On Tuesday, Rutland honored a man famous for establishing a group that relies on anonymity.
City officials gathered in Center Street Marketplace Park for the unveiling of the latest addition to the Rutland Sculpture Trail. The piece is a stylized depiction of Bill Wilson, better known as “Bill W.,” the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous.
Mayor David Allaire said he was impressed that the sculpture trail was adding its sixth piece, and that this one was of personal significance to him because his mother was the longtime director of Serenity House.
“I think about the literally thousands of lives and souls that were saved by the good work of Bill Wilson and AA, and the people who followed in his footsteps,” he said.
Wilson was born in Dorset in 1895 and spent his early childhood in Rutland, writing later in his autobiography that this was when he developed his “willpower and distinction.” After four hospitalizations for alcoholism, four times he was introduced to the Oxford Group, a religious organization whose program gave him the basis for the Alcoholics Anonymous 12 steps.
The piece is the most abstract of the sculpture trail entries.
Sculptor Steve Shaheen said he and collaborators Alessandro Lombardo and Kelly Pereira wanted to make the work accessible in the sense that the public would have an easy time understanding what it was saying artistically, but they also wanted it to be functional. They hit upon combining the portrait in the front with an open, welcoming hand in the back, and structuring the piece so people could sit on it.
“It’s not every day that we get to work on a monument, and we only take on work like this when it has significance to us,” he said.
The sculpture trail is a collaborative effort between Green Mountain Power, MFK Properties, Vermont Quarries and the Carving Studio and Sculpture Center. Pieces are paid for through private fundraising, and the three families who donated for the Bill W. sculpture have been kept anonymous by organizers.
“This is unique,” Shaheen said. “This is not happening anywhere else in the U.S. It’s seen it a bit in Europe. … It says so much about the culture here.”
Organizer Steve Costello singled out Vermont Quarries for praise in an email after the unveiling.
“Without Vermont Quarries, which has donated an incredible amount of marble, this entire project would be in doubt,” he wrote. “Their donations, along with the funders of each project, are what have helped take this from an idea scrawled on a napkin to a growing collection of incredible art and regional history.”
Other pieces in the trail have honored Vermont stoneworkers, Revolutionary War hero Ann Story, Rudyard Kipling’s “The Jungle Book,” Olympic skier Andrea Mead Lawrence and soldiers of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment.
Future sculptures will honor university president Martin Henry Freeman and literary figure Julia Dorr.