Coffee with The Independent Man

Photo courtesy of the author.

Taped 2:30 PM Wednesday, December 13, 2023.

John Kotula (Motif): Excuse me, Independent Man… uh, I’m John Kotula. I brought you a latte.

Independent Man: Well thank you. That was thoughtful of you.


JK: Yeah, well ever since I read that you were going to be lowered from the top of the State House and displayed inside while your pedestal is repaired, I’ve been thinking about how I’d like to see you up close and maybe interview you, because you must have such a unique perspective on Rhode Island.

IM: Interview me? You do realize I’m a statue, right?

JK: Yes, I do. And yet here we are, chatting, sipping lattes.

IM: I guess things don’t always have to make sense. Sure. Why not? Go for it.

JK: Great! First question – when you were created, some people thought the place of honor on top of the State House should have gone to Roger Williams. Do you have any thoughts you’d like to share about this?

IM: In my opinion, Rhode Islanders don’t pay enough attention to Roger Williams. It is a big, big deal to be living in a state founded on freedom of religion and separation of church and state. It may have been the first time in history that citizenship and religion were declared unrelated. Williams also established governance by majority rule, and he was a powerful and nearly unique advocate of Indigenous rights. We all should be deeply proud of this heritage.

The question of who went on the top of the State House was separate from the question of whether Roger Williams should be honored, because certainly he should be. The architects who designed the building, McKim, Mead & White, and the sculptor, George Brewster, who created me, had the vision of building a Classical Revival landmark. In that tradition, the figure topping the building would be an allegorical figure rather than a distinct individual. I was originally called “Hope,” not representing an actual man but an ideal. Later it was declared that I represented “authority, dignity, independence, and power.”

JK: February 17, 1934 was the coldest day in Rhode Island history. It hit -17. What was that like for you? I mean, I can’t help noticing that you’re scantily dressed.

IM: Yeah, you’re anthropomorphizing me with that question. I have some reaction to temperature. I contract a bit when it’s cold and expand a bit when it’s hot. However, that temperature range, -17 to maybe 100, is nothing that would endanger me.

JK: Just pucker your nipples maybe?

IM: That’s about it.

JK: If you were going to place a personal ad, what would you say?

IM: I’ve thought about this! I’d write: Older, independent man, looking for companionship. Loves the outdoors and all kinds of weather. Can’t get enough of sunsets and sunrises. Don’t be put off if I seem a bit aloof. Let’s share some time with no strings attached. Age: 124, weight: 500 lbs, height: 11 ft, athletic build. Everything is in proportion and I’m always rock hard.

JK: Did you just wink at me?

IM: No. That was just a little left-over pigeon dropping in my eye. It’s an occupational hazard.

JK: Well, you’re certainly a good looking guy.

IM: Thanks. George Brewster was teaching at RISD when he created me. There were a lot of young, working class guys who would model for his classes to make an extra buck. I’m probably some composite of that crew.

JK: In all your years spent looking out over Providence, you’ve been an eyewitness to some remarkable changes. What was your favorite era?

IM: I’d have to go with the ’70s! I mean, I know in a lot of ways it was a shit hole, but it sure was lively, and gritty, and fun – The Young Adults and Room Full of Blues playing at the Met Cafe, people were enjoying chicken sandwiches from Haven Brothers and Italian food on The Hill, there was never a dull moment from Mayor Buddy, Fox Point was still a Portuguese/Cape Verdean neighborhood, there was porn and opera at The Columbus Theater, and above all, cheap rent.

JK: Wow! The ’70s would have been my answer, too!

IM: Well, John, given the nature of what we are up to here and the fact that you moved to to RI in 1971, we should consider the possibility that you’re putting words in my mouth.

JK: Independent Man, old buddy, no way! I’d never do that!… Anyway… anything else you’d like to say?

IM: If you, or anybody else stops by again, ask for an extra shot in the latte.