East Sider

Piecing Together the Past

Alan Metnick preserves memory through diverse artistic mediums


Chicago native Alan Metnick hadn’t planned on Providence as a permanent residence, but like many RISD graduates, he opted to stay post-graduation. He has lived in Israel and Lebanon and spent more than six months cumulatively visiting Poland but calls the East Side “one of the greatest neighborhoods in the world” and “cosmopolitan.”

After earning a bachelor’s in history from the University of Wisconsin, Alan worked in sales for a few years, then spent a year in Lebanon. He felt drawn towards artmaking and creative expression but “had no background in the fine arts at all” – just a strong desire to take pictures, inspired by documentary photographer greats like Bill Brandt, Robert Capa, and Robert Frank.

Without “any confidence in my ability to direct my thoughts from my mind, through
my body, to my hands, and have the hands do it in any way other than using a mechanical device like a camera,” prompted Alan to transfer to RISD’s photography program. There, he discovered an innate drawing ability and dabbled in silkscreen prints, which forayed to quilts and stained-glass work. After 50 years, Alan still creates art in his Pawtucket studio with two assistants, and his art spans countless mediums.

After he photographed centuries-old Jewish cemeteries in Poland 15 years ago, taking pictures of burial grounds became Alan’s passion. Now, Alan returns to the country multiple times a year and has taken over 300,000 photos of cemeteries, many of which were destroyed during WWII. He is also involved in a number of nonprofit organizations in Poland dedicated to “preservation of Jewish memory.”

Alan resides in Summit neighborhood and raised three sons and one daughter on the East Side. He loves long walks from Wickenden Street, up Blackstone Boulevard to Swan Point, and sometimes to North Burial Ground, often stopping at Seven Stars and Wildflour for their pastries and granola. Right now, Metnick’s artwork is displayed in two different shows: the first is Silence and Stones, a collection of Polish cemetery photos at the Providence Art Club’s Dodge House Gallery from April 22 until May 9. Projects and Selections shows at Candita Clayton Gallery from April 18 to May 25 encompasses 70+ pieces curated from five decades, including pinhole camera photographs, pen and ink drawings, paintings of Providence mills, quilts, and more.