A family connection in bronze
by Louise Lind
The following article originally appeared in Old Rhode Island magazine, May 1992. It is reprinted here with permission of the author.
As far as I was concerned, Dad was the original Mister Wonderful. So, when he pointed to the statue on top of the State House and said, "That's me up there," I believed him. That was when I was a little girl.
As I grew older and somewhat wiser, doubt began to emerge in my mind. I knew my dad was wonderful, but did the State of Rhode Island know it? Not that my dad would ever tell me a lie... but he was given to telling "stories" sometimes.
Many years later, when I had decided this was indeed one of Dad's fantastic tales, I mentioned it to someone who had known my father as a young man.
"It is your father," she said. "When he and his brother and sister and your grandmother came here from Sweden, they were very poor. He and your Uncle Carl earned extra money by posing for artists at the Rhode Island School of Design. Your dad posed for the man who sculpted the Independent Man."
Well, Dad never told me that! Maybe he thought having worked as an artist's model sounded... well, undignified.
Whatever. I now gazed at the Independent Man with renewed interest. Of course, from such a distance, it was hard for me to discern a family resemblance. He was, after all, standing on top of the fourth largest unsupported marble dome in the world.
I was really excited, therefore, in 1976, when the Independent Man was taken down for repairs and a new coat of gold leaf. When I learned he was to be displayed at Warwick Mall, I rushed right down to meet him face-to-face.
I was disappointed.
The face was not that of my father. Nor was the rest of him. This fellow looked like a wrestler. Dad had been a bicyclist and long-distance runner, but never a wrestler. Dad was tall and, especially as a young man, very slim. I did not bother to buy one of the little pewter replicas of the Independent Man on sale at the mall.
A few years later, though, I tracked down a pewter-casting firm in Johnston that still owned a mold for the Independent Man. I ordered one. This statuette is of a tall, slim young man. I like it better.
Maybe that really is my dad up there on top of the State House. Maybe the sculptor used my dad as a model and beefed him up to withstand the high winds he would inevitably encounter. Maybe the artist considered the facial features unimportant, considering the likelihood that no one would ever really see them.
Plus, the year was right. Dad was nineteen years old when the bronze statue was cast in 1899. Although the sculptor, George T. Brewster, was from New York City, my research tells me he taught at the Rhode Island School of Design in the late 1800s.
And why would Mr. Wonderful have said he was up there on top of the capitol dome if, indeed, he were not?
Louise Lind (1922-2007) worked as a reporter and feature writer for the Woonsocket Call for twenty-two years and as an account executive for radio station WWON for fifteen years. She became a freelancer in 1987 and authored Southeast Asians in Rhode Island: The New Americans, William Blackstone: Sage of the Wilderness, and the historical novel Heritage of Peace: Land of Hope and Glory (with Corinne Rocheleau Rouleau).