There is a subtle, oft-overlooked but intriguing installation in Newport’s Queen Anne Square, titled “The Meeting Room.” Designed by artist Maya Lin and installed in 2013, it’s a three-part art installation meant to bring the local community of the past back to life.
The Meeting Room’s three foundations represent the actual locations of buildings that stood on the site in the past: 1777, 1876, and 1907. Each of them is meant to emulate an outdoor room; its threshold stones are hand-carved with mallet and chisel, inscribed with excerpts from local journals and writings spanning centuries. The calligraphy, done by Nick Benson of the John Stevens Shop, closely mirrors that of each corresponding era.
The Foundation Room, the largest part of the three, consists of a granite water table with nine holes that bubble water from an invisible “spring.” It represents the nine families that founded Newport in 1639, as well as the sources of water that provided life to them. Meanwhile, the Long Room’s inscriptions describe local farming and sailing during the 19th century in Baskerville lowercase Roman.
The Hearth, arguably the most eye-catching part of the Meeting Room imitates a 19th-century parlor, complete with a historically accurate replica of a fireplace and chimney. Inscribed in the italic style once popular in the 1800s, it contains many excerpts detailing everyday life, such as one Fanny Clarke’s diary entry from 1876: “Rained all day. Made jelly & did various other Housekeeping matters which consumed the Morning.”
The installation does not only look into the past, but at the future of the community as well. Designed for maximum sustainability, the materials for the Meeting Room’s foundations and walls come from Newport’s old sidewalks and demolished bridge. The LED lamps mimic the color of gas lamp lights, and the variety of trees is selected from native species.