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1 down, 99 to go… Providence Fire Box Redux

For twenty years, Ray Rickman, executive director of Stages of Freedom, has passed a dozen century-old fireboxes on his daily College Hill walks. All of them are sadly caked with cracked and faded paint that masks their industrial beauty.

Last winter, Ray got inspired to restore one of the boxes on Benefit Street as his personal contribution to beautify our precious Mile of History. Through GoFundMe he raised $400 for the restoration of the firebox on Benefit, across from the First Unitarian Church.

Dan Mitrovic, a recent RISD furniture design graduate, was hired to do the job, and this summer, under his meticulous workmanship, brought the box back to its original 1920’s glory. The work was not without considerable education. First, he and Ray learned from the Providence Fire Chief that all of the 100-year-old boxes are still in active service, and that stripping and repainting them needed to be done with great care so as not to damage their mechanisms. They learned that some of the boxes were coated with at least fifteen layers of paint. That specific chemicals were required to remove the paint.

Ray & Dan dialogued with Adler’s Hardware to determine the most appropriate strippers, paints and brushes to accomplish the best possible results. Supplies in hand, Dan spent the better part of July engaged in the tedious task of paint removal, surface prep, painting, and finishing work, with face masks, small brushes, and a keen eye for detail, all while entertaining scores of curious onlookers. Mitrovic said, “My background in furniture design and painting allowed me to handle this restoration with respect to its original craft.”

The first completed firebox is now a stunning sight to behold, right down to the minute embossed lettering and its brass plaque. According to Rickman, “Everyone can tell that an artist from one of America’s finest design schools did the work.” The success has encouraged Ray and friend Wendy Marcus, a Benefit Street resident, to raise additional funds to restore two more fireboxes on Benefit Street, one at the corner of Halsey and the other at Church. Donations to fund this project may be sent by check to: Stages of Freedom, 10 Westminster Street, Providence, RI 02903, or online at: https://www.stagesoffreedom.org/donate

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