Marion residents are excited about the arrival of the life-sized bronze statute of its beloved beneficiary Elizabeth Taber next year, and artist Erik Durant who was commissioned to create the sculpture is just as excited to share in the creative process as he transforms an idea into the physical form of the woman who literally built the Marion we know and love today.
Durant, originally from Connecticut, joined the Navy right after high school. He attended art school soon after and received his degree at UMass Dartmouth, a school he chose for its connection to a foundry for sculpture making.
He’s well known in these parts as a New Bedford resident and artist of two of the city’s prominent pubic works of art, the Fisherman’s Monument and the giant squid located outside the New Bedford Whaling Museum.
“Around New Bedford I’m kind of known as the squid guy,” said Durant, who added that he was grateful to receive the commission for the Taber statue from the committee with Sippican Historical Society ties dedicated to honoring Taber with a statue planned for Bicentennial Park.
But how does one take “something that’s going on up here,” he said pointing to his head, “and put it out there in the field across the street in the form of an Elizabeth Taber statue?”
It’s a back and forth process of positives and negatives, he said, explaining that the statue must start as a small, less detailed model and then be transferred into a larger size that produces a negative much like that of a photograph, but in 3-dimensiopnal form. What follows is another “positive” form that comes from that negative form – what Durant called a “linear motion”.
“I work with people, that’s what I do,” he said. “That’s how you start things.” Which means before there was Elizabeth Taber sitting on the bench, it was someone else sitting there – a live model. And, yes, a live model in the nude. Because in order for Durant to make an accurate and detailed representation of a clothed Taber, well, he’s got to see her unclothed first.
“In order to make a figure that looks right wearing clothing, [I] have to sculpt them in the nude, first.”
Durant said he can tell by looking at a statue or sculpture if the artist went ahead and sculpted the clothing first.
“I can spot that from a distance,” he said. There is a certain tension in the way fabric covers the body – a fold in the fabric that happens that bunches in some places and stretches in others and you’ll see that in Durant’s Taber as she sits clutching her pipe and book looking off towards the Town House.
“You can see her knees really clearly, and then the fabric folds correspond to what would be under there at that point,” Durant said. And these details are critical for what Durant describes as the statue appearing “fully activated in the round” – or, simply stated, visually interesting from every angle.
Durant said he made sketches of versions of the Taber statue for the committee to approve, looking at Taber in both her youth and in the later stages of life.
“It was decided that we would work on the older Elizabeth Taber when she returned to Marion … so we’re looking at somebody who’s probably in her 70s or 80s,” Durant said.
The focus was on her gestures as an older female, sitting on a bench, “fairly stiff” with not having “a whole lot of dramatic motion,” as Durant put it. And Taber’s gesture of feet forward, body turned, and head turned – all in three different directions – are significant, Durant said, otherwise Taber’s seated form would look unnatural, straight forward, and lined up.
Durant tilted his head to the side and shifted his weight to one hip and said, “The rest of us stand around like we’re waiting for a bus all the time – our bodies sort of move and switch back and forth and everything,” he said. “She will be looking at the town hall with her eyes and sort of leaning and looking over at the library, [which] gives us movement.” And when you look at her, he said, it’s almost like perhaps you just heard something or witnessed something or like something is about to happen.
The sculpture will be extremely durable, Durant said, and Taber will retain her “French brown” bronze patina with annual maintenance and the brushing on of more wax, keeping it from turning into that “neglected green” patina.
The granite bench was selected specifically to appear more modern as Taber is honored now in more modern times, although she’ll forever sit as a relic from the past – Marion’s past – and honored well into the future. On the back of the granite bench will be a relief showing the five principal structures Taber gave to Marion while Taber sits scanning the landscape she influenced.
“You can really relate to her by sitting down on the bench,” said Judith Rosbe from the Sippican Historical Society (SHS).
With the bench, Durant said, “One of the things that was important to me is that we’re not just simply making a historical snapshot. … There’s a very special reason why this moment in time she’s being recognized instead of 20 years ago. … We are choosing to recreate her right now in his moment in time. … She is here with us in this moment in time.”
A statue often tells us more about the people commissioning the monument than the monument itself.
The Sippican Historical Society is assisting with donations to allow for tax deductions for donators and has already donated $50,000 itself. Tabor Academy has donated $10,000, and the SHS is still accepting private donations in any amount with a goal of reaching $200,000 to go toward maintenance and landscaping of the statue. To donate, go to www.sippicanhistoricalsociety.org or mail a check written out to Sippican Historical Society to PO Box 541, Marion, MA.
The committee and the SHS will be offering multiple chances to learn about the Elizabeth Taber stature in the year ahead and will make an appearance during Marion’s Fourth of July parade.
The statue will be unveiled at Bicentennial Park during the summer of 2020.
By Jean Perry