Martin Luther King Memorial, Kalamazoo, Michigan
The year after I created my first Martin Luther King sculpture for the Law School at UC Davis, in which I came up with the concept of including narrative historic images in relief on the Martin Luther King’s minister’s robe, there was a call for artists to create a public sculpture of Dr. King for the city of Kalamazoo Michigan. I had never applied for a national public commission before, but my friends encouraged me to do so, and in the end the committee selected my concept for the sculpture of Dr. King. This was also the first time I created a large-scale bronze sculpture, which was a new an exciting challenge. In a bronze sculpture the figure could be raised off the ground and I could depict Dr. King in a strong stride on his 2 feet. Just like the title of one of his books, “Stride for Freedom’” this forward confident stride represented the determination to continue forward with the movement, and was also a literal depiction of the marches which were an important part of his nonviolent activism. Another important goal for me with the sculpture was to capture the spirit of the man in his portraiture; to capture his strength and his determination, and his commitment to the power of nonviolent activism. Although I grew up hearing the stories of the civil rights movement through my family’s involvement, I took the time to do my own current research; reading the books that Martin Luther King wrote and researching the history of the entire Civil Rights Movement itself. I compare creating a sculpture like this to writing an historic biography. My hope is that these narrative images will be a timeless reminder of the history of the civil rights movement, and that parents and grandparents will be able to tell their children and grandchildren the important stories behind this great and brave movement for Peace, for Social Justice and for Civil Rights.
Artistically, my inspirations ranged from the powerful humanist sculptures of the Italian Renaissance, especially Michelangelo, to the politically charged narrative murals created by Mexican muralists such as Diego Rivera, Orozco, Siquieros, and by my own ceramics mentor and professor, Robert Arneson, who included imagery etched into the pedestals of his ceramic sculpture portraits.