2018-07-05 / Front Page

Library Offers ‘Think Space' for Community

By Rona Mann


The contemporary art installation recently erected on the front lawn of the Redwood Library and Athenaeum consists of a 12-foot high pile of hundreds of painted paving stones topped by an American flag. It is the initiation of a three-year “Material Politics” effort, funded by the Ford Foundation and will include outdoor installations, art exhibitions, lectures and public programs. (Photo by Lynne Tungett) The contemporary art installation recently erected on the front lawn of the Redwood Library and Athenaeum consists of a 12-foot high pile of hundreds of painted paving stones topped by an American flag. It is the initiation of a three-year “Material Politics” effort, funded by the Ford Foundation and will include outdoor installations, art exhibitions, lectures and public programs. (Photo by Lynne Tungett) “No longer is a library what it used to be,” said Benedict Leca, the self-admitted “passionate” executive director of the Redwood Library and Athenaeum. “What a library was is now defunct…We are of the moment, not an old building with books.”

Acknowledged as the oldest library in America, the Redwood Library and Athenaeum was built and founded by Abraham Redwood and 45 other colonists in 1747. It was their way of not only bringing the written word into the mainstream, but was, according to Leca, “a think space, a novel communal space even in the 18th century.”


Amber King and Alessio Ayuninjam were among the Salve students who painted the stones for the Redwood’s contemporary art installation. Amber King and Alessio Ayuninjam were among the Salve students who painted the stones for the Redwood’s contemporary art installation. The Redwood demonstrates its commitment to not being “an old building with books” through ongoing programs for all ages. In addition to standard fare book club meetings, Shakespearean readings are offered, art exhibitions, such as “Modernity vs. Tradition: Art at the Parisian Salon 1750-1900,” a classics reading program and children’s programming.

“A 21st century think space reveres the traditions of the past,” said Leca, “but actively engages with today. It looks outward and is both historic and contemporary at the same time. Knowing history is useless unless you apply these lessons today.”

Upcoming events include “Beyond the Fields: Middleton Place, Charleston, S.C.,” a lecture followed by a showing of the PBS documentary, and on July 25, Giovani Boldini and his “Newport Ladies Portraits,” a lecture that is the first of a threepart series.

The library is remaining “of the moment,” with the appearance on Wednesday, July 18 of New York Times best-selling author and humorist P.J. O’Rourke. “The Humorist in Un-humorous Times” is the title of the talk by this much-celebrated satirist and journalist with more than 20 books to his credit.

His quotes are legend in literary circles and often used to color his speaking programs. He enjoys riffing on the government and the state of politics in the country by saying things such as, “Giving money and power to government is like giving whiskey and car keys to teenage boys.”

O’Rourke’s appearance will be held outside under a tent, the event beginning at 5:30 p.m. with wine and other refreshments. He will begin speaking at 6 p.m.

“Remember Bimbia,” a site-specific installation by Cameroonian Belgian artist Pascale Marthine Tayou and commissioned by the Redwood Contemporary Arts Initiative, also illustrates the library’s effort to participate in of-the-moment discourse. It opened on the library’s front lawn, starting July 2, and it will continue until the end of October.

The installation consists of a 12 foot-high pile of hundreds of painted paving stones. It is the initiation of a three-year “Material Politics” effort, funded by the Ford Foundation and will include outdoor installations, art exhibitions, lectures and public programs.

Redwood’s director of Development and Programs, Carolyn du Pont, says this installation “recalls the slave market in Cameroon, anchoring the Redwood’s histories and the Rhode Island slave economy to the rubble of their repressed pasts.” It acknowledges Rhode Is- land’s extensive engagement with the slave trade.

Tayou was not present during the actual construction, bulldozing, and mounting of the installation, but from his native Belgium sent computer-generated models that he personally designed, so that he could serve as project manager off site.

The actual work on the installation was performed by art students from Salve Regina, along with local volunteers from the area, in “a community collaboration effort,” said Leora Maltz-Leca, exhibition curator and “Material Politics” project leader.

“The stones, similar to those that still pave Newport streets, summon not only revolutions past, barricades breached, paving stones hurled, but also revolutionary dreams of equality and justice yet unfulfilled,” she said.

“Abraham Redwood was a slave owner, and the fortune behind Redwood’s founding gift was made on the sugar plantations of Antigua…, Maltz-Leca said. "to understand the challenges of our own time, we need to be able to acknowledge the difficult events of our shared past, how they shaped us as a community and as an institution.”

For more information on upcoming events or exhibits, or to purchase tickets for the O’Rourke appearance, call 401-847-0292 or visit redwoodlibrary.org.

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