This gallery features some of the art and artifacts on permanent display at the Library. Click on any thumbnail image to view slideshow.
Sargent Special Collections Room
The Sargent Special Collections Room, which houses both the Chinese collection and the Newport local history collection, honors Clyde B. and Mary S. Sargent, former Newporters, who donated their personal collection of Chinese books and artifacts to the Newport Public Library. Displayed in the cabinets are: Chinese bronzes, cloisonne, and ceramics, as well as a replica of a Chinese junk, painting and writing implements, barber’s tools, a miniature cabinet and shadow puppets.
The black lacquered doors, just outside the room hold an inscription which reads: “The road to learning rests on diligence and industry. The road to human fulfillment and character rests on sincerity.” Author unknown
In Silent Witness, artist’s statement
Slavery in its many forms has existed since the origin of civilization, but 18th century slave trade was a systematic international enterprise, rationalized by the pursuit of efficiency and profit. The design of the slave ship was a frightening illustration of the ruthless disregard of human worth and dignity.
Newport played a significant part in the advance of this enterprise, producing rum to be traded for slaves in Africa, who were then shipped to the Caribbean and elsewhere to be sold for cash and molasses. The molasses was then brought back to Newport for the production of more rum and the continuance of the “triangle trade.”
More devastating than the physical suffering of millions of men, women and children was the psychological trauma of being trapped and helpless, anticipating an unknowable and dreadful plight. This sculpture is a relief with the bronze figures removed from the background so as to focus attention on the technically precise cruelty of human packaging. The background is of African rosewood, which evokes the warmth of the slaves’ distant homeland.
In silent witness to this horror, each figure looks directly at and through the viewer, as do the three African masques from the regions where the slaves were taken. The central figure, a 13th century Yoruban bronze, has the self-conscious poise and elegance of a great personage. The fact at right is from Lagos – a very sophisticated abstraction with gigantic eyes which stare in horror and amazement. The figure at left is an Ashanti fertility doll drawing attention to the special humiliation endured by women. It squints its eyes and mouth in stern rebuke to those who do not see the spiritual atrocity before them.
Joining their silent witness across hundreds of years and thousands of miles, this work begs the viewer to reflect that our own human dignity is measured by the choice to extend the same dignity to all other human beings. About this truth there is much to learn and here is a place to begin.
William Paul Haas