Farm Fresh RI invites the public to watch renowned stone carver Nicholas Benson of Newport create a unique art installation for Farm Fresh’s new headquarters at 10 Sims Avenue in the Valley Neighborhood of Providence. This public event will take place Thursday, Friday and Saturday, May 20, 21 and 22 from 11am to 1pm each day on the Farm Fresh terrace, which runs along Kinsley Avenue and the Woonasquatucket River. A family-friendly program, the outdoor event will follow social distancing and mask regulations. Free parking is available adjacent to the site. Farm Fresh will be on hand to explain the project. On Saturday, May 22, the event will coincide with Farm Fresh’s year-round farmers market, Sims Market, which runs 9am to 1pm weekly.
“We are honored to provide a home for Nick Benson’s masterful work,” said Sheri Griffin, co-executive director at Farm Fresh. “With this installation, we will celebrate a culmination of years repurposing the site where our hub for local food and farms now sits, while retrieving physical pieces of Rhode Island’s history and incorporating them into a contemporary sculpture for the community to experience.”
Nick Benson is the third generation of a family of stone carvers whose exceptional work is a distinguishing element in some of the country’s best-known monuments. Their architectural and memorial lettering is generated by hand with a broad-edged brush in the manner of classical Roman inscriptions and then carved into stone with mallets and chisels. Benson’s grandfather did the lettering for the Marine Corps Memorial in Arlington, Virginia. His father inscribed John F. Kennedy’s memorial in Washington, DC. Benson himself lettered the World War II Memorial and the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in Washington, D.C. as well as the Louis I. Kahn, Four Freedoms Park inscriptions in New York City. Most recently, he and his team inscribed the quotations at the Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial near the National Mall. The family’s stone carving business, the John Stevens Shop in Newport, which Benson’s grandfather acquired in 1927, was founded in 1705 and is one of the oldest continuously operating businesses in the country.
For the past ten years, Benson, who was the 2010 recipient of a prestigious MacArthur Fellowship — often referred to as a “genius grant” — has pursued a new artistic initiative. He is applying his skills in stone carving and calligraphic design to capture digital language, thereby making something that may only last for seconds into something permanent. The installation at Farm Fresh will be the first public piece of art created to symbolize what Benson views as the growing gap between the way in which humans have interacted with the physical world for the last 100,000 years and our new perspective of a world that exists entirely in the digital realm. Nick is using his time-tested and highly refined calligraphic skills and experience to carve Base 64 code—something that is here today and most likely gone in a few tomorrows—on very old marble in an installation that is designed for perpetuity.
The “words” that are embedded in the code — HISTORY, COMMUNITY, SUSTAINABILITY — were agreed upon in advance by Nick and Farm Fresh. The Farm Fresh installation is the first public work created by Nick Benson in his contemplation of communication in the Information Age. The art installation, commissioned by an anonymous Farm Fresh supporter, is the end result of an unexpected discovery. Two years ago, as contractors began to clear the Sims Avenue industrial site that Farm Fresh had acquired for its new headquarters, they found that the land was filled with pieces of marble, ranging from massive blocks to small chunks. Research revealed that at the turn of the century, when the RI State House was being built, the Norcross Brothers Company purchased the Sims Avenue site to receive and cut the Georgia marble for the new capital building.
Determined to rescue and repurpose these pieces of Rhode Island history, Farm Fresh had its contractors set aside the large marble blocks and recruited volunteers to collect the smaller pieces. The two finest large blocks were reserved for Benson’s art installation. Other large marble pieces serve as landscaping elements, some engraved in honor of individuals and entities. And, in the fall, Farm Fresh will hold a public sale of the rescued pieces for those who would like to purchase their own piece of Rhode Island history.