling Museum’s Lighting the Way program.
Taber lived in New Bedford after marrying Stephen. She would suffer greatly with the loss of all three of her children and later her husband. As a widow, she retired into her County Street home only to emerge nearly a decade later and return to Marion where she had been born in 1791 at the confluence of Marin and South streets.
Once back in Marion, she made it her business to bring “snap back” to the town she loved so dearly. The “snap” would be, as she is quoted as saying, “for the improvement and embellishment of my native place, lovely Marion by the sea.” To that end, there are six buildings in all for which her legendary wealth was given for the betterment of the townspeople. Those buildings remain standing today – the library which also houses the Natural History Museum, the Music Hall, the stone chapel across the road from the First Congregational Church, the founding of Tabor Academy, and the building of a home for its headmaster.
At the end of Parker’s comments, the Board of Selectmen moved to accept the statue as a gift to the town when it was time to make the official transfer of ownership.
Durant was asked to say a few words about the masterpiece he crafted. He thanked the committee for their trust first and foremost. While there had been a bit of controversy about the pipe the statue is holding and the positioning of her legs in the seated position, for Durant it was all about giving the final piece humanity. “It’s designed to be interactive,” he joked, saying it was ripe for taking selfies. “I designed it so you’d move around it and so that the back would be just as interesting as the front.
“It’s not a monument to what she has done, but it’s bringing her to us … just sitting here … a real person.”
Rosbe said there was a fund for the continued maintenance of the site and to keep the statue clean and “not turning green.”
The event was made more festive with music from the Sanborn’s Academy Brass Quartet headed by former Tabor Academy music chairman Phil Sanborn, “Celebrate Elizabeth Taber” stickers, and mini-cupcakes.
By Marilou Newell
Photo by Ryan Feeney