By Carla Charter
MEREDITH, N.H.- As part of Meredith, New Hampshire’s 250th anniversary celebration, they have decided to honor the memory of Bob Montana, who wrote and illustrated the Archie syndicated strip for many years. And what better way to remember Montana, then to bring his illustration to life with a full sized Archie statue.
He used many friends and neighbors in Meredith in the strip. He would slightly change the name of a business or person. However, everyone in Meredith knew they were that character from the comic strip.
The idea for the Archie statue came from Chris Williams an architect in Meredith, who served on the Greater Meredith Program Board of Directors, according to James McFarlin, Greater Meredith Program,, Design Committee, Archie Statue Sub-Committee Chairperson. “
The artist chosen to create the sculpture was Valery Mahuchy who was originally from Belarus and has been in New Hampshire a little over two years has a studio in Bethlehem , N.H. Valey did not originally know who Archie was. He did a lot of research. “We could not be more delighted with Valey’s creation of a three-dimensional Archie.” said McFarlin.
The park where Archie will be erected will be across from the Esso Gas Station building which Montana had purchased and where he started a frame shop and art gallery. “It is very appropriate that that’s where Archie should be. “Montana established Meredith as an art colony. He was a worldwide ambassador for Meredith with other artists and comic illustrators who came to visit,” according to McFarlin.
The Archie sculpture will be seated on a bench with both arms stretched out on the back of the bench which was a direct request of the Montana children, so that children could sit in his lap and people can take selfies with him, he continued. Everybody can relate to Archie,” said Meredith Philbin, executive director of the project.
The Archie statue will be part of a permanent part of a sculpture walk featured by the Greater Meredith Program. Other permanent sculptures on the walk, Philbin continued, include Redwing an abstract suggestive of wings he was created by the late Hugh Gibbons of North Falmouth, Ma.” and Sailboat by local sculptors Steven Hayden and David H. Little. The Sculpture walk is year- round, with new sculptures brought in each June. Visitors can take a Sculpture Walk with a Docent on a regular schedule or take a self-guided tour.
Montana’s link to Meredith reaches back to his childhood, according to his daughter, Lynn Montana. “Bob summered here with his family as a child. His parents owned property and a restaurant over time, and in 1948 Bob purchased a farm on Meredith Neck Road. From then on Bob and his wife Peg were prominent figures in many aspects of Meredith community life.
Montana brought New England into his Archie comic strips as well Lynn Montana continued. The Archie characters were believed to be classmates of Bob’s at Haverhill High School although that was never completely confirmed, said McFarlin. When asked about the real -life basis for the characters, Lynn Montana replied, “The family say Bob was never to reveal this mystery. However Gerald Peary and Shaun Clancy produced a documentary called ‘ Archie’s Betty’, where they tracked down people from Bob’s Haverhill High school class who might have been the inspiration for the Riverdale characters. They also found an old NY girlfriend of Bob’s after his graduation whose name was Betty, and who agrees that she may well be the real Betty.
Lynn Montana continued, Riverdale High was taken from Bob’s happiest days at Haverhill High. He spent three years there and used his and his friends antics in portraying Archie ( as himself) in his strip. He also used the local hamburger and soda shop which he called the “The Chocolate Shop” as a favorite hangout for Archie and his gang.
Bob used many places in the Lakes Region and although he tweaked the names, locals can recognize which places he was talking about. The local Gunstock Ski area, kids’ summer camps, surrounding lakes, and mountains were often used in his strip. He also used many easily recognizable local people as characters in the strip.” said Lynn Montana.
Montana also played a large part in the Meredith and the larger New Hampshire Community as well. “He had an important and very critical role in Meredith’s 200th anniversary celebration and created a movie about Meredith’s history. He also helped found the Meredith Players Community Theater,” according to McFarlin.
Archie served as the New Hampshire statewide Chair of Easter Seals for several years. Montana drew all the comics with Archie being the one asking for donations. In two or three years they had quadrupled what they had raised because its Archie.
The unveiling and dedication of the Archie statue will be on August 9, as part of Meredith’s 250th anniversary celebration. The250th Anniversary parade will be held on August 11. “We say we wanted Archie dedicated on the 9th so he could watch the parade go by on Main Street.”
Montana actually owned the Model T which was the basis for Archie’s Jalopy. “Montana would drive around Meredith and give children rides in it,” McFarlin said.The Model T that Montana owned will be in the parade with a banner announcing that it is Montana’s Model T. We are hoping his children will be riding in the Model T during the parade.
According to Lynn Montana “Our family is honored that the town is recognizing our father through this sculpture. Our father would be very pleased to see the town honoring Archie in a prominent 3-dimensional form because he always said Archie was the famous one, not him.” She continued “ Our family really wants to thank all the people and businesses in Meredith and the lake region who donated to fund the Archie Statue. We are overwhelmed with the generosity and spirit of the community that Bob loved so much.”
“The Manchester Historical Association, (Manchester, N.H.)” Lynn Montana said, “has a terrific display which features Bob and his famous strip along with other famous NH people. Bob graduated from Manchester Central High School in 1940. “
More information on the Greater Meredith Program can be found at www.greatermeredithprogram.com.