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Monday, July 7, 2014

A Reader's Guide to Waterfire, Providence's Signature Public Art

All photos in this post taken 2014 by Jessica Knauss 
It was a hot summer night. After a delicious dinner at one of the fine establishments at Providence Place (the best mall I've ever been in and more outstanding for being smack in the middle of things instead of in some dusty suburb), my husband and I headed over to the one event that defines Providence even more than the mall: Waterfire.

As my blog readers know, I've written a novella entitled Waterfire, in which this inexplicably essential art installation plays an inspirational role. When I returned to New England, I was keen to visit the real-life event as soon as possible.

Waterplace Park before lighting.
Large numbers of people were gathering long before sunset, ready for the magic. In the photo, you can see the pyres jutting from the water, well stocked with cedar firewood.

The mystical circle at Waterplace, with DownCity in the background.
And then they were lit! After a ceremony we couldn't really see, a special delegation of sponsors got to sail around the pyres and get them going with the help of a gas jet.

This may not be the best picture of the night, but for me it captures the sense of fascination people have with the fire and the water. It's a magical combination.

Looking back at the mystic circle with Providence Place in the background.
We took a route opposite to the one my characters, Kelly and Brian, take in the novella. When they see this view, they're close to the end of their night and the height of first-date giddiness.

Here the fire throws glimmering light onto a gondola, an essential part of Waterfire and so popular I wanted to do it to celebrate my PhD, but you had to have made reservations a year in advance.

The stokers add cedar planks — quickly as they sail by — to keep the flames alight. In my story, the stokers can start and stoke the fires with their minds — and with the uninvited help of Kelly and Brian, my teenage firestarters.

The gondoliers show off their authentic costumes at the gondola dock.

Waterfire passes along the foot of College Hill.
This is the quieter part of the exhibit. The single-row layout is where Kelly and Brian first come upon the crackling energy and incense-like smells.

And then we heard what Kelly and Brian heard: her favorite piece of music, "The Prayer of St. Gregory" by Alan Hovhaness. In these videos, you can't distinguish the music quite as well as the snaps and pops of the fire, which is how it should be.