Friday, September 23, 2016
September 23, 2016: Rhode Island Histories: Providence Sites
[Other than a weeklong series inspired by a visit to Newport’s historic mansion The Breakers, I haven’t had the chance to write much in this space about my neighbor to the south. Well, Little Rhody, that changes this week! Leading up to a special post on some of my many wonderful RI colleagues!]
Yesterday’s political corruption post focused on some of the worst of Providence and Rhode Island, so I wanted to end the series with a few examples of the best of that beautiful city:
1) Roger Williams National Memorial: There’s a lot in Providence and the surrounding areas named after and honoring the city’s inspiring founder, including a beautiful park and a university about which more this weekend. But at the heart of those commemorations is the National Park Service’s historic site, which features not only extensive museums and spaces dedicated to remembering Williams but also impressive gardens (including, very aptly, a Native American Garden and Visitor Center) and many other unique spaces (such as the Hahn Memorial, which honors Isaac Hahn, the first Jewish American elected to public office in Providence). As I wrote in Monday’s post, Williams deserves a significant space in our collective American memories and narratives, and the memorial is a great starting point and model for sure.
2) Providence Athanaeum: America’s fourth oldest library is a special place for many reasons, but one 19th century story particularly stands out. When Edgar Allan Poe commenced a courtship with Providence poet and icon (and wealthy widow) Sarah Helen Whitman, he did so by visiting her where she spent the majority of her time, at the Athanaeum. Their resulting engagement would end as oddly and abruptly as many of Poe’s connections, and less than a year later Poe would die (Whitman remained a public supporter of his for many years after). But thanks to the unique site of their shared time, we have a record not only of their romance, but also of what both literary figures were reading during that period—a truly original way to understand these early 19th century authors and their lives and relationship, and one more reason to visit the Athanaeum (virtually and in person).
3) RISD Museum: Providence is home to a number of prominent colleges and universities, including one of the nation’s oldest and most esteemed, Brown University. Yet the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) is historic in its own right, exemplified by its 1877 founding by members of the Rhode Island Women’s Centennial Commission, and today it offers not only an unparalleled education in art and design, but also a unique and wonderful art museum. Fulfilling a longstanding goal of the Rhode Island Art Association “to establish in Providence a permanent Art Museum and Gallery of the Arts and Design,” the museum features both broad and deep collections of art and artifacts (it holds more than 86,000 such works in total) and a connection to RISD’s students, faculty, and resources that allows for groundbreaking exhibitions and projects. To cite only one, the RISD Art Circle (RAC) brings together young artists and other community members to create, engage with the collections, advance public service projects, and represent the best of this vibrant southeastern New England community and city.
Special post this weekend,
PS. What do you think? Histories and stories from RI (or any state) you’d highlight?