NARRAGANSETT – Since 1982, Enishkeeptompaug, a large, wooden sculpture depicting a Narragansett Indian Tribe chief, has overlooked Kingstown Road and Sprague Park. Now, nearly 40 years after its creation, the town is seeking an extensive renovation of the local landmark due to damages incurred from general wear and the elements. The total cost of the project is approximately $38,000, though the Narragansett Parks and Recreation Department has recently petitioned the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) for a grant that would cover the bulk of the costs, leaving the town to pay only about $7,700 toward the renovation work.
“We have not received this grant award yet,” said Steve Wright, Narragansett Parks and Recreation Director. “We have had this slated in our capital improvements projects and we’ve been working with the recreation advisory board on this for well over a year.”
“The American Indian statue in Sprague Park is inspected and maintained [by Narragansett Parks and Recreation staff] every year, but it’s gotten to a point where it’s in a condition where it needs to be moved from its base and completely renovated because of the weather elements and the base supports,” Wright continued. “We’re trying to fundraise and at the same time apply for this grant.”
Finished from a single Douglas fir by sculptor Peter Toth in 1982, Enishkeetompaug, or “all human beings” in Narragansett, is one of 74 “Whispering Giants” carved by Toth, who traveled the country hoping to leave one such statue in each state.
“Despite the best efforts of the department, time and the elements are taking their toll,” Wright wrote in a recent memo to the town council. “Enishkeetompaug is in need of extensive restoration work. Four of the seven stainless steel bolts holding it in place have deteriorated, the headdress must be replaced, various rotted areas need to be repaired, epoxied and saturated with wood preservative. The entire structure will be coated in order to preserve it.”
Abcore Restoration Company, Inc. gave the department a quoted price of $38,560 for work that includes sculpting and installing a new headdress, fixing rotted locations, bridging splits, gaps and voids and installation of stainless steel supports at the base of the statue. In total, the work would cost the town about $7,712 if the DEM grant is awarded. “We’re honored to have one of these,” said Wright in reference to the Sprague Park Whispering Giant. “It involves the town’s heritage, the town’s culture, and it’s something we should respect. With all due respect to the maintenance of it, and that’s something we’ve been doing that predates me, but the elements have gotten to it and have penetrated the wood. It needs to come down and be thoroughly recoated [among other work] because the next major storm we have, we could lose the base. Something has to be done very quickly. But we’ve been struggling on what we can do because it is an expensive task and it’s one that we don’t entirely have in our budget.”
At a town council meeting Monday, where the DEM grant request was unanimously approved by the council, councilor Jesse Pugh shared an anecdote of Narragansett Town Manager James Tierney and the statue. “I’ve actually seen Jim Tierney pulled over on the side of the road, just admiring the statue multiple times, that’s a true story,” Pugh said. “I know it means a lot to him and to a lot of others in this town.” Pugh said the town should do more to honor its namesake and founding.
“I will say that I believe we should be doing more than just renovating this sculpture in this town,” he said. “We should really be honoring and celebrating Native Americans more often in Narragansett. I do think we should be doing a lot more on the history in this area.”
Councilor Patrick Murray inquired about a similar structure, Chief Canonchet, in the pier, with Wright noting the pier statue was in good shape and did not require any renovation work. Councilor Rick Lema said he had recently been in touch with an old classmate, a member of the Narragansett Indian Tribe, who had expressed interest in partnering with the town for a joint project of sorts.
“They would like to do something in Narragansett, whether it’s in the Sprague area or another area of town to recognize the Narragansett Indians,” said Lema, also mentioning he wanted to put the person in touch with Tierney. “Let Jim be the nucleus of the information and then he can direct it to where it has to go.”
Wright said the parks and recreation department would likely hear back from DEM by Spring of 2020.