Honoring artists in publicly owned places

  Studio at the Saint-Gaudens National Historical Park.

Studio at the Saint-Gaudens National Historical Park.

Adapted from Robert Whitcomb's "Digital Diary,'' in GoLocal24.com:

In Europe, it’s very common to name streets, bridges, parks and other public infrastructure after scientists, visual artists, writers, actors and directors. But in the United States, very few pieces of public infrastructure are named after these creative types.

So it was pleasant to learn that Congress might turnone of the rare public places in America named for an artist --- the Augustus Saint-Gaudens National Historical Park, in Cornish, N.H. -- into a full-scale National Park, the first one in New Hampshire. Saint-Gaudens (1848-1907) was a famous American sculptor and a major figure in the Cornish Art Colony, which also included such luminaries as the painter Maxfield Parrish. The buildings (including studio) and grounds are gorgeous.

Across the Connecticut River in Vermont can be seen Mt. Ascutney, the subject of many paintings done by members of the Cornish colony.  (See photo below.) The fame of the Cornish  Art Colony may have led writer J.D. Salinger to move to the small town and became a famous recluse. I was in a class with his ex-wife Claire at nearby Dartmouth College; we never talked about Salinger.

And in Providence, there’s a move underway to make Megee Street, on College Hill, Bannister Street instead, after a distinguished 19th Century African-American painter and (of course) abolitionist Edward Bannister and his wife, Christiana, a businesswoman and philanthropist. The street is now named for the early 19th Century slave trader (one voyage) William Fairchild Megee, who was also involved in the China Trade (think opium). The latter business was Providence’s first great source of Big Money. (A lot of it was then invested in the city’s new textile, metal-related and other factories.)

Mr. Bannister was a co-founder of the venerable Providence Art Club and served on the board of the Rhode Island School of design.

So renaming the street would serve at least two good symbolic missions. I realize the name change would inconvenience people living on Megee, whose mail would probably be disrupted for months.

  Mt. Ascutney as seen from Claremont, N.H.

Mt. Ascutney as seen from Claremont, N.H.