Rhode Islanders are spending much of the winter months cooped up inside. With the snow falling incessantly outside, they can only dream of the spring, summer and fall, when the days are warm.
The Ocean State has so much to offer its residents and its visitors alike, but local historian and author Paul Caranci and his daughter Heather have teamed up to offer something new and exciting to the list – their new book, “Monumental Providence: Legends of History in Sculpture, Statuary, Monuments and Memorials.”
After having tackled the state’s oldest unsolved murder mystery in his book, “The Hanging and Redemption of John Gordon,” as well as a historical account of the origins of the city of North Providence in “North Providence: A History and the People Who Shaped It,” Caranci approached his daughter Heather one day with a novel idea for his next book, for which he was seeking a co-author.
“Dad had this idea for quite some time, to explore all of the local statues and monuments and their history,” Heather said. “It was something he found quite interesting and he wanted to take photos of each one and learn the history behind them.”
To Heather, the idea sounded extraordinary, and she agreed to co-author the book with Paul.
“Very quickly, however, we realized that to do all of the statues and monuments was just too many. There are hundreds and hundreds of them all over the state,” Heather said. “We limited it to 100 of the ones located just in Providence, and even doing that, it took us a year.”
And so began the task of cataloging the statues and monuments found throughout the city of Providence.
Together, the father and daughter pair began researching and locating the monuments and statues they’d seen using the only two resources they’d found – two books entitled “Hidden Treasures” and “Outdoor Sculptures of Rhode Island.”
Using those as a basis for their research along with some information from the state’s archives, colleges and historical society, they began searching, researching and photographing. Although many of the spots on their list were familiar to them – places they might have passed regularly over the years – others seemed to have disappeared from sight, having been moved through the years or being less than obvious in their locations.
“Trying to find some of them was nearly impossible,” Heather said.
In a press release, Dr. Patrick T. Conley, Rhode Island’s historian laureate, noted that the authors “have performed a monumental task in identifying the sculptures and monuments of the capital city in an odyssey that has taken them to every part of our 18.91-square-mile metropolis to locate and identify these works of art.”
Thanks to the tireless work of the two Carancis along with some help from Heather’s 6-year-old son, Casey, all 100 works of art, along with a narrative piece describing the historic and artistic significance of each, will appear in one place.
According to Paul, having the research all in one place is great in and of itself, but being able to use the book – whether as a local resident or as a tourist, as a means of getting out and about in the city of Providence – is invaluable.
“The reader will not only be given an understanding of the artwork itself, but will be able to incorporate a self-guided tour of each magnificent statue, monument, memorial and sculpture, understanding both the purpose for its placement and the intent of the artist in creating the ‘masterpiece,’” he said.
The two agree that “some of the stories will amaze, while others will, perhaps for the first time, provide the observer with an explanation of the significance of each individual manifestation of the public artwork.”
The co-authors used much of their own photography in the book, but also incorporated photos with historical detail or significance.
“We tried to mix in current photographs with older postcards and historic photos,” Heather said. “Some of them had such amazing scenery or texture, we wanted to incorporate them.”
Providence City Archivist Paul R. Campbell provided the book’s foreword.
“Public monuments and sculpture have served as an artistic form of cultural memory since the dawn of civilization. Many of the more monumental expressions of this form of remembrance are familiar icons. The pre-historic Stonehenge, Egypt’s Sphinx, the Eiffel Tower, or America’s Statue of Liberty and the Washington Monument are obvious examples of this form. Although Providence cannot boast of larger than life expressions of monumental public art, our local landscape is, nevertheless, fortunate to be graced with an abundance of public art in many forms and representing the work of a number of talented artists,” Campbell said in the press release. “One could argue convincingly that our local public art is under-appreciated or simply unnoticed, but Paul F. Caranci, in collaboration with his daughter, Heather, seek to change that perception by raising the profile of the public art that surrounds us.”
In addition to being a resource for tourists, the Carancis hope to be able to increase Rhode Islanders’ awareness of many of the icons that are seen on a day-to-day basis, as well as to inform them of others that may be a bit more obscure.
“So often you see a statue but you don’t know the story behind it,” Heather said. “Or, you never give it a second thought, not realizing that there is an amazing story behind it.”
“Monumental Providence” targets many areas of the city but focuses in on several general vicinities, making it easy for readers to make a day of finding them.
“The biggest portion of them can be found in Roger Williams Park and Brown University,” Heather said.
Additionally, the areas in and around other colleges and universities such as Providence College, Rhode Island College, Johnson & Wales University and the Rhode Island School of Design are also featured, as are a variety of public and private buildings, neighborhoods and parks.
The Caranci book is currently in publication through Stillwater River Publications and is now available on Amazon.com. It’s expected to hit bookstores soon. The book, which sells for $20, describes 101 works of art and contains 100 photographs. The cost of an electronic version is $10.