Wilton is steeped in Revolutionary Era history, although George Washington never actually stepped foot in town during the war for our country’s independence. But now, almost 240 years later, Wilton is welcoming Washington.
The Washington in question is actually a 10-ft.tall statue of the father of our country that dates back 75 years. It’s steeped in the history not only of our nation but also of Wilton and some well-known artists who called the town home. Tucked away for a time, the statue–formally titled “Valley Forge Washington“–has now been gifted to the town and first selectman Bill Brennan is leading a campaign to repair the sculpture and move it to the Clune Center.
Brennan held a press conference this week to announce the effort, including a fundraising drive; he says the project will be funded privately through donations. He’s calling the project “Save George.”
“This is something that we are very thrilled about because it was here in this community that so many years of work were put on it, and to have it as part of our community and a lasting piece of great art to be in our community is very thrilling. The goal is now to save it and put it in the perfect location for the benefit of our community,” he said.
The Idea was Born
The idea for the Valley Forge Washington sculpture was conceived in 1939 by Gifford Proctor, who was, at the time, a young sculptor studying in Rome. He was so affected by witnessing the Nazi campaigns in Europe, he decided he wanted to create a statue that would represent a patriotic American hero. He started by fashioning a 4-ft. bronze statue, but envisioned the project as a 20-ft. statue for Valley Forge National Park. Sadly, the attack at Pearl Harbor and the U.S. entry into WWII scuttled that effort.
Later in his life, while living in Wilton for more than 30 years, Proctor worked on a 10-ft. tall version of the statue at an artist’s studio in a building on the Keiser family property, on Seeley Rd..
Regretfully, in 2006 Proctor died. The studio had been taken over by sculptor Peter Rubino, who invited Brennan to visit his studio.
“This was the first time I was aware of this wonderful piece of artwork in our community,” Brennan recalled. “I was mesmerized by it. I said, ‘My God, this is fantastic! What’s going to happen? Where is it going? What’s going to be the progress?” When the Keiser property was sold in 2014, the need arose to relocate the statue.
Brennan’s Mission to ‘Save George’
Brennan felt strongly that the work was historic and it needed to be preserved. He hoped to make sure it would stay in Wilton. He explained that by working with the Keiser heirs–Peter Keiser and Florence Keiser Romanov–as well as Proctors children–Susan Proctor, Blair Proctor and Melanie Proctor Barker–the sculpture was gifted to the town, and Wilton is now its legal owner. He recognized them all at the press conference as well as an advisory committee of residents who will be working on the fundraising and planning–Peg Koellmer, Al Nickel and Stephen Hudspeth.
“The plan is now to move it to the Clune Center, which is an ideal location, because at the Clune Center you have very high ceilings. You have the opportunity to have this as a major point of interest in the Clune Center so we are very excited about that. Not only will it be an inspiration for our students but it’s a great location in the town of Wilton,” Brennan said.
He said that the town has contracted with Polich Tallix, a professional art foundry and fabrication company to repair and move the work from Seeley Rd. to the Clune Center, as well as to make a pedestal. They hope to move it some time in July. Brennan estimated the cost to do so would be about $17,500 which he hopes to raise entirely through private donations.
“The fundraising initiative is very exciting because what we are looking for are contributions from everybody, all contributions we welcome, but we do have a plan to make a mail out towards the end of the week to the community. All these contributions are tax deductible because all the contributions are made to the town of Wilton. Leadership contributions [of $500 or more] will be recognized on a permanent bronze plaque that will also be mounted at the site and located right at the sculpture to really recognize the people who have contributed and who made an extra effort to make sure that we saved this piece of sculpture,” Brennan explained.
At the press conference Peg Koellmer raised her hand to pledge the first $500.
Brennan said the sculpture was estimated to have a value of $25,000, but that the estimate was purely to put an amount for those giving it as a gift to the town.
“We thought that was a fair value. But really it’s priceless—this was a piece of art created by an internationally known sculptor whose father was also a renowned great sculptor. It seemed to me this was an important project for Wilton to save this sculpture. We’re trying to ‘Save George,’” Brennan explained.
Proctor’s daughter, Susan, was at the press conference. She said the project has tremendous meaning and significance for her family.
“It means so much to me, it’s all I can do to keep from tearing up. We would have had nothing to show except the little clay piece that dad did in Rome, which over the years deteriorated,” she said.
It’s Brennan’s hope that the Valley Forge Washington will be just as meaningful to the generations to come.
“It’s an exciting project and we are thrilled to be able to get it. I think when we have it at the Clune Center it will be very exciting to see this in a rightful position and fully repaired and hopefully looking down on us giving inspiration to our students,” he said.
Contributions can be made payable to the “Town of Wilton” and sent to the attention of J. Rochester, Wilton Town Hall, 238 Danbury Rd..