People live, work, and recreate in Downtown Providence, and public art has all kinds of impacts on them.
This roughly 1.5-hour tour is an opportunity for residents and visitors to learn about a number of the captivating works that populate the neighborhood.
Henry Hudson Kitson – Mayor Thomas A. Doyle Memorial (1889)
A well-known sculptor of his time, Kitson, who created a number of Civil War memorials, was best known for his sculpture of the Minutemen in Lexington, MA. He trained in Paris, where this bronze statue of Mayor Doyle was cast. Prior to Buddy Cianci, Doyle was the longest serving mayor of Providence (18 years to Cianci’s 21). His terms spanned from June 1864 to 1869, June 1870 to 1881, and then again from 1884 until his death in June of 1886. He presided over some of the City’s most prosperous years, during which Providence almost doubled its population and wealth. Doyle implemented a number of historic improvements. He presided over the construction of City Hall and Roger Williams Park, the implementation of a sophisticated sewer system, and the professionalization of the City’s police force. The statue, which was placed upon its 1889 dedication in front of the Catholic Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul, just a few blocks away, depicts the Mayor clutching a rolled “plan,” a nod to his “pioneering” role in the field of urban renewal. It was installed on Weybossett Hill in 1967 at the corner of Broad and Chestnut St.
Yarrow’s Cans/Overspray Studios – Roots Cafe Mural Commissioned for Sound Session 2010/Aurora Fringe Commission
This mural was originally commissioned by The Avenue Concept for a “Yarrow’s Cans” project commissioned to be painted on the side of The Providence Black Repertory Company for Sound Session music festival in 2010. It was covered over several years later by artists from Overspray Studios for an event at Aurora.
The Art of Life – Police and Firearms Union Mural (1998)
Bonnie Lee Turner, who painted this mural as part of The Art of Life, says that she and her collaborator painted themselves in as 13-feet-tall, scowling giants. They depicted themselves in confrontational poses armed with paint brushes because Vincent “Buddy” Cianci, then Mayor of Providence, had refused to pay them for their work. Having been involved in a disagreement with the Police and Firearms Unions, who had commissioned the mural, Cianci withdrew significant funds after The Art of Life had already done extensive work. Instead of painting over the piece entirely when they didn’t receive compensation for their work — an idea they considered — Turner and her partner decided to paint themselves on top of the original design to honor the relationships they had built and the work they had put into the process.
BEZT – “She Never Came” (2015) – curated, funded, and programmed by The Avenue Concept
Bezt was born in 1987 in Turek, Poland. He finished the Academy of Fine Arts in Łódź, where he met Sanier and the two started painting together as Etam Cru. Bezt is particularly specialized in frescoes and has painted a large number of public works depicting magical worlds, usually on facades of dim and gray buildings from socialist era.
Natalia Rak – “Adventure Time” (2015) – curated, funded, and programmed by the Avenue Concept
Born in 1986, Natalia Rak isa young Polish street artist, and a graduate of Fine Arts in Łódź.
Mary Beth Meehan – Seen/Unseen (2015)
In Seen/Unseen, photographer Mary Beth Meehan has transformed downtown Providence with eight billboard-scale portraits of city residents. Up to forty feet in height, the photographs draw on the power of portraiture to inspire connection and mirror the city back to itself. The work has prompted conversations city-wide about urban identities, socioeconomic invisibility, the modern role of physical media, and the segregated nature of a multi-ethnic city such as Providence. For more on the project, see Meehan’s blog.
Mary Beth Meehan – “Bidur” (2017)
Bidur was 27 years old when this photo was taken. Meehan made it on a freezing cold afternoon, outside the apartment where her subject was living in Providence. Bidur and her family are among the eleven million who have lost their homes during six years of war in Syria. Some 18,000 of these people have made it to the United States; fewer than 200 of them have made it to Rhode Island.
Mary Beth Meehan – “Wannton” (2015)
In the mid-1990s, while Marybeth Meehan was a staff photographer at The Providence Journal, she became acquainted with a Haitian church community in Providence. When the members first began emigrating from Haiti, in the 1980s, they had gathered in one of their apartments to worship. As more people arrived and joined them, they purchased an old metal shop off Cranston Street, in the West End, and fashioned it into a church. 20 years later she ran into Wannton when he was driving a bus. She made his portrait shortly after. At an artist talk about the work at the RISD museum, Wannton’s daughter Shebna St. Louis said: “It’s not only an honor for him, but it is an honor for our community. When one person is lifted up, everyone’s lifted up.”
Guillermo Gómez Peña – “The New Barbarians: To The Lords Of Censorship” Mural – AS220 Free Culture (2012)
Guillermo Gómez-Peña is a Chicano performance artist, writer, activist, and educator. Gómez-Peña has created work in multiple media, including performance art, experimental radio, video, photography and installation art. His ten books include essays, experimental poetry, performance scripts and chronicles in both English, Spanish, and Spanglish. He is a founding member of the art collective Border Arts Workshop/Taller de Arte Fronterizo and director of the performance art troupe La Pocha Nostra. The text on this mural is a fragment from his work The New Barbarians: a Declaration of Poetic Disobedience, entitled “To the Lords of Censorship”. The mural was designed by Aaron Peterman. AS220 founding artistic director Umberto Crenca calls it a “manifesto validating the work and integrity of the Providence arts community – a stamp on downtown.”
Shep Fairey (Painted by Johann Bjurman) – “Providence Industrial” Mural – AS220 Free Culture Award (2010)
Shepard Fairey is an American contemporary artist, graphic designer, and illustrator and graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design (BFA 1992). He first became known for his “André the Giant Has a Posse” and “Obey Giant” sticker campaign, in which he appropriated images from the comedic super market tabloid Weekly World News. His work became more widely known during the 2008 U.S. presidential election when he created the iconic Barack Obama “HOPE” poster. Fairey’s work is included in the collections at The Smithsonian, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.
Mary Beth Meehan – “Omowunmi” (2015)
Omowunmi was once a mechanic in the U.S. Army. Her specialty was light-weight vehicles: trucks, trailers, Humvees. She has been stationed at Fort Campbell and Fort Bragg, and was deployed twice to the war in Iraq. It was there that an accident injured her hand and ended her military career. Before coming to the United States, Omowunmi was trying to make a living in Nigeria selling bottled soda and bread on the roadside, when her uncle told her she’d won “the lottery.” He was in Providence, and had entered her name for a green card. She was selected. Soon after she arrived here, almost twenty years ago, she bought a used car, for $800. It turned out to be a lemon, and cost more than that to be fixed. So that this would never happen again, she decided to learn to be a mechanic.
Greg Pennisten, Matthew Bevilacqua, Davis Lloyd (Peace Club) – “Dysrhythmia” (2017)
“Dysrhythmia” is Greg Pennisten’s depiction of merged abstractions found within the watercolor and oil paintings of Bevilacqua and Lloyd; it emphasizes his abiding interest in jazz. Figures painted with acrylic spray paint and latex house paint are both jagged and fluid, mirroring the motions of skateboarding and referencing the improvisational timing changes and structure of the music. According to the artists, this is a site-specific piece set within a space of its own rhythm. Special attention was paid to the lines and colors used to replicate the appearance of other paintings that inspired the artists.
Providence Veterans Memorial (1981)
This memorial is composed of twelve granite stones, eight granite benches, three poles displaying the flags of the US, RI, and Providence, and a large circular granite planter surrounded by a concrete and brick plaza. The first stone tells the story of the monument while nine stones list the names of those who perished in WWII. There is one stone listing those who gave their lives in Korea and another memorializing those who perished in Vietnam. The memorial’s stones are linked by a steel design though separated into two groups with a center divide. Each individual stone is inscribed at its base with a single word: “Honor,” “Courage,” “Duty,” “Loyalty,” “Country,” and “Heroism.” This word pattern repeats on either side of the center divide.
Jerry Ehrlich – “Insert Finger” (2012) curated, funded, and programmed by The Avenue Concept
Made with repurposed rebar, “Insert Finger” represents the artist’s creative re-use of building materials. Typically, Ehrlich will heat metal and bend it around a form that he creates. He sees his work as a discussion between form and function. Rebar, as a material, is often coiled inside concrete under tension (being pulled apart), or compression (being pushed together).
Mikyoung Kim – “Horizon Garden” (2010) – RISCA Percent For Art
Located at the entry area of the Dunkin Donuts Civic Center in Providence, this plaza offers the public a place to gather during the day and after events at the stadium. Sculptural mounds create an intimate setting in this urban environment and embrace wave like steel sculptures that are washed with light and color. Interactive LED lights rotate through a dynamic spectrum of color that defines the plaza at night, creating a vibrant destination for the city and civic center.
Providence Painted Signs – Trinity Repertory Company Mural (2016)
Shawn Gilheeney, Buck Hastings, and Greg Pennisten met six years ago in a studio building on Harris Avenue. A couple of years later they got the idea to work together. The product of the trio’s collaboration is Providence Painted Signs, a business that allows them to apply their interests and skills in art and design. Developing this design for Trinity Rep, the state’s flagship repertory theatre company, involved researching old business letterheads and graphics of the period around 1910. The artists developed color schemes in an effort to find the right balance between a period look and a contemporary feel. The original drawing was scaled up in order to reach the final dimensions of 38 feet by 70 feet. A set of pounce patterns was made to transfer a charcoal dot drawing onto the walls of the theater to guide the painting. To access the wall, Providence Painted Signs created special rigging.
Dean Hotel Mural – Providence Painted Signs (2013)
Sam White – Octopus Mural (2017)
Mary Beth Meehan – “Darnell” (2015)
Meehan says she first met Darnell over the summer when he was working at the Providence Community Boating Center. One of his legs was encased in a cast from thigh to ankle. She asked him what had happened. “I got shot,” he said. After shooting together, Darnell asked if Meehan could take some photos of him with his hands in prayer. The boy called “Bookie” by his family and friends attended Bishop Hendricken High School. He played sports, and did well, following in his older brother’s footsteps. Once that brother left for college, Bookie kind of went off the rails. At around age 15 he started getting high and drinking; then he got kicked out of school. His mother called her sister in North Carolina and made arrangements for him to go live with her. He got clean, put on some weight, enrolled in an online course for his high-school diploma. He even gotten a job, standing outside a tax preparer’s office, wearing a Statue of Liberty costume to attract customers.
Amy Bartlett Wright – “Three Waves for Coastway” (2013)
Amy Bartlett Wright has worked for 30 years as a professional artist, freelance muralist and scientific illustrator. She studied at the University of Maryland and the Rhode Island School of Design. Bartlett Wright is currently a member of the RISD/CE faculty. This piece was generated after the sale of the building whose facade it adorns. AS220’s Umberto Crenca and lawyer Mark Greenfeld encouraged Coastway Bank to do something with the empty facade. Originally the team working on this piece were going to have to reappoint the building and put up a metal panel for the mural to go on it (this was back in 2011.) Interesting detail: the mural goes onto a 42-feet-tall chimney and two 16-feet-tall street lights.
Nidal Fakhouri – “Tile Pedestals” (2015) – curated, funded, and programmed by The Avenue Concept
Comprised of porcelain tiles with colorful silkscreened patterns and designs, each pedestal has its own theme that expresses Nidal’s own personal taste and interests. Some of these themes include: Classic op-art patterns overlaid with technology imagery (Fakouri is a computer engineer and programmer); geometric patterns inspired by Islamic art (his father hails from Lebanon); and sea creature drawings inspired by Ernst Haeckel, a 19th century German naturalist (the artist is a big proponent of swimming in the ocean).
Arley-Rose Torsone – Text, Fontwork on Dreyfus Building (2008)
Arley-Rose Torsone helped to pioneer a look and style of sign painting that took Providence by storm in the mid-2000s. In 2008, AS220 purchased this, its third downtown building. The Mercantile Block is a four-story plus basement building with nearly 50,000 sq ft. AS220’s adaptive re-use of the historic Mercantile Block provides for a vibrant mix of live and work studios, arts related offices, and one-of-a kind, local retail and commercial spaces.
Unknown – Corliss Steam Engine Mural (?)
A Corliss steam engine (or Corliss engine) is a steam engine, fitted with rotary valves and with variable valve timing patented in 1849. Invented by, and named after, the American engineer George Henry Corliss of Providence, Corliss engines were generally about 30 percent more fuel efficient than conventional steam engines with fixed cutoff. This increased efficiency made steam power more economical than water power, allowing industrial development away from millponds.
Robert Ellison – “Time Wave” (1998) – RISCA Percent for Art
This steel sculpture was commissioned via the RI State Council of the Arts percent for art fund. It acts as a contemporary foil for the Shepherd clock on Westminster St.
Providence Art Windows (URI and RI Housing Buildings, Kresge and Providence Journal Buildings) (2010-2015)
Providence Art Windows exhibited juried art and art installations to fill empty retail spaces and participating gallery spaces for about a half decade. Curators rotated their shows three times yearly and exhibited local as well as non-local artists. The project was funded in part by the Arts Jobs program of the New England Foundation for the Arts, made possible with funding from the National Endowment for the Arts and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
Erminio Pinque and friends – Big Nazo Studio
Since he founded the puppet-sculpture-performance group BIG NAZO in the streets of Italy in the late 1980’s, director, performer, and fabricator Erminio Pinque and his team of collaborating artists, larger-than-life-sized aliens, robots and animal hybrid characters have performed in thousands of parades, festivals, street and stage shows throughout the USA, Europe, and Asia.In addition to performing throughout New England and at international Festivals around the world, Pinque teaches “Creature-Creation” at RISD. As a 2018 Rhode Island Foundation Innovation Fellow, Pinque will re-purpose vacant storefronts as cultural-activity hubs to inspire large-scale public events. Through community partnerships, he will have school and community groups participate in workshops to create costumes, props, wearable sculpture, and other forms of performance-ready mobile visual constructs unique to the character of their communities.
Brower Hatcher and Marley Rogers of Mid-Ocean Studio – “Cosmic Flower” (2017) – curated, funded, and programmed by The Avenue Concept
This work recreates nature in anticipation of losing it. Its geometric system of metal and reflective plastics has hexagonal cells made out of rods of different lengths that can be put in tension and compression to create different effects. Metal pieces are also powder-coated differently to create what lead artist Brower Hatcher calls “prismatic possibilities.” Hatcher describes the green base of the flower as a “cellular stem” and calls the reflective petals “attractors,” noting that much in the same way flowers attract bees, these reflective surfaces attract onlookers to the work.
BY USING A FLASH ON A CAMERA ONE CAN EXPERIENCE THE FULL ATTRACTIVE EFFECT
Henri Schonhardt – “Scout” (1911)
Schonhardt was born in 1875 in South Providence and graduated from RISD. In 1898 he returned from study in Europe to Providence to teach modeling at his alma mater. Schonhardt was commissioned by the State of RI for just over $1,500 to create a sculpture as an incentive to patriotism. He modeled “Scout,” on Major Henry Harrison Young, a notorious Union soldier who was just 25 when he enlisted in 1861. He died mysteriously and tragically in 1866 during the Mexican War.
Sydney K. Hamburger – “Fragus”(1998) and “Gene’s First” (1998)
Sydney K. Hamburger, a New York based sculptor, created “Gene’s First” for the 1999 Convergence Festival in Providence. She later donated the work to the City. Considered one of the premiere arts festivals in the country, the Convergence International Arts Festival, which featured an annual exhibition of temporary large-scale public sculpture by nationally and internationally recognized artists, was founded by city arts administrator Bob Rizzo in 1988 as a one-day festival in Roger Williams Park. Over the course of sixteen years the it grew into a three-week statewide festival centered in the heart of downtown Providence.
Liz Potenza, April Franklin, Jackson Morley, Tim Ferland, Frank Barada, Howie Sneider – Steelyard Ice Rink Fence (NEA Our Town 2012)
Randolph Rogers – “Soldiers and Sailors Monument” (1871)
Designed by Randolph Rogers in 1866, the Soldiers and Sailors monument cost $60,000 and features ‘America,’ a ten-foot-tall bronze figure perched atop a multi-tier monument with four additional bronze figures on its second tier. These secondary figures represent the infantry, artillery, cavalry, and navy involvement in the Civil War. A cannon and cannon ball sit on the monument’s lower steps. The relief panel called ‘History,’ has one of the earliest representations of an African-American in the history of American sculpture. It depicts a Black figure in classical dress about knee length with the broken shackles of emancipation. The monument was sculpted in Rome, moved to Munich, and assembled in Providence. In 1913 “Soldiers and Sailors Monument,” among the City’s oldest, was relocated to the center of Kennedy Plaza where it underwent restoration in 1992. It was relocated to its current location in 1997 as part of plaza renovations.
Quian Huang – “Story-Telling Fence” (NEA Our Town 2012)
What people can see on the fence is only the paint, but the artist used a lot of materials for the construction to tell the story of mass transit in Rhode Island..She used the RISD libraries to find historical images of a 1600s Indian trail, a 1740s stagecoach, an 1820s omnibus, an 1860s horsecar, the first trolley in RI from 1880s, a cable car from the 1890s, the 1892 Providence Trolley, and the 1913 Eastside Tunnel. Then she hand drew them in black and white and used Photoshop and Illustrator to edit the images before printing them out on adhesives. Then she cut out the black parts and pasted them onto the fence, sprayed white paint over them, and peeled off the adhesives, leaving just the white the paint on the fence posts.
Replica of sculpture by Theodora Alice Ruggles Kitson – “The Hiker” (1906)
Originally titled “The Spirit of ‘96” this sculpture was a gift of the RI chapter of the National Association of Spanish War Veterans. The Gorham Company purchased the design of the statue from Kitson and cast it over 50 times, paying the original artist a royalty each time. Other replicas are sited in Fall River, MA and Washington, DC. The sculpture depicts an infantryman standing on a boulder that represents the Army and Navy. Dressed for tropical warfare with a wide-brimmed hat and sleeves rolled up, this hiker was bestowed upon the city in 1911 but was originally intended to be sited in North Burial Ground. It was installed in the heart of the City after veterans of the Spanish American War’s Philippine Insurrection advocated for it.
Howard Ben Tre – Bank Boston Plaza (1998)
Ben Tré’s breakthrough technical innovations have extended his mastery of cast glass and allowed him to create monumental sculptures that can survive the rigors of outdoor installation. Much of his work is cast low-expansion glass, bronze, gold leaf, and granite.
Turk’s Head Plaza
According to Robert Isenberg at the Providence Journal, the original face above the plaza was the figurehead of a ship, appropriately named “the sultan.” A shopkeeper named Jacob Whitman somehow procured the eye-catching visage and hung it above his storefront. By the late 19th century, the stoic face was a popular landmark, and shoppers would convene regularly “at the sign of the Turk’s Head.” In 1913, New York architects Howells and Strokes constructed their 16-story edifice on the same site, and the Turk’s Head Building was briefly the second tallest structure in Providence (after the State House.) The original Turk’s head is lost to history, but the builders carved their own replica to embed in the facade.
Umberto Crenca – “Takes All Types” (2017) – curated, funded, and programmed by The Avenue Concept
Founding artistic director of AS220, Umberto “Bert” Crenca’s twelve-foot-tall drawings are the second temporary installation by The Avenue Concept on the historic 1950s facade of the former Providence National Bank (the first were a series of trees by Philipe Lejune). The original Providence National Bank Building was completed in 1930 and faced Westminster Street. The colonial revival building was designed by Wallace E. Howe and featured “murals of historic Providence buildings, paneling of Burma Teak, and a floor of Vermont Marble.” In 1950 the building was expanded, and a new federal revival façade was added onto Weybosset St. So the façade in question, was really a backside addition to the bank building.
Andrew Hem – “Misty Blue” (2017) – curated, funded, and programmed by The Avenue Concept for PVDFest 2017
Born during his parents’ flight from Cambodia in the wake of the Khmer Rouge genocide, Andrew Hem grew up between the rural animistic society of his Khmer ancestors and the dynamic urban art scene of Los Angeles. Fascinated by graffiti at an early age, he honed his skills with graphics and composition on the walls of the city before following a passion for figure drawing at the Art Center College of Design. This figure was based on a child that approached Hem when he was backpacking in Cambodia. Hem says he likes to paint subjects of all different races; skin tones are especially interesting to him.
Johann Bjurman/Providence Painted Sign – Hanley Building Peeling Facade Mural (1987, restored 2017)
The original mural, painted in the trompe l’oeil style, shows a faux façade of windows and architectural details. The illusion is revealed in the lower right-hand corner of the building as the painted surface appears to peel away from the wall as a giant piece of paper.