Bannister Statue Is A Stunner

Sculptor Gage Prentiss wasn’t the only smiling face Thursday morning when his stunning statue honoring Black landscape artist Edward Bannister was lowered into place on the river side of the Market House building downtown. The general consensus of those gathered was that this was a work of genius and it had been perfectly situated. (When was the last time a piece of publicly-displayed art made everybody happy?) Born in Canada in 1828, Bannister made his way to Providence where he and a group of professional artists, amateurs, and art collectors founded the Providence Art Club, holding their first meeting in his studio. He and wife Christiana Carteaux Bannister, both ardent abolitionists, were also drivers of a lively social scene. The Art Club has a weekend of events planned to celebrate the Bannister statue and honor Mr. Prentiss (see below).


Gage agreed to answer a few questions for Dose readers. The following was edited for clarity.

PDD: What was the jumping off point or inspiration for this design?

Prentiss: There’s a famous statue that I saw as a kid on the campus of UPenn . .  it’s a bronze statue of Benjamin Franklin sitting on a bench, reading a newspaper that he published, with a little bird on the end. And when I was thinking of a statue that would showcase Edward Bannister but also be inviting and create an encounter . . . and just having an open space on a bench to watch someone sketching.

PDD: You did extensive research on Bannister’s likeness and his clothing, but how did you approach the bench?

Prentiss: I researched Central Park benches that were in production at that time . . . I found those, I found photos and diagrams and I built it from scratch with wooden laths so it would match the texture of the piece. It was a lot more more expensive than just buying a bench.

PDD: That’s what I thought it was going to be . . . that the statue would go on a bench.

We thought about that, but we wanted it to show the patina of people. . . we wanted that to get burnished gold with peoples’ butts . . .  we wanted it to weather and match the statue so it didn’t look like an ornament . . . this is about  cohesion and bringing everything together so it’s one piece.

PDD: Like many locals, I thought that the Market Square location had been selected because it had once been a slave market, but you have found that not to be the case?

Prentiss: I went to the RI Black Heritage Society and they had done an entire survey of everywhere slavery took place and all of that . . . slaves were bought in catalogues, in people’s living rooms, and they would go pick them up at the dock. [The truth about Market Square] is better than that . . .  this was one of the first places anywhere in Rhode Island where a person of color could rent their own booth and own their own business. And they did that. It’s so much more positive than everyone imagined.

PPD: Bannister is drawing a woman on a sketchpad in his lap . . .

Prentiss: I’m most proud about that. It is his wife, Christiana Carteaux Bannister. But I don’t enjoy drawing at all . . .  I asked my father-in-law Bruce Grefe if he would do it. [Gage’s wife is C. Morgan Grefe, executive director of the Rhode Island Historical Society. Her father is a professional artist and educator in New Jersey.]


It is worth remembering that Gage’s actual work was the statue in wax and that was lost during the casting process. (Let that sink in.) He was effusive in his praise for the work of Massachusetts company Sincere Metal Works adding, “Seeing it in bronze is better that seeing it in wax.”

His enthusiasm Thursday morning for how the whole project had finally come together was utterly charming.

“I’m losing my mind right now. This is the best thing I’ve ever done.”

Agreed . . . until his next thing.


To celebrate the life and legacy of Bannister the PAC has formed the Bannister Community Art Project with several events planned for this week, including a parade and official unveiling on Sunday at noon:

The celebration begins at the Michael S. Van Leesten Memorial Bridge with the Providence Drum Troupe leading the way in a pied piper marching band, gathering party goers along the way. Remarks by city officials and leaders. Performance by Exult choir.

Check out the installation during Saturday night’s WaterFire when images of Bannister’s work will be projected on the side of the building. The BCAP will have an informational table set up on the north side of the building staffed with people who are just dying to talk about Edward Mitchell Bannister and this wonderful statue.


Sketch of Christiana Carteaux Bannister drawn by Bruce Grefe.

You heard the man: Go burnish that bench!



1 thought on “Bannister Statue Is A Stunner”

  1. Gail Ginnetty

    So wonderful you were able to be at the installation yesterday to see Mr. Bannister come back to Providence . Now everyone can see him sketching at one of his favorite spots and learn about his artistic achievements.

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