A celebration on May 14 unveiled artful new sea lion sculptures that commemorate the early history of Roger Williams Park and its Seal House. The sculptures serve as a playful and permanent marker of the legendary sea lions that once lived in the Park.
Starting in 1872, the Park had a small collection of animals and birds, which grew to 47 species by the 1900s. While some species were housed in the Menagerie building, located in today’s Zoo, others had habitats throughout the Park. The Seal House and adjacent pool (which actually housed sea lions!) was constructed in 1938 as part of a Works Progress Administration (WPA) project. Following construction, six sea lions occupied the pool. In 1965, all of the animals were moved into a fenced area in the current location of the Zoo to provide better security and husbandry for the animals.
The sea lion sculptures were initially envisioned by Roger Williams Park Conservancy board member Joe Pari and local artist Denise Auger, who created the designs. The sculptures were fabricated by Chris Dixon, installed by Providence Parks Department and Ironworkers Local 37, and were funded through the Rhode Island Foundation’s Campaign for Roger Williams Park, as part of their centennial celebration in 2016.
Joe Pari offered these inspiring words at the sculpture unveiling:
I want to ask you to imagine yourself a citizen of Providence in the mid 1800s. Imagine a place with fields and farms disappearing under the grit and bricks of the industrial age. Everything that you’ve known is changing rapidly.
In 1868 the mayor of Providence, Thomas Doyle, expressed his grave concern for the “essential nature” of our city. He lamented, “….from year to year we find the open fields receding from us, farms being changed into housing lots and vacant spots covered with houses.” He asked of the people, “How many years will elapse before we shall awake to the fact that we have lost the opportunity of securing a public park?”
Like the Park, these sea lions are the culmination of a dream. They are the first statues to be installed since the formation of the Roger Williams Park Conservancy… If it were not for the efforts of the citizens of Providence who came before us, we would be without this Park. It is now our collective responsibility to care and steward it for those who come after us, so that they too can do the same for those after them.