Rebecca’s at the Well But She’s Not Drinking the Water

Rebecca at the Well in Portland

As most of you know, Portland Radio Project has a Rebecca (News Director, Rebecca Webb) on staff. However, you may not be aware that Portland, the City Of has a Rebecca at well.

Yes, AT well.

Rebecca at the Well, is a striking bronze statue at the center of the Shemanksi Fountain, located between Salmon and Main Street, behind the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall in downtown Portland.

The fountain was gifted to the City of Portland in 1926 by a Polish immigrant named Joseph Shemanksi. Rebecca at the Well arrived two years later presumably to make certain the fountain never ran out of water.

A Small Measure of Gratitude to Portland

Joseph ShemanskiJoseph Shemanski’s story is nearly as interesting as Rebecca’s. (Rebecca was the wife of Isaac and, according to the book of Genesis, is buried in the Cave of the Patriarchs with Adam and Eve).

After moving to Portland, Mr. Shemanski made a great deal of money from a retail venture called the Eastern Outfitting Company. Eastern Outfitting was a popular men and women’s clothing establishment which was once located at the corner of 10th and Washington downtown.

Eastern Outfitting Co.

Documents collected by The Oregon Bios Project described Joseph Shemanski and Eastern Outfitting Company in the following manner:

“The growth of the business has been due to his untiring efforts and sound judgment in catering to the tastes and wants of his customers and the uniform courtesy and fair dealing which characterizes the service rendered by the store. He is a man of unquestioned integrity, progressive ideas and enterprising methods, and commands the respect of his business associates and the uniform confidence of the people of his community.”

The Shemanski fountain features two human drinking platforms, and bowl-sized pools at the base, created especially for hydrating dogs. By 1987, Rebecca had fallen down on the job (not literally; although she did end up taking an assisted dive a few years ago).

The fountain’s bowls had been dry for decades, so its plumbing was repaired and a new base was poured. But, it was obvious to many, including Mr. Shemanski’s great-grandson, that more needed to be done. Private donations and The Portland Bureau of Parks and Recreation took care of that. The fountain reopened, and water began flowing again on July 18, 1988. Another restoration came in 2004.

Rebecca at the Well Fountain

Rebecca at the Well. Photo credit: Robert Parish

During its nearly 90-year history in the South Park neighborhood, Mr. Shemanki’s gift has survived several attacks from vandals. The most serious was when Rebecca was unceremoniously pushed off her base in 2007, causing nearly $10,000 in damage.

Mr. Shemanski, who died in 1951, loved Portland. He was grateful to the people here for supporting his business and thankful he had found such a great place to raise his family. The fountain, he said, was a way to “express a small measure of gratitude.”

As someone who walks by his fountain and Rebecca at the Well on a regular basis, I am grateful that Joseph Shemanski gave something back to our community. And, yes, I’ve tasted Rebecca’s water. It’s very refreshing.

Shemanski Fountain

Shemanski Fountain. Photo credit: Robert Parish

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1 reply
  1. William Schwalm
    William Schwalm says:

    Once years ago as a student I lived in Portland and I was fond of the older statue. The new one is also good. Can we know the sculptor’s name in either of the two cases?


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