Moby at Gallery Z’s ArtMobile

Moby ExteriorGot art? Berge does, and not only in his Federal Hill Gallery. Now he has branched out with Moby the ArtMobile, which houses a variety of international and local art. I sat with Berge Zobian at his Gallery Z to discuss his remarkable concept and learned more about the man behind the mobile mission.

Carrie Decker (Motif): How did the whole concept of “Moby” get started?

Berge Zobian: I’ve been in the art world for more than three decades and noticed there was a gap in our communities and neighborhoods that lacked art resources and galleries. It was a dual process of bringing art to people who didn’t have access to the art world, but also as a public art concept. I wanted to bring it to a variety of public resources including schools, elderly housing and church groups.

CD: What types of mediums do you exhibit?

BZ: There is 23 to 30 feet of linear exhibition space plus pedestals and countertops that have displayed just about every type of medium. We have done everything from paintings to sculptures, pottery, video and short films. The only submission we don’t accept is digital photography. All works are original. For the past seven years there has always been a theme with each showing. We cover the why, where and what is it for. For example, each April we cover youth day that focuses on education to children and teens from ages 8-18. One particular subject was genocide, an education piece. We exhibited books, literature, pamphlets, art and propaganda. The learning experience was captured with artwork dedicated to genocide, with an emphasis on learning. We have done seafood festivals and exhibited nautical pieces. It’s a multi-faceted exposure with various themes and art on display.

CD: Tell me about the Moby and its unique design.

BZ: It is a former Federal Express truck that was unveiled in 2012 named by my daughter. It’s an aluminum box truck that we equipped with a French Walker Hanging System. (A system with rod sleeves attached to either aluminum or wood molding on walls with hooks that move art at various levels). The interior has a dry bar, hardwood floors, sound system, projections and moveable track lighting. We can project from inside out and outside in. There is lighting in both the interior and exterior and it is equipped with several monitors and sound/alarm systems. The truck is hand-painted red to match our logo. We have 30 sponsors that have contributed to all the amenities with Moby. There is a coffee machine on board! One sign designer has created 70% of the vinyl letterings throughout, and we added a bar code on the left side that takes you directly to our website.

CD: Where does Moby travel?

BZ: Moby has traveled to synagogues, churches, non-profits, schools, education centers, festivals, libraries and nursing facilities. We normally don’t travel beyond a 25-mile radius of the gallery.

CD: Are there challenges?

BZ: Yes, there are challenges! We have changed our ways and learned through experience that we aim to please our audience and have substituted some of the original artwork with signed prints. We have priced effectively and diversified some of our inventory. Now we can advertise that lower- priced gift items will be available for sale. It’s always a learning project. Some other things noted are, with a box truck, there are terrain bumps and movement of items that are not secured while in motion. We use bungee cords and have designed specialty countertops for displaying items to limit motion while en route. We also noticed when several people enter the truck from the front and exit through the rear, there is motion and movement within the truck. We have added stabilizers to reduce any type of truck movement when parked. Our generators have been replaced with quieter decibels, (60 or less) for noise reduction. We have also learned about cables and circuit breakers. If the electric is off, the GFI could be reversed and shut everything down and/or cause everyone to lose power. We had one experience with that, but we have fixed the problem! There is always a learning curve, but we try and stay on top of everything as we go along. As for distances, we are looking forward to branching out to the country to set up at local fairs and camping facilities. My goal is to reach these venues this summer or next year.

CD: Does anyone ever ask for food?

BZ: No, but Moby does go out at night and we are looking to tap into the commercial end in the future. We would like to host private dinner engagements for up to four couples in the truck, complete with seating, chandelier and local catered food that fits the art theme of the evening, eg, Eastern European art. Anyone could rent Moby and use the space for fine art and fine cuisine right in the comfort of their home or office area.

Studio-Gallery Z, 259 Atwells Ave, PVD; 401-454-8844;

Designing for Doris: David Webb Jewelry and Newport’s Architectural Gems and “To Preserve and Restore”: Newport Restoration Foundation at 50


NRF_artifactsWhat happens when you put jewelry and Newport history in parallel exhibitions? Amazing things. The Newport Restoration Foundation marks 50 years, and what a great cause for celebration. Two exhibits are currently on display at Rough Point, the oceanfront estate of Doris Duke, and along with David Webb Jewelry, the showings are well worth the visit.

Doris Duke, an heiress to the late James Buchanan Duke, an American tobacco and electric power industrialist, spent many summers in Newport throughout her lifetime. Her introduction to David Webb Jewelry took place in the 1960s when she began frequenting his New York boutique. She understood and related to his designs. Changes in the American culture for women were emerging, and modern, innovative designs were paired with semi-precious stones. Doris’ jewelry emulated her lifestyle.

David Webb (1925 -1975) was a self-taught jeweler born in North Carolina. He founded David Webb, the company, in New York city’s jewelry district in 1948. Known for his animal motif designs and brooches, he catered to celebrity clientele, including Elizabeth Taylor and Jackie Onassis. Helen Mirren and Beyoncé have also worn his pieces. His company continues to operate at boutiques in New York and Beverly Hills.

DD_earringsDoris was an insatiable collector, and her most impressive collection was her jewelry. Her introduction to Asia with her then husband, James Cromwell, at age 22, changed her interests forever. Her assortment of pieces was acquired from travels to the Far East, India and Europe, and includes jewels she inherited from her family. Doris often hired David to create specialty pieces with stones from her own collection. His process started with a pencil sketch and tracing paper on an 8 x 5-inch notebook. He kept a ledger book for client commissions with detailed information and drawings. There are several drawings in this exhibition marked with changes and iterations for Ms. Duke. Final designs were hand-painted on black cardstock for presentation.

Much like the jewelry sketches, the gallery is adorned with restoration freehand drawings of houses owned by the Newport Restoration Foundation. One particular architect, Richard Long, worked on the Simon Pease House, one of the earliest houses owned by the NRF. His drawings served as tools for the foundation to preserve the architecture to original form. Both forms of hand-drawn art, from jewelry to architecture, serve as rarely shown works that created beautiful works in history.

The second exhibit, Newport Restoration Foundation at 50, is a compilation of artifacts, furniture, photos and history. Doris was an avid art collector and philanthropist; she began the Newport Restoration Foundation in 1968. Not only did she fund a majority of the project, she got into the details. Doris hand-picked architects, project managers and paint colors, and was instrumental in overseeing many on-site visits. The restoration exhibit is dotted with artifacts found from colonialists, including glass, pottery and toy fragments. There are samples of architectural features, including a variety of moldings, finials and posts. The acorn and oak leaf patterns were a common theme and symbolized strength and long life. These characteristics played a huge part for carpenters replicating the restoration of preserving buildings to their original design. Photographs of the historic Newport waterfront line the walls with a timeline motif that sets the tone for how Newport has been preserved and restored for future generations. The photo of the construction of the Claiborne Pell Newport bridge (commonly known as the Newport Bridge), is truly amazing. It opened on June 28, 1969, connecting Conanicut and Aquidneck islands. The 50 years shows us great progress in the Foundation’s work and inspiration. There is an excellent interactive piece that poses the question to the viewer: “What will Newport look like in 50 years?”  You can create your own answer on a sticky note and stick it on the wall.

The exhibitions are currently on view in the Rough Point galleries through Nov 11; Newport Restoration Foundation:


Skye Gallery

Small Frye Photographer with Jonny SkyeOctober 5, 2017, marked an incredible day for Jonny Skye. Skye Gallery opened showcasing extraordinary contemporary talent with a fresh new vision.

I sat with Jonny and got to know her wonderful spirit and brilliant creative side. Born and raised in Oregon, her roots stem from indigenous ancestry with a deep connection to the earth that played a huge role in her upbringing. Always a curious child, Jonny told me she never met anyone who she wanted to be like and knew heading east to further her education would open a whole new world for her. Landing at Brown University enrolled as a pre-med student, she quickly became involved in a variety of school activities. It was one film course that made a significant turning point in her life: She came to the realization she was an artist. With an eight-year journey to complete a visual arts degree from Brown, she took time out to travel and became a mom in the process. The pull of education always drew her back to Rhode Island as she continued her education at RISD (Rhode Island School of Design) and obtained a Master of Arts in teaching. Her path then lead her to teaching art at several public schools in and across Providence, at the RISD museum, CityArts and several grant projects. These experiences changed her life and her heart.

Carrie Decker (Motif): Tell me your mission of Skye Gallery.

Jonny Skye: It’s all about connecting all the parts. I want to support living contemporary artists who otherwise would not have access to traditional marketing for themselves and their work. We need vision with words. That’s soulful. Artists throughout time move us to a better place by telling us about ourselves. There is power in conversation and we need that power of visual language to move us forward.

CD: How did this whole thing come to fruition?

JS: I’ve always had an idea for a gallery in my head. After taking time to life in The Gambia, West Africa with my family, I found myself back in Rhode Island. I picked up again and began teaching and consulting doing entrepreneurial side projects. I took a business planning class at the Center for Woman & Enterprise and wrote a business plan for an art gallery. Eagerly waiting to hear about a new job lead me to a conversation with the owner at Coffee Exchange. I continue to work there assisting with marketing communications and have known the family for more than 25 years. The owner helped me see my vision with start-up money to launch Skye Gallery. At that point, it became real. I trusted my instincts. I was back to my roots, back in the dirt, climbing that tree and seeing my vision. I scouted out space to lease and opened in October 2017. I believe and am fortunate to see beauty in people.

CD: What’s the best thing about Skye Gallery?

JS: I hope it is a joyful place. A bridge of different worlds and different ideas. It’s celebratory. It gets the dialogue going with acceptance of honest, authentic artists and how they represent themselves. All those good things! It’s about turning people on to things they normally wouldn’t know to learn. The human condition is now on a universal personal level. With a variety of trained and untrained skills, it’s how people are creating and working now. How they look at life and how they react to events that surround us. I like to add a mixed variety. Music complements the works and see how people intersect here. Relationships are building and are helpful. It’s a gift to meet artists.

CD: If you were not a gallery owner, what would you be doing?

JS: That’s hard to say. I have strong leadership and management skills. I would probably be doing nonprofit education. I am an artist; that’s who I am.

CD: Tell me your plans for the future of Skye.

JS: My next exhibition, titled “Reconnected,” will feature paintings by Brett Cimino through April 27, 2018.

In May I will be showing five Providence photographers followed by Peruko Ccopacatty, an Aymara artist honoring 40 years of his work.

In June the gallery will take part in PVDFest with live music, painting and printmaking.

Skye Gallery, 381 Broadway, PVD; 401-481-4480;

Raphael Diaz’s Silenced Voices


Diaz_DeckerThere are many definitions of art, but Raphael Diaz sums it up best; El arte es vida, la vida es arte, (art is life, life is art…). With his humble beginnings in Cuba, he has lived and traveled the globe. He moved to Rhode Island in 1991, and this is the place he calls home. At age 11, while living in New York City, his mother gave him 50 cents and he made the bold move to visit the Metropolitan Museum. This is where art came to him. While viewing a Modigliani masterpiece, he knew this was his calling. Painting became his world through his ethnic origin filled with Latin American cultures and customs. He paints life evolving not only with common themes like poetic feelings, then uses these tools to communicate and express pure existence.

The “Silenced Voices” exhibit is currently on display at the Watson Institute, International & Public Affairs building at Brown University. I spoke with Raphael about his show and asked him about his powerful message.

Carrie Decker (Motif): Are there particular paintings you chose for your theme?

Diaz1Raphael Diaz: Yes, the title “Silenced Voices” was chosen based on a series of paintings where you have children floating in little paper boats in the middle of the ocean. These children can be DACA children. They have no voice or home in our society. They don’t know if they are going to make it or sink! There is no balance in our world.

CD: Do you work in different mediums?

RD: I work in different mediums, but painting is my first choice. I am a poet at heart and also a sculptor, but painting is my first choice. BTW, I think I am a great cook!

CD: You mentioned in your bio that you are a citizen artist.

RD: Yes, I was born in Cuba and my family escaped to the Dominican Republic. We followed my grandfather to Spain. When I was 8, we came to New York City, and I grew up in Washington Heights. My neighborhood was filled with amazing people from every ethnic background. Each person’s perseverance and struggles became my inspiration to create.

Diaz2With his Cuban-Latin culture there is always good comfort cuisine. His painted winged plantain figures are studies from the Italian Masters of Michelangelo and Raphael’s angels. A reflection of eating modest food from his homeland. The wire fences represent barriers. Raphael explains they still exist and need to be removed. The nude forms — are they angels within us or angels protecting us from harsh realities? The somber figures do not always look at the viewer, as eyes share a person’s presence. Are they in solitude or deep thought, or are they preserving the very nature of our soul? Each painted boat, musical instrument and Jewish dreidel incorporated in his pieces is a reminder of family, holidays, struggles, joy and creativity. These are common themes throughout. His palette is multi-colored and the sky goes on forever. The checkerboard base can be interpreted as a struggle with current political situations or purely decorative in nature. Only the viewer can decide.

It’s always an inspiration looking at art through the artist’s eyes.  With each painting there is a story to be told.  This story is being told today.

Raphael’s next stop with be back in Cuba where the show will continue to travel spreading his creative work of “Silenced Voices.” Raphael has not been back since he left as a young child. The issues are the same, but from a different point of view.

Silenced Voices exhibit runs through May 31 at Watson Institute, Brown University; Watch the webcast of the artist talk here:

Peruko Ccopacatty’s Art Graces Kennedy Plaza

His attraction is magnetic. His occupation attire consists of a hat, a pair of glasses and thick gloves. His tool is the blowtorch. The man? Peruko Ccopacatty. With a solid metal-man appeal, he is a well-known international sculptor from Peru. Driven by his creativity, spirit and Aymara culture, Providence is extremely fortunate to have Ccopacatty’s work on display at Kennedy Plaza. The space serves not only as a transportation hub in the heart of the city, but a public space that is transforming into a “true civic heart,” according to Mayor Jorge Elorza’s vision.

From his early beginnings on Lake Titicaca, cradling the past of Peruvian ancient civilization, Ccopacatty’s roots run deeply entwined with themes of tight-knit family and hard work that often came with struggles, but also tremendous joy. His spirit has been transformed into many mediums of art, but eventually morphed into metal and three-dimensional forms. The past is very present in his works, and the connection he holds closest is the one to his past.

Photo: Carrie Decker
Photo: Carrie Decker

Ccopacatty’s four sculptures in Kennedy Plaza are of a man, an angel and two llamas – parent and child. With the llamas opposite each other, they form a strong presence and seem to have admiration for each other. Llamas are related to the camel family: They are intelligent, easy to train and originally migrated to South America from the North. They are widely used as pack animals because they are well-suited to harsh environments, and they played a big part in the Andean civilization, an important component of the Aymara culture.

The man’s stance is widely grounded, bold and proud. The Peruvian male performs intensive physical labor and takes responsibility as the protector of his entire family. He is unmistakable and very powerful as the city wraps itself around his force.

Angels, by historic definition, are messengers of God. Each culture’s definition differs slightly – Ccopacatty’s winged angel is the protector and overseer of the three other forms as it guides them through their journey in life.

The journey these sculptures took to reach Kennedy Plaza stretches back almost 20 years. Ccopacatty, an artistic hero in Peru, was honored with a key to the city and an intended installation in Kennedy Plaza 20 years ago. There was an official Ccopacatty day in the city (another accompanied the recent installation), and sculptures were developed showing intergenerational relationships in a family. The installation didn’t end up happening then, and was only resurrected recently by the efforts of local arts organization The Avenue Concept, which has been creating installation-quality sites and foundations around the city,

Photo: Carrie Decker
Photo: Carrie Decker

and through the persistence of the artist himself, who spoke at the unveiling about never relinquishing your dreams.

This is the first installation to grace the new Kennedy Plaza foundations. Most of the work from the original plan was sold in the intervening years – only the paternal figure remains, but the other parts were added to create a new dynamic that’s still about generations (it’s taken a generation to be realized), including the parent and child llamas and protective angel. “We try to connect the dots on as many levels as possible. The work is chosen for its many aspects – the stories, the history, the materials,” explains Yarrow Thorne of The Avenue Concept, who notes that the angel is constructed from car bumpers, an appropriate material to use in PVD’s transportation hub. “We want to reinforce the positive energy around the space in the heart of the city,” Thorne explains.

As part of the installation, the giant puppets of Big Nazo can be found in the plaza a few times a week, giving interested visitors guidance on the back story of the installation.

It’s a wonderful experience to find yourself surrounded by these forms in Kennedy Plaza because it’s easy to sense the energetic and powerful presence of the artist. Visit these statues to view figures of history, ethnicity and present-day art at its best.

Ccopacatty’s exhibition is on display at Kennedy Plaza through May 2018. He will also have a legacy show featuring 40 years of his world renowned art work — including 2D and 3D pieces. at a show from May 23 – June 15 at PVD’s Skye Gallery, 381 Broadway.

Visible Cloth, Invisible Bodies: Rhode Island Textiles and Southern Slavery in the 19th Century

As Black History Month is celebrated this February, the nation honors the history and contributions of African Americans. The University of Rhode Island Alan Shawn Feinstein College of Education and Professional Studies is exhibiting an impressive show titled “Visible Cloth, Invisible Bodies – Rhode Island Textiles and Southern Slavery in the 19th Century.”

uri3Entering the exhibition, you travel back to a time when RI played a significant part in the transatlantic slave trade that made possible the textile industry growth in New England. With a host of artifacts to view, I found the cotton plants (yes, you can touch) added a moving element to the already well-thought-out floor plan. “People often don’t realize that cotton plants, when they are picked, they are dead and they are sharp and they are nasty. Touching them makes all of that a bit more real,” says Steven Pennell, coordinator of the Urban Arts and Culture Program at URI’s Providence Campus.

The galleries included large-scale historical photos of southern farms, chattel slaves, under-aged children working in factories and precious weathered elders who cared for plantation families throughout several generations. The images are haunting and serve as a constant reminder that RI textile factories kept youth and women working long hours with little pay and wretched conditions. In 1824, 102 Pawtucket women textile workers went on strike, refusing to return until their old wages were restored. Making history, the strike was the first for working women in the US.

A small-scale model replicating the Slater Mill and a loom gives us insight into the country’s first cotton-spinning factory. It was very successful in producing cotton thread for various textile mills in RI. Cotton was sold to RI mostly from the south, where the mills began dominating the northern landscape. The fabric was used for clothing and was labor intensive and expensive to make when compared to wool and linen, also homespun. Among all this factory work are samples of payroll ledgers from various Rhode Island mills. They are enhanced with city and town scaled maps of rivers, streets and named establishments. Most African American families worked at the mills for one dollar a day.

“It was a revelation to realize that RI merchants were responsible for bringing slaves not only to plantations in the South, but also to mills in New England. Even after slavery had been abolished, uri2this was going on. There were people enslaved on plantations and then virtually enslaved in mills, being moved back and forth like the cotton. I had no idea they were bringing African slaves to work in the mills here. Some of the financial cycle included making sub-par clothing and shoes and materials for the slaves in the South, supporting the institution for financial gain here in the North,” adds Pennell.

Newspaper clippings and mappings of slave trade from prominent RI families show that the voyages were plentiful and the capital accumulation immense. Rosters were kept and visuals of ship transportation of slaves had well-thought-out plans and drawings. With these images, a local artist, Deborah Baronas, created drawings and ghost-like shadows of life-sized images on airy linen pallets. Her work is based on her own work experience and family heritage. She constantly explores the condition of the American worker along with the landscape, and her work is a perfect addition to this exhibit.

The spirits are with us here as a lingering reminder that history was alive and made its mark on our state.

To obtain more information about the exhibit, call or visit: 401-277-5206,; gallery hours: 80 Washington St, PVD. Mon – Thu, 9am – 9pm. Fri and Sat 9am – 4pm. Closed Sun.

Art Show Profile: Coupling

C_Clausen2017Susan Clausen and Umberto Crenca have been creating art for decades and it’s quite evident they continue to grow and evolve as individual artists, as well as influences each other. I recently viewed Coupling in Providence and found it purely original.

Susan shares her installation of “Mr. Bones at Home in his Breakfast Nook.” Mr. Bones, a larger-than-life paper mache skeleton, sits with a tea cup, (English tea, I believe), in constant motion on an ornate wooden rocking chair.  He is surrounded by a dizzying array of mediums that will have you studying each piece contentedly.  Such an exciting dimension on all levels. A “Mousie” video (also created by Clausen) plays on a television atop of which a mini mouse character sits on an ornate, trophy-like rotating pedestal. Is he proud?!  I think so…

With movement, interactions and color I am in a world of my own, wandering around Clausen’s installation of wonderful bobble head wall hangings, which are animal creatures that you can interact with: by gently tugging on a cord, the creature’s hinged jaws and ears move. It is so refreshing to touch and explore. The bat head framed in gold is surrounded by a tactile black surface allowing you to pull the weight and see an interesting life-like happening occur!  Her hanging cabinet takes you back to fun things you may have collected at one time or kept safe in your pocket. It’s nice to see things familiar on display. The window video, complete with curtains, takes you on a ride in the country with sunny vast fields and warm summery visions. I am in awe of each piece.

C_FlowerPowerAs I move to study and appreciate Umberto (Bert) Crenca’s work, there is a transition of mood and subjects that pop. In his Enigma series, a blue dot with carved wooden shapes tell us a story, an emotion or an ‘in the moment’ the artist has experienced. Is he inviting you in? …or wanting the viewer to feel a moment in time which an encounter may have taken place and Bert is sharing the incident. There could be many interpretations, and that is the wonder of Bert’s creations. As I move to his new self-portrait series, four total, I see a Master framed with two contrasting colors, black and gold. With the artist’s tongue planted firmly in cheek, each work represents his growth as an artist, exploring and searching for understanding and meaning. Captured with these pieces is a 3-dimensional lug nut sculpture enhancing the many facets of Bert and an interesting play on common art-like forms. I am always intrigued.

The exhibition had me thinking on multiple levels on how artists can relate to each other and their creative works and how the interplay between them complements both bodies of work. This show does both and is well worth viewing. Bravo!

Coupling is on exhibit at 159 Sutton Street, Providence through November 30th.  Gallery hours are Saturday’s 2-4 pm through November 25th, closing reception November 30th, 5-8 pm. To obtain more information about the exhibit, visit:; Most Saturdays from 2-4 pm, through November 25th or by appointment:; 401-419-7064


Artist Profile: H. Lane Smith

LANE SMITH PHOTOI never met H. Lane Smith, (known as Lane), (1924-1999) but in viewing his work at Studio 53 in Boothbay Harbor, Maine, I saw the artist within him. I learned about composition, taking chances on a range of mediums and stories of his life. He taught at RISD for 35 years, and the impact of his works and career still hold strong on many of his past students and alumnae. Gallery owners Terry Seaman and his wife Heidi Seidelhuber, (both artists), celebrate RISD alum each year during the months of June and September in their Maine gallery. This year H. Lane Smith was added to their list with just over 60 pieces.

In circulating the gallery, I was amazed by the variety of mediums in which Lane excelled and created. Rarely signing his completed works, a retrospective of his collection contains pen and inks, watercolors, charcoal, pencil drawings and monoprints. He was also an accomplished letter artist, especially calligraphy. The subjects range from wildlife to landscapes, seascapes, genres, still lifes and nudes. I asked his wife, Joyce (also an artist), what particular medium his always came back to. Her reply was, “Drawings.” Throughout his life, his inspiration came from travels and experiences, hence the variety of subjects and mediums. Sometimes it’s the drawings that create a gateway to other mediums that some artists explore to challenge themselves. The results can be most rewarding. Lane is one of those artists.

In wandering the gallery, the simplicity of two-dimensional works like, ‘Head on a Pedestal’, an oil on canvas, gives a rich blend of old world with a mystery of who is this woman with a mini landscape painting just beyond her? You have to ask yourself, what is the relation? How does present move with the past? Each answer will be different for different viewers, but conjures up the simple meaning of Lane’s composition. A monoprint done in 1972, titled ‘Open Farmland,’ gives us perspective on the fine tuning of color and texture. The mood is somber, but the landscape evokes a genre of simple life that makes you stop and find meaning. ‘Small Fisherman, Big Bench,’ another oil on canvas, depicts not only vivid colors, but their relationship to the viewer on bringing each person to be a part of observing his need to be quiet and just fish. Again, the composition is equal with a few focal points moving your eye around with hints of color blasts that make for a happy and warm painting. I relate to this one.

Lane had many students over the years, and at times when I was in company of his daughter, Jenny, his name came up in conversations with former students.  He was well respected not only as a fine professor, but a lover of the arts.  His work can be seen at Studio 53, Boothbay Harbor, Maine through October 9.

Studio 53, 53 Townsend Ave, Boothbay Harbor, Maine; 207-633-2755;;

Stages of Freedom Museum Celebrates African American History

SOF1The Stages of Freedom Museum had its grand opening on July 20, and I was so proud to be a part of this educational and enriching event. When a new museum opens its doors in Providence, it’s a special occasion. This museum is filled with lots and lots of African American history, and it’s free and open to the public. I sat down with Executive Director Ray Rickman, and he brought me up to speed on the idea, the mission and great work (in progress) ahead of them.

How did this idea begin? There are two reasons Ray told me. One, to promote black culture for the entire community. He noted when the black community is fully understood, everything will be better among all diversities and cultures. Two, swim empowerment, which means removing barriers so that African American children in Rhode Island can learn to swim proficiently.

SOF3Ray educated me on the lack of swimming among black youth. He said black children and teens (5 to 14 years of age) are five times more likely to drown than white children, not only in this country but the world. This is an alarming statistic. According to Ray, the African American community in general doesn’t know how to swim, is not connected to anyone who can swim and does not have the financial ability to learn how to swim. Ray told me of a woman who lost her son due to drowning and she reached out to him for assistance with her son’s burial and looked to him for a commitment to change this plight. Ray vowed he would make a difference and is well on his way on keeping his promise. This year, Stages of Freedom will spend money raised through the sale of their books on teaching several children how to swim in communities across the state. Ray said it will take time, the but the effort will be life changing.

SOF2The museum name was created by Robb Dimmick, the program director, using words from Frederick Douglass: “We are on a journey to Freedom.”  The museum’s mission:  1). To educate and empower inner-city youth by providing cultural opportunities and access to museums and live performance. 2). To build community by creating and providing programming about black Rhode Island life and culture to a wide audience. 3). To provide youth of color access to swimming programs in order to reduce the number of drownings in the black community. The space is filled with books for sale, creative artworks, furniture and more. There are speaking programs and scheduled events. Plans have already begun on large educational panels on The Black Church of Rhode Island. These are currently traveling to colleges across the state. The gallery space also showcases historic books, writings and artifacts. SOF4Exhibits will be quarterly, and a Frederick Douglass exhibition is in the works. There is ample space in the Merchants Bank building that will eventually be unveiling more objects and relics.  Displays by local artists are also in the works and theme-related subjects are being finalized. There is additional event space that will host Freedom Factor, a salon of African American arts and ideas. I love this space and what is stands for; there are so many interesting things I learned in speaking with Ray and I encourage everyone to stop in, listen, learn and contribute to the community.

 Stages of Freedom Museum, 10 Westminster St, PVD; 401-421-0606;

Operating hours:

Monday thru Friday 10am – 6pm; Saturday thru Sunday Noon – 5pm

Locale Profile: Café Pearl at the RISD Museum

PEARL3There’s a new ‘gem’ in town and it’s much too precious not to talk about. Being a museum enthusiast, I headed over to the RISD art museum in downtown Providence. I entered from Benefit Street and was pleasantly surprised when I was met by a new café that has taken up residence just inside the museum lobby. Yes(!), I can gather a beverage and something to nosh on before wandering through the museum — a space that’s most welcoming…

The project came together when organizers were tossing around an idea of creating an inviting space that would bring museum visitors, museum staff and the local community together. A partnership with Bolt Coffee was born and Café Pearl was created. The cafe is named after Pearl Nathan, one of the longest-serving volunteer docents. The environment is unique with exposed light, soft modern architecture and rotating art. Not only is it friendly, spacious and flexible, one can sit, visit, work and just be.

The café serves Bolt Coffee (lots of dedicated followers at their Dean Hotel location), specialty drinks, brioche sandwiches and salads. The menu can be viewed as you walk in (at the base of the staircase) or at the counter. The clipboard has three separate sheets: Drink menu, Food menu and About Bolt. At first glance I was amazed at all the choices of coffee, non-coffee and specialty drinks. I peered at the iced filtered Atticus Blend, then jumped to the double espresso latte with steamed milk, but then my roving eye landed on the specialty drink of blueberry lemonade with Yacht Club sparkling water (optional) over ice. This was the winner. The presentation in cut glass garnished with a lemon wedge was almost too pretty to consume, but I did and it was excellent. Moving on to the food section, the categories were toast, grits (yes grits), sandwiches, salads and yogurt. I dove in for a sandwich. Being one of those ‘allergy food freaks,’ I alerted the server about my allergens and she was able to accommodate me with the prosciutto and apple sandwich. Having thought about the entire menu I probably would have gone in for the avocado toast and/or a fresh kale Caesar salad for a second or third choice. Everything looked yummy.

Sitting at my petite café table, I was comfortable with my solo self and enjoyed not only the beverage and sandwich, but the surroundings. I was able to stop for a few minutes and gather the sounds of life and art, being mindful of the moment. This is a high-five if you are in the vicinity looking for a quick or longer stop to be surrounded by great beverages, food and a social atmosphere. Even if there is no time to navigate the museum, stop in and enjoy the sounds of summer at Café Pearl.

The hours of operation are Tuesday through Sunday, 7:30am – 4pm. With Gallery Night, the café has extended hours. If you are a RISD member, you receive a 10% discount at the café. Additional information can be found at the RISD Museum website: Information on Bolt Coffee can be found here:

Café Pearl at RISD Museum, 224 Benefit St | 20 North Main St, PVD