'Once Upon a Time'

‘Once Upon a Time,’ a marble sculpture outside the B.B. Comer Library in Sylacauga.


Last Sunday, this column highlighted Anniston as a potential “Bike City, USA.” This week is on “The Marble City” — Sylacauga. And judging from all of the concerts coming up in the area I unofficially declare Oxford, Anniston and Jacksonville “Music Cities”!

Americana choir concerts

Today at 3 p.m., the A Cappella Choir at Jacksonville State University will sing the story of our nation at the First United Methodist Church in Gadsden.

On April 9 at 7:30 p.m., the choir will perform its “Americana” concert again with JSU’s Chamber Winds at Leone Cole Auditorium on campus. The music focuses on American composers. Admission is free for both concerts.

Hymns for a cause

Also today at 3 p.m., “Hymns for Hunger” will be offered at Jacksonville’s First United Methodist Church. It is a concert to benefit Jacksonville Christian Outreach Center. Admission is free. Please bring non-perishable items or a financial donation to help fill the pantry at JCOC. Singers from the host church and other churches will sing hymns in the form of choral anthems. The congregation will sing hymns, and there will be keyboard solos.

“The words of hymns are also very powerful when read out loud, without the written music,” said Russ Waits, FUMC choir director. “We invite everyone to come and hear music for a good cause.”

Marvelous marble in Sylacauga

It’s time again for the annual Marble Festival in Sylacauga. Now in its 11th year, the festival, sponsored by the Alabama State Council on the Arts, is planned for April 2-13. Centering around marble — Alabama’s state stone — the events will recognize the Alabama Bicentennial.

The festival will include a tour of three quarries and sculptors at work, including Italian master sculptor Marcello Giorgi. For schedules and more information, call the City of Sylacauga at 256-249-0961 or email magicofmarble@gmail.com.

Once you see the marble sculpture grouping outside of the B.B. Comer Library and the large sculpture across the street, you know there’s something special about Sylacauga. The creamy white marble looks smooth and soft. Surely it must have been shaped by veteran artists.

Indeed, the beautiful marble sculptures were created by Birmingham native and resident sculptor Craigger Browne. Numerous sculptures displayed in the library are by Browne and other artists who have come to the festival from across America.

The statue grouping outside of the library is titled “Once Upon a Time.” The man reading the book to the children represents Curtis Liles, one of Sylacauga’s former mayors. The library board credits this man for laying the groundwork for the Comer Library and for working with the City Council to get the building’s plans drawn, according to Shirley Spears, director emerita of the library.

Liles and his wife, Alice, started the Marble City Broadcasting Company on the WMLS setting, she said, and later he served as president of the town’s Chamber of Commerce.

He died in 2000, the year the library received the National Award for Museum and Library service, sharing the honor with three other libraries.

The statue grouping was the project of Curtis Liles III, the mayor’s son, and his wife, Jean.

“Mayor Liles would take pride in the library today,” Spears said.

Tracey Thomas, library director, agrees. In fact, books are only the beginning when spending time at Comer Library, in her opinion.

“The beautiful marble sculpture collection fills the building and graces the grounds,” she said. “Having the collection here in the library means that we are able to not only tell people about this natural resource; we are able to showcase it.

“On a personal level, the sculpture is a reminder that sometimes things begin rough and undeveloped like the stone. But with the right care and attention it can turn into something beautiful and inspiring. I think this is a principle we can apply to many areas of life!”

Sylacauga city officials gave the town the title of “Marble City” as a recognition of the marble’s high-grade qualities and its use in national sites.

Sylacauga marble was used for interior walls of the Washington Monument. The large bust of Abraham Lincoln on display in the Capitol complex was made of Sylacauga marble by Gutzon Borglum, known for the Mount Rushmore National Memorial.

In the United States Supreme Court Building in Washington, D.C., walls and floors of all corridors and entrance halls above the basement level were constructed primarily of Sylacauga marble, according to “A Brief History of Sylacauga Marble” by Ruth Beaumont Cook.

‘Once Upon a Time’ sculpture

This sculpture group “Once Upon a Time” carries more than one message. It takes the viewer into an imagined home where a grandfather in his armchair is reading to his grandchildren. The pet dog has one of the man’s slippers in his mouth, and the children are resting on cushions.

“I wanted to capture the ideal of this man spending time with the children, and passing down knowledge,” said sculptor Craigger Browne. “But notice — in the complete scene there is an empty cushion. There’s always room for one more listener.”

To master his trade, Browne studied at the Cleveland Institute of Art in LaCoste, France; in Venice; and in Carrara, Italy, where marble quarries have been mined for 2,000 years. He has exhibited in France, Italy and throughout the United States. Now he calls Sylacauga home.

During this year’s Marble Festival, Browne will be working with other sculptors at Blue Bell Park. He invites everyone to see the beauty that can emerge from a rough chunk of marble. “I can talk art and I can talk sculpture,” Browne promises.”But most of all I love sharing the story of our Sylacauga marble.” 

Hervey Folsom writes about the local arts scene every Sunday. Contact her at herveyfolsom@yahoo.com.