Celebrations for the new statue of painter Edward Mitchell Bannister continued Sunday despite the afternoon’s thunderstorms and the movement of the unveiling ceremony from Market Square to the RISD Museum auditorium.
Edward Bannister won the top prize at the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exposition, along with several other prizes at art exhibitions throughout the northeast, and was a co-founder of the Providence Art Club. His wife, Christiana Carteux Bannister, was an entrepreneur and abolitionist who founded the “Home for Aged Colored Women,” which continues operations as the Bannister Center for Rehabilitation and Nursing today, The Herald previously reported.
The ceremony and statue are the work of sculptor Gage Prentiss and the Bannister Community Art Project, which was established after Prentiss presented the idea of a community-oriented piece to the Art Club, said Project Co-Chair Nancy Gaucher-Thomas. Prentiss was previously commissioned to create a bust of Edward Bannister, which was then donated to the Art Club, she added.
Gaucher-Thomas said that the project, which has been about two and a half years in the making, has been made possible by an initial grant from the Papitto Opportunity Connection as well as community donations.
Prentiss’ excitement over the project stemmed from his experience at a show of Bannister’s work in 2018. Prentiss said he felt a “warmth” watching people viewing Bannister’s paintings, which he wanted to convey in his piece.
Prentiss drew inspiration from “a handful of images and lots of averages of anatomy” along with countless anecdotes about Bannister and his “confidence, ease, passion … and charisma,” he said. “He’s just a force.”
The design of the statue — Bannister sitting on a bench sketching — is meant to invite people to sit with him and participate in the art, Prentiss added.
‘Getting past the storm’: Celebrations continue indoors
Following a cocktail party and block party on Friday and Saturday, Sunday’s unveiling ceremony included performances from Mixed Magic Theater Co-Founder Bernadet Pitts-Wiley and the Exult Choir.
Though the statue was not officially unveiled due to the weather, several city officials and project leaders still shared their remarks about the piece and the project’s impact.
“Bannister would have loved that there was a raging storm,” said Gaucher-Thomas, noting the sun breaking through stormy skies in some of his paintings that represent the perseverance of “getting past the storm and rebuilding our community.”
Senator Jack Reed and Mayor Brett Smiley discussed the importance of the arts to Providence and honoring the legacies of those who have contributed to the City. Smiley shared that the City just secured a grant “to evaluate commemorative works” in Providence and will be working to honor those whose contributions may not have previously been recognized.
Superintendent of Parks Wendy Nilsson said that the event was also “a celebration of public-private partnerships” and a project that “brings to light the significance of Market Square” in Providence’s history as a city center and site of many protests.
Rickman shared anecdotes from Edward Bannister’s life and urged those in the audience to support projects to uplift underrepresented and underserved communities.
To close the ceremony, Jennifer Davis-Allison ’73, BCAP’s other co-chair, discussed “the power of being supported” and reflected on the committee’s past two and a half years of work, describing them as “a state of learning.”
Davis-Allison encouraged the audience to think to the future and leverage Providence’s “vast art and cultural assets to facilitate equitable resourcing, access and credentialing.”
A collaborative effort
Davis-Allison found that community members quickly started to “carve out their own attachment” to the project, which seeks to engage “a diverse audience.”
“We have this magnificent sculpture, and, along with it, we have a community that has been connected around bringing this about,” Davis-Allison said.
BCAP has been a collaborative effort between the Art Club and other Providence leaders who are working to extend the project’s impact beyond the weekend’s festivities.
Stages of Freedom co-founders Ray Rickman and Robb Dimmick, who have been strong advocates for elevating the legacy of Edward Bannister and his wife, were also involved in the project’s advisory committee.
According to Dimmick, the project and statue represent “living history” and help expose community members to the Bannisters’ cultural and philanthropic accomplishments, which are “still so present and alive today.”.
Meanwhile, BCAP’s collaboration with the Downtown Providence Parks Network aims to support groups visiting the statue and engaging with the art, said Gaucher-Thomas.
Michael McGuigan, another project collaborator and teacher at Trinity Academy for the Performing Arts, put together a 400+ page bibliography on the Bannisters and worked on an integrated curriculum at the academy “to align art and history,” she added.
“Our collaboration with the City has been about art in public space … (and) conversations about monuments and how (they) convey what we value,” said Gaucher-Thomas.
“We would like this (project) to be a catalyst for many things,” including heightening “awareness around underrepresented communities and their youth,” said Davis-Allison.
The project has several plans beyond Sunday’s celebration, including a panel discussion in October, a community breakfast with Amos House and a day of service leading up to Edward Bannister’s birthday celebration on Nov. 2, said Gaucher-Thomas.
The project will also unveil a plaque in honor of Christiana Bannister on Oct. 8 at 10 a.m. at 10 Westminster St. and host a “Saving Bannister” talk about Edward Bannister’s paintings on Nov. 2 at 5 p.m. at the RISD Museum, Dimmick said.
Rhea Rasquinha is a Metro section editor covering the College Hill, Fox Point & the Jewelry District and Brown & Beyond beats. She also serves as an illustrator. She is a sophomore from New York studying Biomedical Engineering and loves dark chocolate and penguins.