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Whose History Gets Set In Stone? A Closer Look At Monuments In Vermont

A white sculpture of a white man in colonial dress standing above a crouching Abenaki person in a canoe
Wikimedia Commons

As part of protests for social and racial justice arise, people have called for the removal of monuments they feel represent America's racist past. University of Vermont Art history professor Kelley Helmstutler Di Dio spoke to VPR about statues and monuments in Vermont with troubling iconography and discussed what, if anything, should be done with them. 

Helmstutler Di Dio recalls street squares filled with monuments dedicated to Civil War generals in her Virginia hometown. She pointed out that Vermont made out well in the late 19th century, providing granite during that period's "monument boom."

Now as a European sculpture specialist, Helmstutler Di Dio studies whose stories sculptures tell. The Samuel de Champlain sculpture in Isle La Motte, for instance, shows de Champlain as a European white man standing tall and fully clothed while a mostly naked Abenaki person crouches in a canoe at his feet.

Read a Seven Days article about the Samuel de Champlain statue at the Burlington college named after him.

"Whether it's the artist's specific intention or not, [it] is meant to really delineate the difference between the civilized white man and the uncivilized person of color," Helmstutler Di Dio. "Sometimes we need to stop and question, 'Does that sculpture still represent values that we're comfortable with?' And we need to be okay with saying, 'Actually, no,' and decide what to do with those sculptures."

In her opinion, Helmstutler Di Dio said these kind of depictions should not be on public land or in public spaces — they can perhaps go to museums or be in cemeteries instead.

"It doesn't mean we are stuck with these things on our landscape forever," she said. "As our values evolve, so must our public landscapes."

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