Statue faces water once again after park restoration

Statue faces water once again after park restoration

The Westerly Sun

WESTERLY — For a man made of bronze, Chief Ninigret has been surprisingly mobile for the past 100 years. He’s moved from spot to spot, usually occupying a prominent position in the Village Park on Bay Street in Watch Hill.

The work of Enid Yandell, a student of Auguste Rodin, the statue was moved yet again recently as part of the Watch Hill Memorial Library and Improvement Society’s restoration of the park. It now sits in the north end of the park, facing out to the harbor.

Joan Beth Brown, co-chair of the improvement society’s Park Restoration Committee, said turning the chief, who was sachem of the Niantic (Nehântick) Tribe, to gaze toward the water is significant.

“In the beginning he was facing the water, guarding the harbor and looking toward his homeland, Niantic,” Brown said.

The restoration includes restarting the statue’s fountain. Water flows out of the mouths of the two fish the chief clasps in each of his hands now that a new pump has been installed. The statue has not functioned as a fountain for 65 years, according to Ardi Schneider, co-chair of the restoration committee.

The park and Chief Ninigret are an integral part of Watch Hill’s character.

“So many people of different ages have an appreciation for the park and use it in different ways — children and their parents and older people who remember sitting on his lap when they were younger,” Brown said.

Many of the workers who helped resituate the statue shared their own memories of the chief and their experiences in the park and the village as children, Brown said.

The park was designed by Marion Coffin, a Westerly resident who was one of the first female landscape architects. The restoration was based on Coffin’s design of the park. The chief now occupies a slightly elevated position atop a soft, sloping berm. The raised position should give the chief more visibility.

“We want people to appreciate him as a work of art,” Schneider said.

“Which was one of our goals,” Brown agreed.

And, Brown said, by moving the chief to his new elevated position, each facet of Yandell’s craft is visible.

“You really want to be able to see him from 360 degrees,” Brown said.

A new entrance to the park has been established in the northeast corner, behind the statue.

The chief’s new position is believed to be his seventh. All but one were in the park. For a time, in the 1950s, he was painted gold and moved to the library’s yard.

The restoration also included uncovering and resetting the 72 steppingstones on the south end of the park. Many of the stones had become covered over by grass. The stones are adjacent to a different statue, “The Dreamer,” which has sat in the park almost without interruption since 1940. The interruption was a months-long interlude when the bronze statue, of a young boy, was stolen. Police discovered the statue in an Atlanta antiques shop and it was returned to its rightful location. Eventually, Brown said, the society will restore “The Dreamer” as well.

Clumps of rugosa roses in a sanctuary area adjacent to “The Dreamer” have been reconfigured. The area also underwent extensive weeding and pruning.

Planning for the park renovation started about three years ago. The effort was funded through donations. “It’s been completely a community effort,” Brown said. “We’d like to say thanks for the generosity of so many people in the community.”


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