Mashapaug Pond is the largest body of fresh water in Providence. As part of the Pawtuxet watershed, it carries water from Tongue and Spectacle ponds to the Roger Williams ponds, which then flow into the Pawtuxet River and eventually to Narragansett Bay. Mashapaug Pond was an important settlement site to native tribes and provided the water resources for the famous Gorham Silver Manufacturing Company, built on its shores in 1890. The legacy of the industrial use of Mashapaug, along with the concomitant effects of storm drain runoff, is a polluted pond that, to the innocent eye, still holds a lure for swimmers on a hot day and for fishermen needing to feed a family. Existing warning signs were text ladened and in English, unreadable to many immigrants who frequent the ponds. On behalf of the Health Department, artist Holly Ewald designed new signs in collaboration with artist Andrew Oesch and students from Charles Fortes Elementary School and Alvarez High School. Learning from Department of Environmental Management (RIDEM) and the Health Department (RIDOH), these students brainstormed visual means to communicate the dangers of recreating in the pond. From these designs, students created silkscreen posters which they carried in a procession to raise awareness in the neighborhoods along the edges of the pond.
The diverse population that makes up South Providence and the Reservoir Triangle includes many Hispanics and Cambodians. The nearby Cambodian Buddhist Temple, Wat Thormikaram, participated in the project by serving as a community gathering spot for fish costume workshops on Saturdays before the Procession. The procession was held June 6, 2008 beginning at the temple. After a blessing by the monks, What Cheer Marching Brigade led the group south to Charles Fortes Elementary, where students and staff joined in, and then moved on to Alvarez High School, where students and Big Nazo puppets gathered to meet the group. The final destination was the Boating Center off Reservoir Avenue behind the Job Lot. Food, politicians and music from Community Music Works welcomed the procession. All appreciated the shade of the small park at the southern tip on the pond as they ate and listened to information from the RIDOH and RIDEM concerning the pond. The third annual celebratory and educational Mashapaug Pond Procession will take place June 12, 2010.
Holly Ewald translated the students’ silkscreen designs into digital images. The students’ text was edited and approved by Bob Vanderslice (Environmental Health Director RIDOH) and Elizabeth Scott (Deputy Chief of Water Quality RIDEM). The final signs were translated into Spanish and Cambodian and made camera ready by graphic designer Derek Schusterbauer. A few days before the second annual procession, the eight new signs, fabricated by the Rhode Island Department of Transportation, were installed around the pond.