In response to the recent article about the imminent William Blackstone sculpture in Pawtucket:

I think the problems with this sculpture are twofold: first, it appears to be a figure of an odd man riding around on a cow while wearing a silly hat and reading a bible. It doesn’t look like a hero (Washington on horseback leading the troops) or a thoughtful leader (Lincoln seated in his Memorial) or a noble fellow to whom the city owes a debt of gratitude (no Martin Luther King). Secondly, the whole notion that one can tell any kind of complex story by carving a single figure out of stone (or soldered, crushed sheet metal) has always been a bad one. Art does something magnificent and at its best, life changing, but it is never that.

So. I did such research as I could and learned that William Blackstone was a quiet, hermit of a fellow who left Massachusetts because he just wanted to be alone, to live by himself in the woods, rather like that fellow in New Hampshire who has been in the news this week. May well have had good relations with the nearby native communities. Was said to like to ride on his cow while reading his bible. He didn’t found anything or do much, just lived a quiet life. Which is just fine. And I rather like the name Blackstone.

All that said, is this what we wish to celebrate? He was not the first occupant of the area, just the first white one. He didn’t build anything except his own cabin. I am proud to live in a place with a deep, rich history, the home of cultures many centuries older than Blackstone’s little cabin and garden. And later the place where the industrial revolution began, then the home of immigrants from all over, working in the factories powered by the river. And now, a city housing a thriving diverse population, speaking so many languages and eating such great food. Why not celebrate that? Why must we celebrate random dead-end bits of dusty past instead? If asked, I would have suggested a fountain that would be simply beautiful and alive in the spot where the statue is now to go, with plantings and a peaceful bench or two (Blackstone would have liked that) and then invest in a museum that could actually teach about all the history of this remarkable city.

I wish there had been more opportunity to offer up my thoughts earlier in the game. I live quite close to where the statue will stand, and all I could ever learn (from a construction worker on the site) was that there was going to be “a statue of Roger Williams and some Indian.”

Jacqueline Block


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