CHESHIRE — Say “cheese” if you pose for a photo with the latest sculpture to grace the Ashuwillticook Rail Trail in Cheshire.
Using thick rolls of fiberglass insulation painted a cheddarlike yellow, Adams sculptor Brent Whitney created a life-size replica of the town’s famous gift to President Thomas Jefferson — the Mammoth Cheese. The wheel-shaped artwork was unveiled Tuesday, during a brief ceremony where the trail crosses Church Street.
“We tried to make it historically accurate as possible,” Whitney said.
The Cheshire Community Association commissioned the sculpture, the third the association has had installed under the auspices of “Art on the Trail,” a Northern Berkshire/Massachusetts Cultural Council initiative that began five years ago in Adams.
Association President John Tremblay says the dairy display recognizes the town’s contribution to the early growth of the United States.
“This art is in honor of our forefathers, who had passion and ingenuity,” he told the gathering assembled for the unveiling.
Tremblay recalled the story behind the Mammoth Cheese.
The saga begins in 1801, after Jefferson beat John Adams in the 1800 presidential election. According to local lore, Tremblay said, Cheshire was the only Berkshire County town to support Jefferson at the polls, with all but one voter supporting the country’s third president.
A staunch Jeffersonian, John Leland, a Baptist minister in Cheshire and former neighbor of the president, came up with the idea for the cheese wheel, given that the town was a leading dairy community in the county.
Milk from 900 Cheshire dairy cows helped create the cheese wheel, which measured 4 feet in diameter, 17 inches high and weighed, when cured, 1,235 pounds.
Engraved on the oversize dairy product was the patriotic motto, “Rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God.”
The Mammoth Cheese arrived at the White House on Dec. 29, 1801, and Jefferson cut into it on the morning of New Year’s Day 1802.
Tremblay noted that Jefferson refused to accept the cheese as a gift, and paid $200.