Voices of the Bay

The Rain Collector

Allison Newsome’s bold and functional artwork finds a home in Thomas Park

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Thanks to the ingenuity of sculptor and RISD grad Allison Newsome, the Bristol Garden Club finally has a water source for Mrs. Perry’s Garden at Thomas Park on Hope Street.

When Julie Christina, then Bristol Garden Club President and Blithewold’s Director of Education Programs, saw Newsome’s work in the 2014 exhibit Sculpture Embraces Horticulture: Water, Wind and Solar, she realized it could help solve the problem of the garden’s lack of access to municipal water, which members of the Garden Club were addressing by bringing in truckloads of water-filled buckets. Through a host of fundraisers, grants, and private contributions, the Bristol Garden Club has raised (at press time) $9,500 to finance the project. Donations earmarked for “RainKeep” can be sent to Bristol Parks and Recreation at 101 Asylum Road.

Merging art with functionality, Newsome’s sculpture for Mrs. Perry’s Garden collects rainwater and features a spigot which, through a hose or bucket, can provide water for the flowers and plants.

"In the summer of 2014 [then] Blithewold Board President Noreen Ackerman asked me to curate, with six artists, an exhibit to incorporate wind, sun, and water in their work. No one was doing anything with rain. I wanted to make sure it was a fleshed-out show, so I came up with three big, bold sculptures – functional utility pieces which could hold a space at Blithewold to catch the rainwater. I have a pending utility and design patent for it called RainKeep.

I give each of my RainKeeps a name. I named the one in Mrs. Perry’s Garden ‘Whorl.’ A whorl is an arrangement of sepals, petals, leaves, stipules, or branches that radiate from a single point and surround or wrap around the stem. My RainKeeps are inspired [by] biomimicry and the whorl design found in plants. 

I had noticed [that] the Blithewold sculptures caught a lot of the dew in the morning. There was always a constant dripping. It triggered this idea of catching the fog. I think that inspired me to have a higher canopy with “Whorl.” I’m from the Redwoods in Northern California, where I worked in the parks for seven summers. The Redwoods catch the fog and rain it down. I added handmade simple chains which also work to bring the water down.

The concept comes first, then the material will speak. I like materials I can manipulate. The Blithewold RainKeep sculptures were made of clay. For year-round durability, Warren’s Blount Boats did the metal fabrication and engineering for “Whorl.” Bristol’s Luther’s Welding is now doing a RainKeep for an exhibit I have in Venice, Italy. Both family businesses have a long working relationship and it’s been wonderful to work with everyone."