13 March 2009

Russell Spears, 92, noted stonemason, Narragansett, dies.

The Providence Journal

07:35 AM EDT on Friday, March 13, 2009.
by Paul Davis
, pdavis@projo.com

Journal Staff Writer


CHARLESTOWN — Russell G. Spears Sr., the Narragansett Indian who built stone walls, patios and fireplaces across New England, died Monday in South County Hospital, Wakefield. He was 92.

The tribal elder, who hunted deer, played guitar and sang love ballads, was part of a stone-working tradition practiced by the Narragansetts since the 1600s.

As a young man, Spears worked at the Kenyon Piece Dye Works mill, but he chafed at the indoor work. One day he told the owner he’d like to try his luck elsewhere, Diana Mars, his oldest daughter, recalled.

“He never looked back.”

He worked with uncles and relatives, all masons, and quickly learned the craft. He worked on homes and buildings in Rhode Island, Connecticut and Cape Cod. His work was featured in the documentary Stories in Stone, which aired last year on Channel 36, the state’s PBS station.

“Everything he did had an artistic nature,” said Mars. Sometimes, he etched images into his stonework.

He played piano and guitar, wore cowboy hats and Native American jewelry, and gave his daughters beautiful names: Starr and Sky and Autumn Leaf.

He taught his sons how to shape and carve rock. “We lived on the land. So the boys early on learned to cut wood, haul water and hunt,” Mars said.

“It’s a sad loss,” said Paulla Dove Jennings, who once lived with the Spears family. “He had the biggest smile and the warmest heart, and he was a phenomenal artist. I tell people that if they have a Spears fireplace, they can add another $20,000 to the value of their home. His work is just that special.”

His house on Kings Factory Road burned down last year, and Spears moved in with a son.

The community was raising money for a new house when the elder Spears, who underwent heart surgery in the 1970s, became ill.

“He always said he would get better if he could just get home,” Jennings said.

Born in Providence, Spears was the husband of the late Grace Babcock (Brown) Spears, and the father of 12 children: the late Russell G. Spears Jr., the late Lance P. Spears, Robin S. Spears, Craig B. Spears, Forrest C. Spears, Lake G. Spears, Diana S. Mars, Holly K. Harris, Starr L. Mars, Melody B. Amado, Autumn Leaf Spears and Sky L. Spears.

His wake will be held Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., in the Avery-Storti Funeral Home, in Wakefield, where a funeral service will follow. The burial will be private.

Mars said her daughter, India, will read from Mars’ recent tribute to her father.

Spears, the tribute says, “was a warrior to the last.”


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