Main Exhibit

Cultural Awakenings in Rhode Island

Struggle, Strength and Dignity

Opportunities for 19th and 20th century artists in Providence

When Roger Williams established the religiously tolerant state of Rhode Island, he imbued a progressive spirit into its legacy. How did the 19th century cultural world embrace this heritage? Afro-American artist Edward Bannister (1828 – 1901) earned a first place medal for painting at the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition and went on to found the Providence Art Club in 1880, today the second oldest art club in the country.

A woman, Mrs. Jesse Metcalf, founded the Rhode Island School of Design in 1878, training women in respectable art professions when there were few employment opportunities available to single woman. By the twentieth century, Italian and Irish immigrants flooded the state for jobs in the wake of the industrial revolution. Italian born artist, Antonio Cirino (1888 – 1983/> broke through ethnic barriers at the competitive arena at RISD and onto the local art scene. This exhibit explores the accomplishments of visual artists in Rhode Island who changed societal mores to achieve recognition