The Redwood Library & Athenæum last night launched its first installation of the year: a 19-foot Windsor rocking chair. Opening night of Then and Now: Tales From  The Big Chair featured musical entertainment by the Vox Hunters, Armand Aromin, and Benedict Gagliardi who are seekers and singers of old songs, cultivators of local music, and multi-instrumentalists. Their harmonizing voices were tastefully garnished with fiddle, free-reeds, and tenor guitar, as they presented a  varied program to the one hundred guests assembled on the front grounds. The seat of the huge chair served as the performance stage. 

Benedict Leca, Executive Director of the Redwood explains in a statement, “Then and Now: Tales From the Big Chair is an  outdoor sculptural installation created by polymath Doug Fitch to counteract “presentism.” Coined by the  scholar Alan Jacobs, presentism is defined as the prevailing over-emphasis on the significance of today’s  lived experience and the undervaluing of history, leading to “a culture of insecurity and a fear of the future.”  The lesson is that it is only when we own and embrace all of the stories—especially the more unsavory episodes of our own past, such as the Redwood Library’s founding from the profits of the Triangle Trade— that we can begin to hope for a more consequential future. 

A monumentally-scaled replica of a Rhode Island variant Windsor rocking chair, the sculpture faces out to  the world as a gateway to enlightenment, fueled by the cultural achievements of our forebears contained  within the walls of the Redwood behind it.  

In a first instance, rocking chairs represent reflection and in turn wisdom, states a reader might access at the  Redwood itself. While the rocking motion might conventionally signify repose, it should also be understood  in terms of dynamic movement. The chair thus represents stasis, but also instability—i.e. the subversion of  tradition’s immobility and permanence.  

As an eighteenth-century object representing both wisdom and change, the rocking chair draws from the  past, gesturing back to such figures as Benjamin Franklin, a visitor to Newport and the apocryphal inventor 

of the form. Steeped in the Classics, Franklin nonetheless catalyzed the political forces of his day as a change  agent instrumental in the birth of our nation. It is to represent this combination of connection and detachment  that the chair rests on a platform of stonework identical to the original Library. Set on its traditional stone  plinth, the rocker was born of the Old World, an offspring of the past but now detached from it, the pivotal  object mediating between two positions: the past and the present; the then and the now.” 

The opening festivities were free to the public who brought chairs, blankets and picnics to enjoy the  entertainment. Musical programs will be presented through-out the summer with the schedule regularly  updated on redwoodlibrary.org.  

The installation will run through late September.  

The Latest From WUN

What's Up Crew

The latest from the What's Up Crew.