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Imagine visiting Casey Farm in Saunderstown, R.I., walking past the spare white farm house and across the green lawns. Suddenly, you wonder what is that rising above the stone wall in the garden? A shower of shining stars? A giant psychedelic flower? When you get up close you see the sculpture RainKeep Three Sisters.
RainKeep Three Sisters honors the Indigenous heritage of the land and the lessons of sustainability and harmony with nature that heritage teaches. It tells the Eastern Woodlands creation story of the Three Sisters—corn, beans, and squash—which grow near where the sculpture will be installed.
The upper canopy of the sculpture collects dew and rain, which flows down the chain past aluminum figures onto petals that guide the water into a 500-gallon rain barrel. Gardeners and children at Casey Farm programs will draw water from its spigot to nurture the garden beds, even as they absorb the story it tells.
Newsome, an internationally acclaimed visual artist based in Warren, R.I., describes herself as a “functional sculptor.” Her nature-inspired pieces are her reaction to climate change and one solution for providing water for growing things sustainably. Three Sisters is one of the latest in her patented RainKeep series.
Moorehead says, “My art, songs, stories, performances, and literary works serve to assert, promote, value, and validate the identity of the past, present, and future generations of Eastern Woodland Native American Tribal Nations.” She drew upon her cultural heritage to create figures of the Sky Woman and others in the creation story of the Three Sisters that were translated through the repoussé technique into aluminum charms by Newsome.
This summer, Historic New England will celebrate the journey of the two artists during a dedication program for the sculpture at Casey Farm.
Before we could install the sculpture at Casey Farm, we needed to do some archaeology. The very Indigenous heritage we are honoring would be harmed if we were to damage cultural materials still under the ground. We know this land was inhabited by the Narragansett people and their ancestors for at least ten thousand years, and we wanted to make sure the sculpture’s foundation would not displace Indigenous cultural materials. We called in professionals from the Public Archaeology Lab (PAL) in Pawtucket, R.I., to dig test pits and make sure.
Almost as soon as they could dig without frost impeding their way, archaeologists found evidence of Colonial and later materials such as eighteenth-century redware pottery and clay pipes. None of the materials were representative of Indigenous lifeways. The everyday objects we uncovered may have been used by the Casey family’s ancestors and tenant farmers. These are fairly common finds, especially considering that the locale has been the kitchen garden for the property since about 1702. We will be glad to add them to our little trove of objects in the farmhouse gallery. With the report and catalogue of materials from PAL complete, we are ready to proceed to installation and planning the celebration to welcome the sculpture.
Soon the sculpture installation will start with Newsome leading the way. Once in its new home, the sculpture will withstand the coastal weather and work in harmony with the weather to nurture the garden. It will greet and intrigue visitors to children’s education programs, special events, our Community Supported Agriculture program, and farmers’ market. We look forward to seeing how it alters as it plays with the sky above and growing things around it. We know it will spark imaginations and conversations.
Jane Hennedy is Historic New England’s Site Manager for Southern Rhode Island. She oversees the visitor experience at Casey Farm and Watson Farm.