Enjoyed giving a tour of Providence to Gibson Worsham and family this morning, before the rain set in. My son Billy and I awaited the Worshams, Gibson and Charlotte, of Richmond, and their son Steve (“Bubba”), a first-year grad at the International Yacht Restoration School in Newport, who joined us.
Billy and I awaited their arrival at Brown’s Van Wickle Gate, with its twin granite benches. One affords a view of the John Hay Library (Shepley, Rutan & Coolidge, 1910) and the John D. Rockefeller Jr. Library (Warner, Burns, Toan & Lund, 1964). John D. Rockefeller Jr. attended the dedication of the library and is said to have expressed dismay that students were already calling it “The Rock,” to which his neighbor on the rostrum replied that he should rejoice that they’re not calling it “The John.”
You can easily guess which seat we chose. When the Worshams arrived we strolled through the glorious old campus and Gibson espied a pillar stuck in the ground before the restored Rhode Island Hall (James Bucklin, 1840). It is called the Elephant Column and is a reconstruction of a capital from the Great Temple of Petra excavation in Jordan.
Gibson wondered whether Andres Duany might covet a shot of the Elephant for his Heterodoxia project. But later I thought back to the Hay Library and wondered about the notion of heterodoxy in classical architecture. The Hay, with its bust of Dante, looks as orthodox as can be imagined (to my untrained eye). A marble box lightly encrusted with seemly typical classical ornament. But this array of embellishment is so robustly evocative as to call into question the idea of creativity versus convention at the upper rungs of architectural practice. A canon, it seems to me, is designed not to enforce conformity but to challenge the artistic imagination. It is hard to conceive of overt creativity superior to the completely natural and unforced ingenuity that enlivens the façade of the Hay.
I was pleased to show the Worshams much of interest in Providence, but the weather was threatening and while the rain largely held off the sky was not in a cooperative photographical mood, so I took few pictures. These, mostly of the Hay, were shot before the sun’s expected disappearance (delayed far beyond what the weatherman had predicted, thankfully).
[I erroneously placed the old Department of Egyptology, now the Department of Egyptology and Assyriology, in Rhode Island Hall. It is actually in Wilbour Hall, just south of The John, at the northwest corner of Prospect and George streets, near Rhode Island Hall at the southwest corner of the Campus Green.]