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Providence Art Club showcases bronze bust of prolific Black co-founder

Edward Bannister, often described as a prolific Black artist, was one of 16 co-founders of the Providence Art Club in 1880.{ } A bronze bust made in his likeness is being showcased at Providence Art Club. (WJAR)
Edward Bannister, often described as a prolific Black artist, was one of 16 co-founders of the Providence Art Club in 1880. A bronze bust made in his likeness is being showcased at Providence Art Club. (WJAR)
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The Providence Art Club opened along Thomas Street along what is now one of the most photographed streets in the nation.

The non-profit organization was established in 1880, with Edward Bannister, a prolific Black artist, as one of 16 co-founders that included 10 men and 6 women.

“He just brought so much to the Providence Art Club and its history,” Art Club President Nany Gaucher-Thomas told NBC 10 News during an interview Wednesday.

“He’s a pretty important individual to us and I think that his name is becoming more and more recognized throughout the country for his work,” she added, noting that he was a painter. “We own several Bannisters and I know that the RISD Museum also owns Bannisters. For the most part, he did pastural landscapes in oil, although there are a few seascapes out there, as well, but they are hard to find.”

To honor him, a bronze bust was recently sculpted in his likeness by Providence artist Gage Prentiss. It’s now being showcased at the Art Club at no cost for visitors.

“Gage created it as a request by an anonymous donor,” Gaucher-Thomas said, noting that the donor also decided to gift it to the Art Club. “It’s just tremendous.”

It was unveiled in February for members during a celebration on Zoom and is now on display in the non-profit’s Founders Room.

Elise Fargnoli, a member who serves marketing and communications chair, said she was thrilled when she learned the Club would be honoring Bannister.

She said Bannister was married to Christiana Carteaux, an entrepreneur and philanthropist born in South Kingstown, who later moved to Boston to work as a hairstylist.

The two met when he applied for a job at her salon.

“Their relationship – their partnership – was just so progressive for that time,” Fargnoli said, adding that there’s a bust of Carteaux Bannister in the Rhode Island State House. “She also supported her husband in a way back then that was not typical. She helped tailor his career and vice versa.”

Gaucher-Thomas shared similar sentiments.

“He and Christiana, in my mind, the way they built their life here, they must have been a power couple because she was also a philanthropist and she started an organization for women of color,” Gaucher-Thomas said. She was way ahead of her time.”

Gaucher-Thomas also said the bust commemorates the Art Club’s 140th anniversary.

“It’s really special,” she said. “When you think about the members we’ve had over the years, it reminds us to have more diversity and be more inclusive of community. It’s a club, but it’s a club of artists and artists are very inclusive. They want to be open and engaging and warm and welcoming.”

The Art Club consists of 600 members but is also open to the public. Classes workshops, and tours are available, as well.

“We want to engage the community,” Fargnoli said. “Art is supposed to be shared and we want to share it with people. We have great talent that walks through that door.”

The historical landmark has been a second home to artists and guests alike through the years. It not only features artwork, but also a state-of-the-art kitchen, a dining area, plus a café, and more.

Amid the pandemic, Gaucher-Thomas said the kitchen was busy making meals for front-line workers.

“We didn’t stop,” she said.

Bee Givens, a member, was there painting during NBC 10’s visit. She said she has a series that features various scenes of the Club’s interior.

“It’s about the only place I’ve been during COVID that’s been any fun at all,” Givens said.

The non-profit incorporates four buildings, including the Fleur De Lys Building, the Deacon Edward Taylor House, the Seril Dodge House, and the Club House.

It also has a scholarship exhibition for college students, with a member gifting the Club five years of funding for the program. Connor Gewirtz, a RISD student, was the most recent winner.

“He had his opening last week and the work is really phenomenal,” Gaucher-Thomas said.

Gaucher-Thomas, along with Fargnoli, are also artists.

Fargnoli said she has always loved art and fashion, first taking an interest in art when she was away a boarding school.

“I had this amazing art teacher and I was just like, ‘I want to paint. I want to create murals,’” she said. “We had this massive art room and I would just escape from it.”

While she didn’t pursue art in high school or college, she eventually got back to it by starting her own design business. Now, she’s a member of the Art Club.

Gaucher-Thomas, a painter, went to school in New York City, graduating from Pratt. Since then, she’s taken up charcoal work and is currently the third female president in the Art Club’s history.

The end of her term will be June, but she’ll still be a member and active as a committee chair.

“They’re not getting rid of me that easy,” she said with a laugh.

In the meantime, she and Fargnoli are looking forward to upcoming festivities planned for members this summer.

Plus, they said, the bust of Bannister is a must-see.

“We want to give him his just due.” Gaucher-Thomas said. “We want him to shine.”

The venue also hosts weddings and other events, including outdoor and music festivities.

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