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Saving MLK for U.S. artists

Marketplace Staff Jan 21, 2008

Saving MLK for U.S. artists

Marketplace Staff Jan 21, 2008


Scott Jagow: Barre, Vermont calls itself the granite center of the world. For generations, stone carvers have sculpted gravestones and memorials that you can see all over the world. But like a lot of U.S. industries, Vermont’s granite business is losing the battle with cheaper imports.

The people in Barre have done their best to deal with that. But a Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial being made in China might be the last straw. John Dillon has more from Vermont public radio.

John Dillon: John Castaldo is executive director of the Barre Granite Association. He says stone products from China are about one-third the cost of Barre granite.

John Castaldo: Obviously, our workers are treated leagues ahead of how they’re treated in China.

Castaldo says there used to be more than 60 companies in his trade association and the industry employed 3,000 people. Now, the number of granite operations has shrunk to 33, and employment has dropped to about 1,100.

So when local stone carvers learned that the Martin Luther King Memorial will be built in China, they felt a little like they were being kicked when they were already down.

George Kurjanowicz: I used to have three sculptors here in my studio working. I’m here by myself now, just because I simply cannot compete price-wise with a product that is currently being manufactured overseas.

George Kurjanowicz is carving a granite angel in his studio. Officials from the King memorial foundation paid him a brief visit in 2006 to see if he could carve the massive statue planned for Washington, D.C.

He told them Barre has the expertise and the raw material for the project. But he says he never got a chance to submit a bid.

The Barre workers have joined forces with a national movement called King is Ours. The goal is to force the foundation to change its mind, and allow the King monument to be built in this country.

The King Memorial foundation responds that the project will be overseen by a black-owned architectural firm, and that at least half the rock for the memorial will come from the United States.

Harry Johnson, the group’s president, defends the decision to select a Chinese artist:

Harry Johnson: Dr. King himself was not just a black hero, he was not just an American hero. He was a hero to all the world.

After protests from the Vermont congressional delegation, the foundation says Vermont companies will be allowed to bid on some of the granite work. But the foundation says the sculpture of King itself will still be made in China.

I’m Barre, Vermont, I’m John Dillon For Marketplace.

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