Rebecca at the Well Fountain

Location: Block Island, Rhode Island

Following a convention in 1874, local chapters of the National Woman’s Christian Temperance Union were encouraged to erect drinking fountains as an alternative to men quenching their thirst in saloons. The W.C.T.U. chapter on Block Island chose a drinking fountain surmounted by a statue of Rebecca at the Well from the J. W. Fiske Iron Works catalog. It was erected in 1896 at the intersection of Water Street, Ocean Avenue, Pilot Hill Road and Spring Street.

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A square base seated on an octagonal plinth, this structure contains four small basins at each corner for the use of dogs. A dedication plaque is located between two cornices, Erected By The W.C.T.U. / Of / Block Island, Rhode Island / July 22, 1896.

dedication_yelp

 

Four side panels are decorated with cusped arches. Horse troughs with floral design are offered on two panels, a fluted basin for human consumption, and the fourth panel contains a decorative design with shield and mascaron. The capital, edged with rope detail and acanthus frieze, states For God And Home And Every Land.

A classical statue of Rebecca at the Well with a grape garland in her hair is situated on an abacus. She cradles an urn tipped at an angle.

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The statue has been mistakenly identified as Hebe, possibly because the W.C.T.U. used Hebe on many of their drinking fountains as she was associated with diluting wine with water. However, the statue of Hebe carries a pitcher in one hand and holds a cup in the other. The statue on Block Island is most definitely Rebecca at the Well.

Deterioration of the structure from weather, and damage as the result of motor vehicles, left the fountain in need of restoration. Having received confirmation of a federal grant to replace the Rebecca statue she was removed from the drinking fountain in April 2001 and transported to Conservation Technology Corp. in Newport. Although restoration was planned, after inspection it was decided that the zinc and iron statue, which had deteriorated due to weather erosion, would not have the structural integrity required to withstand continued exposure to the outside elements.

The statue was stripped and a plaster mold made to create a replica casting in aluminium alloy. In December 2001, the replica was set on its newly restored base at the traffic circle where High, Spring and Water streets intersect. Whereas the original statue of Rebecca faced Water Street at the ferry entrance, the ‘new’ statue was erected facing the opposite direction. It was formally dedicated with a ribbon cutting ceremony on 7 June 2002.

The original statue which had been repaired and restored remained in a workshop for many years until funding from the Champlin Foundation allowed work to proceed on the West Gallery of the Block Island Historical Society. Rebecca at the Well moved to her new home at the West Gallery in 2014.

Glossary:

  • Abacus, at the top of a capital, a thick rectangular slab of stone that serves as the flat, broad surface
  • Acanthus, one of the most common plant forms (deeply cut leaves) to make foliage ornament and decoration
  • Capital, the top of a column that supports the load bearing down on it
  • Cornice, a molding or ornamentation that projects from the top of a building
  • Cusped Arch, the point of intersection of two ornamental arcs or curves, such as the inner points of a trefoil
  • Fluted, a long rounded groove
  • Frieze, the horizontal part of a classical moulding just below the cornice, often decorated with carvings
  • Mascaron, a decorative element in the form of a sculpted face or head of a human being or an animal
  • Plinth, flat base usually projecting, upon which a pedestal, wall or column rests.

 

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