Dorset's Marble House -- a place to create


DORSET -- It's hard to miss the imposing building on Dorset West Road, clad entirely in marble. It's big, for one thing. A fountain area, which would not have been out of place in a 19th-century French or Italian villa, adds more distinction.

Further back is a small, terraced seating area at the end of an elegant staircase, which looks out over Morse Hill and beyond to the Green Mountains. Perfect for a meditation -- or for burnishing arts or writing skills, or learning the finer points of agriculture, or both at the same time.

Farther back, a reconstructed barn has a small area set aside for farming. From May 9 to 11, then resuming on May 16 to 19, a workshop on permaculture -- a technique designed to build sustainable, self-maintained agricultural systems -- will follow on the heels of the inaugural workshop of the Marble House Project.

The estate and initiative's first creative workshop in April focused on brainstorming, or how to get "from storm to form," led by poets James Nave and Lynne Procope. But much more will come, said Danielle Epstein, founder of the Marble House Project, an artist and a member of the board of directors.

Acquiring the 48-acre property, which she did in August 2012, and overseeing the renovations to the main house and grounds, represents the fulfilment of a 20-year dream to create a retreat for writers and artists, she said.

"I felt it was the right time in my life to be doing this," she said. "I spent six months looking at different properties, and one day, this came up and I went, ‘There it is.'"

"This" was a marble house with a remarkable history. Originally built around 1815, it was the first house in the fledgling United States built entirely from marble quarried on the property. At that time, marble quarrying was big business in Dorset, and many well-known structures, like the New York Public Library, used locally quarried marble.

In 1908, the property was inherited by Edwin Lefevre, best known for being the former New York Sun's financial reporter and the author of the business classic, "Reminiscences of a Stock Operator." He wrote several other books and, in between, served as a diplomat -- he was a U.S ambassador to Italy, Spain and France between 1909 and 1913. The property eventually passed to his son, Edwin Jr., who restored it in 1968, when he retired there. The house is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Edwin Sr.'s other son, Reid Lefevre, is better known locally. He was the colorful ringmaster of a traveling carnival, known as the "King Reid Show," which toured not only Vermont, but made other stops in New England, including Pittsfield. In 1947, Reid Lefevre went into politics and quickly rose to a position of prominence and power. He represented his Manchester district in the state Legislature before moving over to the state senate in the early 1960s.

This house has some history; it may be poised to make more.

"I think, in time, it will be a place for artists to go and pick their own vegetables, and think and meditate," Epstein said. "You create where you eat."

The interplay between literary and artistic creativity with sustainable agriculture, and the resulting nurturing of the creative spirit, is one of the hallmarks she hopes to see developing as time goes on, she said.

She plans a performance dimension as well. A former indoor swimming pool, turn of the (19th-20th) century style, has been renovated and turned into a place where classes could be held, or poetry slams, like the one that highlighted the first writing workshop. Farther up the hill, another open space beckons in front of a barn that was disassembled in Waterville, Vt., moved here and reassembled. A short walk up one of the hiking trails that criss-cross the hill behind the mansion leads to another open area, with flat rocks set in a semi-circle, as if waiting for the theater to arrive.

Sarah Walko is the program director for the Marble House Project. She was working as a director at another arts organization when she heard about this one, she said.

"So, I just called Danielle one day and said I was interested," she said.

"Timing-wise it was right, because it was right when we could actually do something with programming," Epstein said. "Since then, we've been working closely on generating the programming and getting the website going, and getting the people here."

No workshops have yet been posted to follow the one on permaculture, but planning is underway. James Nave, the leader of the creative brainstorming one that just ended, wants to come back for another one in September, she said.

"I'm sure there are some that are just going to be one-offs, and some that we do again," she said. "We're still at the beginning of our programming right now -- I think we'll know more by the end of the summer."

If you go ...

What: Workshop on permaculture

When: May 9 to 11. May 16 to 19

Where: Marble House, Dorset West Road, Dorset



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