Update 5/22/12: Middlebury officials announced Tuesday afternoon that due to a health issue, Marion Guild will be unable to attend tonight’s scheduled event honoring her role in designing the Emma Willard monument. The selectboard will reschedule the event when Guild is able to attend.
MIDDLEBURY — For 71 years, Marion Guild has known that she was the true designer of the oft-admired marble monument at the head of Main Street in Middlebury that pays tribute to one of the community’s most iconic citizens, ground-breaking educator Emma Hart Willard.
But Guild remained silent when her boss, Pierre Zwick, claimed the lion’s share of credit in 1941 when the structure was erected on the town park, near the intersection of Routes 7 and 125.
Thus, ironically, a woman was denied full credit for designing an edifice honoring a fellow female whom history has recognized for starting women’s collegiate education in the United States.
But thanks to the perseverance of her family and friends, Guild, now 94, will receive belated recognition for her design of the Emma Willard monument before the Tuesday, May 22, gathering of Middlebury selectboard.
At 6:45 p.m. in the municipal building conference room, the board will recite and pass a resolution officially recognizing Guild as the designer of the monument. The public is invited to attend the brief reception for Guild, who will be traveling in from Burlington.
The ceremonial gesture will mean a lot to Guild, according to her niece Leslie Tucker, who spearheaded the effort.
In a recent letter sent to Glen Andres, a Middlebury College professor and noted local historian, Tucker described some of the history behind the monument and its planning.
She produced Burlington Free Press accounts from the fall of 1941 stating the project was launched as part of Vermont’s 150th anniversary. Those accounts list Pierre Zwick as the monument designer. But bowing to what Tucker believes was some pressure from people in the know, Zwick acknowledged Guild for her “able assistance” in a subsequent letter published in the Free Press.
“There is a back story about how (Zwick) often took credit for the artist that worked for him,” Tucker wrote in her letter. “She was very young when she was involved in the Federal Arts Project and quit after this incident.”
Tucker proudly noted that her aunt “is an extremely talented artist/illustrator who also illustrated ‘Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer’ and other children's books for Robert May as a staff artist for a printing company in Springfield, Mass.” There too, Tucker noted, Guild became accustomed to not getting credit for her work in a male-dominated workplace.
“The original Rudolf that she illustrated did not mention her, but the additional pop-up book and 'Rudolf Shines Again’ do have her as the illustrator,” Tucker said.
“Because of the Internet, about five years ago I was able to show her that collectors of the books had recognized her as the illustrator,” Tucker wrote. “This was very exciting for her to realize she was finally given credit.”
At age 94, Guild “is still amazing and totally present,” according to Tucker.
Guild had not been willing to pursue the Emma Willard Monument issue because there was no concrete proof — until the discovery a few months ago of the Zwick press clipping acknowledging Guild’s “assistance.”
“My aunt is very happy about that,” Tucker concluded.
Middlebury Selectman Victor Nuovo is excited to meet Guild and learn more of her connection to the Willard monument. Emma Willard’s home is currently owned by Middlebury College, where Nuovo has been a longtime professor of philosophy. The Emma Willard House is home to the college’s admissions office.
“I am thrilled,” Nuovo said. “This is recognition for a woman who, as a designer, has sort of been ignored.”
Reporter John Flowers is at johnf@addisonindependent