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  • Writer's pictureAllison Newsome

NPR, All Things Considered, 'Three Sisters' Rhode Island's Public Radio, Providence For the past

Updated: Jul 13, 2023

For the past five summers, Providence has hosted PVD Fest, a multi-day street festival that fills the city with crowds watching performers from all over the world - musicians, dancers and even acrobats suspended in the air. All of that was cancelled this year.

But PVDFest also features public art installations, and you can still enjoy those if you take a walk in downtown Providence.

A giant purple and yellow flower blooms at the end of Westminster street in Providence. It’s part of an artwork called “Three Sisters” created by Allison Newsome and Deborah Spears Moorehead.

Three sisters is made of two parts working together. First, there’s the flower: it’s an 18-foot high sculpture made from aluminum. Purple petals branch out from a yellow stem and there are chains and images hanging down from a canopy at the top. The sculpture is supported by a 500* gallon water tank.

Allison Newsome designed the structure.

NEWSOME: I’m inspired from growing up in the redwoods. The upper canopy of the redwoods catch the fog and the rain. And the same is true of the upper canopy in the petals. They collect the dew and the rain. And from the upper canopy down to the base to store the water.

Deb Moorehead is a Seakonke Pokanoket Wampanoag artist and she shared the Wampanoag story of Skywoman with Allison.

MOOREHEAD: Skywoman fell and out of her came all the vegetables. Like the stringbeans came from her hands. The pumpkin was her head. All the vegetables… potatoes were her feet. That’s the story of creation.

Deb created drawings illustrating parts of the Skywoman story and then Allison used those drawings as a template to create images in aluminum using a technique called repoussé.

NEWSOME: You use a resin - it can be a pine sap based resin. And you create a mound, and you put your metal whether it’s silver, gold or aluminum in my case, over it. And just start hammering away and the resin receives the impact. So as you’re pounding it out it’s cradled. And they heat the resin up also and that makes the metal more malleable.

The aluminum sculpture is also a functional rain-catcher. The hammered metal images are linked together with a chain. When it rains, the water flows down the chain, over the images and into the water tank.

NEWSOME: About a half inch of rain will give you 50 gallons of water which is a standard rain barrel.

The second part of the installation is a few feet away in the plaza and it relies on that rain barrel. It’s a round planter about 10 feet in diameter made from apple tree branches. Deb says that her collaborator Allison reminded her of a bird as she made it.

MOOREHEAD: She just wove a nest di-di-di-di and it was done. And then she put a big mound of dirt in it. And underneath the dirt mound she put fish.

The fish are there as fertilizer because there’s corn, beans and squash growing in the planter, all together. The three plants are known as “the three sisters.”

MOOREHEAD: They have the nutrients - one gives to the other the nutrients that it needs. And they exchange them so it makes them stronger and they’re the main sustenance for the Native people, the indigenous people the eastern woodland Native Americans because we make succotash from it.

NEWSOME: The three sisters is a huge part of the origin story which is about Skywoman who falls to earth and gives birth to squash, beans and corn.

The Skywoman story ties the two pieces together as the rain collected by the metallic sculpture is used to bring life to the organic components in the planter.

MOOREHEAD: So the art is not only beautiful, it’s very functional for what we may need in the future for water where we have droughts.

NEWSOME: I feel like we’re going into some really tough days with climate change and sustainability is really going to become preeminent.

MOOREHEAD: Maybe those sculptures can be all over the place to help people water gardens.


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