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The Library Inscriptions – nippenowantawem

The Narragansett Monolith

This roughly shaped 12-foot high granite block occupies the west end of the plaza in front of the library building. The block is inscribed

NIPPENOWANTAWEM
NIPPENOWANTAWEM
MEQUAUNAMIINNEA
MEQUAUNAMIINNEA

[I Am Of Another Language]
[Remember Me]

Narragansett Monolith close up

The inscribed “words” are phonetic renderings of phrases in the Narragansett language (an Algonquian dialect) recorded by Roger Williams in his book, A Key Into the Language of America, London, 1643, selected from chapters entitled, “Of Eating and Entertainment” and “Of the Family Businesses,” respectively (pages 9 and 41).

Each phrase is carved twice in raised letters of varying depth, which creates the effect of the words seeming to emerge from the face of the stone and then recede into it (symbolic of the emergence and decline of an indigenous people). The letter style is a rudimentary sans serif Roman with a cove-section profile and a slightly concave top surface. The monolith was conceived and carved by John Benson of Newport, Rhode Island.

The block of Westerly Red granite, 4 1/2 feet wide, ranges in thickness from nearly 3 feet at the base to 18 inches at the top. The stock came from the uppermost stratum of the quarry. The face of the stone is the exposed surface worked by glacial action in the last Ice Age. The upper portion of this surface was re-worked by the artist to accommodate the inscription. The right edge of the stone is a naturally occurring seam surface. The left and back surfaces of the stone were split and hand worked by Benson and the Westerly quarrymen. The carving was done near the quarry at the Bonner Monument shop. The piece was installed on the plaza on August 17, 1994.

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