On September 10, a parade led by the Providence Drum Troupe will kick off from the PVDFest main stage and wend its way through the streets, gathering curious onlookers along the way, until it reaches RISD’s Market Square, where the city’s latest piece of public sculpture will be unveiled.
The debut of Rhode Island sculptor Gage Prentiss’ vision of Edward Mitchell Bannister, renowned oil painter, art critic, and Providence Art Club founding member, will be the culmination of a three-day-long celebration. “The weekend will be wrapped in art,” says Jennifer Davis-Allison who, with Nancy Gaucher-Thomas, co-chaired the committee that helped give Bannister’s life-size likeness a permanent home along the Providence River. “If we spoke an idea, it materialized. It felt like manna falling from heaven,” she says. “And I think that has a lot to do with Bannister and the impact of his life on Providence.” She adds that the sculpture is the most significant recognition of Bannister by the Providence Art Club and serves to catalyze their celebration. Of the sculptor, David-Allison shares, “We owe so much to Gage and his passion.”
“This is the most fulfilling thing I’ve done artistically in my life so far,” Prentiss says of the sculpture. “I encountered Bannister’s photo before his paintings. I saw his beard, mustache, and intense gaze, and he piqued my curiosity. So I looked for his art, and it touched me deeply. I’m actually a little upset that I spent so much of my life not knowing about him.”
Prentiss spent four years translating his love for Bannister into something tangible, focusing on every detail, from the design of the bench to the clasp on Bannister’s shoe. “I wanted it to have an authentic presence,” he says. “I tried to portray the presence that I felt through his art, through his gaze, through other people’s stories about him.”
The sculptor is not naive to the cultural conversation that would question whether he, as a white person, has the right to portray a Black person. “I’m an artist, not a historian or a person of color from his time. My goal is to interpret Bannister as I have experienced him. The statue is an expression of my love for the inspiration, joy, confidence, and awe his art, life, and presence have had on my life.”
Prentiss envisions the sculpture as an impetus for others to share stories about Bannister and the people in his radius. “I hope I’m holding out a baton so that historians, educators, and biographers will run with it and lead people toward other stories and lives from Bannister’s community and experience.”
The celebration will begin at The Providence Art Club with a cocktail party on Friday, September 8 at 6pm. In addition to sculptor Prentiss, internationally celebrated artist and educator Joseph Norman will be in attendance, and Alexus Lee & Trio will serenade revelers with their jazz stylings. The party will roll into the street on Saturday, from 12-4pm, with an Art Club block party, complete with food trucks, cocktails, live entertainment, art sales, open artist studios and guided tours of the club space.
On Sunday, after the parade kicks off at noon, Providence Mayor Brett Smiley will proclaim September 10 as Edward Mitchell Bannister Day. The mayor will share the stage with Prentiss; Joe Wilson, Jr., director of Providence’s Department of Art, Culture and Tourism; and Shawn Kenney, president of the Providence Art Club, among others, before the statue is officially unveiled. Mixed Magic Theatre’s Exult Choir will close the celebration. For a full schedule of events, visit ProvidenceArtClub.org/bannister-project/
No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here