MONTPELIER — Touching tributes have followed the passing Wednesday of long-time art teacher at Montpelier High School, Barbara Austin Hutchins.
Affectionately known as “Barb” to all, she was born in Montpelier and graduated in 1968 from the high school she would return to — after obtaining a bachelor’s degree in art at Ricker College in Maine — as an art teacher for 38 years before her retirement last year.
Austin Hutchins was born in Montpelier, the daughter of William Austin and Marjorie Cummings.
“As a sister, it’s almost indescribable: Barbara was more like a mother — we lost our mother early, Abbie and I — and Barbara was just always our shining star, a movie star to the both of us and she always looked out for us and we always looked up to her,” said Beth Austin DeFares. “As a mother, she lived, breathed, loved, adored and cherished her boys.
“She also had some really dear friends and they’ve been sharing the most beautiful stories about her,” she added, noting that her sister would buy mementos she called “do-dads” for her friends.
When Austin Hutchins wasn’t working and teaching, she enjoyed traveling, going to estate sales, and was a collector of obscure memorabilia, particularly miniature objects and Mother of Guadalupe Madonnas.
Sean Williams, of Barre Sculpture Studio, is a former student who remembered and revered Austin Hutchins, and was working with her for the past year on a 10-foot sculpture that will be a lasting legacy to her, literally carved in stone.
Made of Barre granite, it will be placed at the roundabout in the driveway of the school and feature symbols of owls that are the basis of the school’s Solon mascot. A GoFundMe appeal to raise the $12,000 to pay for the commissioned work recently hit its target after Michael Burzycki — the school prankster who damage an expensive school auditorium window during his graduation in 1994 — started his own GoFundMe Page to raise money for the school and donated the proceeds toward the cost of the statue.
“I saw her two weeks ago, and I brought her a copy of the owl sculpture and gave it to her,” Williams said. “I think she was extremely dedicated to educating young adults and very supportive of the arts in our community.”
“I am very sad for Barbara’s family and her many, many friends, of which I’m proud to be among,” said former Principal Mike McRaith, who stepped down this year. “She was a real teacher to the core.
“She raised a love of art and raised consciousness for decades at MHS,” McRaith added. “Her positive impact will ripple for generations to come. In my very first moment meeting Barb, she was actually lit up with white lights all over her clothing. She lit up every room she entered no matter the room, no matter the outfit, no matter the situation. I’ll remember and miss her forever.”
“One friend commented on how spectacular and extraordinary she was and the end line in the text, was, ‘She’s going to change heaven,’” Beth Austin-DeFares said. “I thought, ‘What a spectacular thing to say, and how perfect and fitting.’”
A memorial service will be held Friday, Aug. 23, at 2 p.m.