“Waste Pool, Marble Quarry, Barre, VT”: A look into excavation destruction with the Benton

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The William Benton Museum of Art’s current exhibition embarks on “The Human Epoch: Living in Anthropocene”. Photo courtesy of the William Benton Museum of Art webpage.

Slowly but surely, the William Benton Museum of Art has been working their way through the exhibition “The Human Epoch: Living in Anthropocene.” On Tuesday evening, Assistant Curator and Academic Liaison Amanda Duoberely analyzed “Waste Pool, Marble Quarry, Barre, VT,” a photograph by Robert Aller taken in 1989.  

Every two weeks, the Benton hosts in-depth analyses of various different subjects. As seen from the title above, the photograph depicts a waste pool in Barre, Vermont, the most populated city in Washington County, Vermont.  

Duoberely explained this photograph was part of a series the male artist made between 1986 and 1990. While at first glance it may seem like only a landscape photograph, it represents so much more.  

According to Duoberely, Aller focused on showing the destruction that can be done by humans, especially when it comes to certain activities, such as excavation. The audience is able to see the leftover marks of man-made machines when they dug into the rocks.  

“He’s really aiming to give us a sense of contradiction, where we’re looking at something that we understand has been ruined in a way, a mark on the landscape that really might never go away,” she said. “It’s also an image that is really beautiful.”  

“He’s really aiming to give us a sense of contradiction, where we’re looking at something that we understand has been ruined in a way, a mark on the landscape that really might never go away.”

Amanda Duoberely, Assistant Curator and Academic Liaison

Despite there not being any humans featured in the actual photograph, the destruction at the hands of human kind is clearly visible and felt when viewing the photo. The audience is unable to know what this beautiful landmark looked like before the excavation began. How Aller framed his photos was intentional and deliberate.  

Duoberely explained how the laborers would begin their quarrying by using dynamite, thus creating massive explosions. They would then try to release huge blocks of marble, which would often go into areas such as architecture.  

“Waste Pool, Marble Quarry, Barre, VT,” a photograph by Robert Aller taken in 1989. In his Transfigured Landscape series, Aller records the spectacular impact of human labor on nature through carefully framed images of the industrial landscape. These photographs can be read in at least two ways. This example shows the devastation wrought by excavation, an indelible mark that may never be erased. Photo courtesy of William Benton Museum of Art webpage.

“A lot of the workers liked the job, especially in the summer, because on their break they could go enjoy the beautiful Vermont scenery,” she said. “They could look out onto the green mountains that had the white marble in the ground, underneath them.” 

The water can be viewed in numerous ways by the audience. It can represent rainfall, or in a more spiritual sense, it can be viewed as a way of the Earth attempting to heal itself. Despite it being a scene of destruction, the water acts as a sense of serenity and calmness.  

““In his Transfigured Landscape series, Aller records the spectacular impact of human labor on nature through carefully framed images of the industrial landscape … This example shows the devastation wrought by excavation, an edible mark that may never be erased.”  

The William Museum of Art’s Website

The William Benton Museum of Art’s website goes a bit more in depth on the meaning behind the photographs.  

“In his Transfigured Landscape series, Aller records the spectacular impact of human labor on nature through carefully framed images of the industrial landscape … This example shows the devastation wrought by excavation, an edible mark that may never be erased.”  

The next Critical LOOKing Virtual Dialogue will be held on Feb. 26 at 12:15 p.m., and then is followed by the official Anthropocene film screening on March 5 at 6:30 p.m.  

3 COMMENTS

  1. Interesting… It should be pointed out there are no marble quarries in Barre VT USA. Barre is the GRANITE CENTER of the World. Marble is soft… Granite you pound on.

  2. The Granite quarrymen would take winters off, not summers. Marble is a dirty word in Barre, have you ever been to a cemetery with marble headstones, you can’t read them after a 100 years, Granite will last forever.

  3. Thanks to your comments, the Benton has learned that the title of this photograph is incorrect. I reached out to the artist, who confirmed that the photograph was mistitled when he donated it to the museum in 2001. Aller had made photographs in surrounding areas where marble was quarried, which probably led to the error. Museum staff have updated our records to reflect the correction.

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