Sylacauga marble a topic at Auburn University symposium
by Emily Adams
The city is seeing returns from its efforts to increase awareness of Sylacauga’s white marble as it partners with various entities around the state. The 2013 Marble Festival, set for April 9-20, is expected to be the biggest and best yet. Pictured is the Imerys Gantts Quarry observation site off of Fayetteville Road that opened earlier this year.
SYLACAUGA – The city is beginning to see significant returns from its ongoing efforts to increase awareness about the history and uses of Sylacauga’s white marble.

The Marble Committee, which has hosted the annual Marble Festival since 2009, has developed relationships with Auburn University and the University of Alabama to promote the festival and its core purpose of celebrating marble’s artistic, commercial and industrial applications.

Among other projects, Sylacauga marble will be a topic during a symposium at Auburn University called “Becoming Alabama: This Godly Land” on Jan.25 and 26. Ted and Shirley Spears as well as sculptor Craigger Browne and author Ruth Beaumont Cook will present on the topic Jan. 26 at 10 a.m. at the Auburn University Hotel and Conference Center. The conference focuses on the geographic diversity of the state through different lenses. Marble Festival director Ted Spears said the symposium is a great opportunity for Sylacauga.

“We are purposefully going to feature Ruth Cook and Craigger Browne,” he said. “We want to get across the message that Sylacauga is important, marble is important, Ruth is important, Craigger is important and the rest of us are just a supporting cast.”

The University’s College of Liberal Arts has also selected Sylacauga marble as a study topic for students, who will be researching its history and making recommendations on how to improve the Marble Festival. An intern based at B.B. Comer Library will research these topics beginning in January.

“It’s a source of internships for them, and it will also benefit us,” Spears said. “We have gone and met with the students and professors and everyone is thrilled about it.”

In addition, marble is tentatively set to be the focus of a documentary by the University of Alabama’s award-winning series “Discovering Alabama.” Some footage has already been shot for the show, but a completion date is not yet set, Spears said. It will be titled “From Earth to Art” and showcase the economic impacts of the marble industry as well as marble’s many purposes.

On other fronts, accomplished Birmingham-based author Cook is currently working on a comprehensive book about the city’s marble, its history and its revival. Also, a curriculum on Alabama marble created by several local educators is now being taught in Sylacauga, Fayetteville and Sycamore schools and is expected to expand to other school systems.

“We are branching out to other areas, because that aspect of Alabama history has been lost,” Spears said. “It’s real important, and yet there was nothing in the curriculum about Alabama marble, but there is now. We think we’ve revived it.”

The fifth annual Marble Festival, scheduled for April 9-20, is taking shape as well. The event is expected to be bigger than ever after what was considered a breakthrough year last year. Participation in most every event was higher than anticipated and attracted many visitors from around and outside of the state.

The momentum continued throughout the year with the completion of Craigger Browne’s “Sylacauga Emerging” sculpture at City Hall and the opening of the Imerys Gantts Quarry observation point in May. The site off Fayetteville Road has made way for people to revisit a history that is important to the community and the marble industry, Spears said.

“Every time I go by, there are people from around the state, outside the state or even outside the nation who are fascinated by it,” he said.

This year, the festival will add more marble quarry tours of the three major marble companies, Imerys, OMYA and Alabama Marble Company, and an increased number of visiting sculptors are expected to attend. Last year, 18 marble sculptors set up camp in Blue Bell Park for two weeks to carve pieces of white marble, and some have promised to return with friends.

Many of the pieces sculpted during the festival are on display at Comer Library, part of the Marble Committee’s effort to increase the prominence of the rock throughout the community. Since the festival’s foundation, two large sculptures have been placed in front of City Hall along with numerous other sculptures inside City Hall, the library and other buildings.

Other festival events will include the annual favorites “Taste of Sylacauga,” Jazz Night, marble scavenger hunt, Mayor’s Reception, marble product displays and the Nemak 5K Run.

Additionally, Sylacauga has been added to the list of travel sites by the Italian embassy in Miami, Fla., as it celebrates the “Year of Italian Culture” in America.

Spears said all of these efforts are pursued with two goals in mind.

“No. 1, it’s to celebrate the re-emergence of Sylacauga marble and second, to make sure the artistic portions of marble are not forgotten and lost,” he said. “I want people to understand how important the marble industry is to this area. It’s the only thing we’ve had here since 1840. Textiles, cotton gins, fertilizer, automotives all came and left, but marble is the thread that runs so true to everything that goes on in this community.”

For more information on the festival or marble, contact Spears at 256-249-0961.

Contact Emily Adams at eadams@dailyhome.com.

© 2012