5b. The Harriet Tubman memorial Step On Board, the dream commission.
The Harriet Tubman piece, Step On Board, was another
example of the dream commission, that is when a group of people gather together
and they've raised all their money and they decide upon an artist. You're not
even competing with anyone. I received a phone call and was asked me to create
a monument to Harriet Tubman. The committee wanted
it to be a companion sculpture to Metta Warrick Fuller's Sculpture “Emancipation”
as they were putting the two pieces in the park. They wanted me to do this piece
and they said "you're free to design whatever you choose" and they
had all of the money
they needed to cover pretty much whatever I came up with. This was delightful! It was also frightening, because sometimes too much freedom is very scary, but I was able to work and work and work with small models, until I came up with something that I really liked. I also worked around a lot of other sculptors and got a lot of input from people, "what do you think of this one?, What do you think of that one,", "let's put these five together, which one do you like best?" and then we would talk about why, and which one do you think goes best with “Emancipation” and why? And you know it helped me a lot to be with people I respected, and to get their opinions. Friends such as Robert Shure, Jonathan Fairbanks and Paul Cavanaugh, were invaluable to me throughout the production of this work.
I came up with a piece that was pretty solid, in the way that her piece Meta
Warrick Fuller’s piece, “ Emancipation” is solid, it's not
separate people doing separate things which, actually, my initial idea was.
Originally, I had Harriet Tubman in a seated position and as I am so often focused
on children and their needs , I had her talking to children. Many of the photographs
Harriet were taken when she was old and she was sitting, but the more I read about her( and I read everything I could get my hands on about the woman) I realized it would be ridiculous to have her sitting! This woman never sat down, she never did! Unless she had fallen asleep from her narcolepsy. “So,” I said “she's got to be standing and she's got to be in motion and she
has to have the people with her because that's what she was all about: The people, and moving them from one place to another.” And so that's when I came up with the group and then the wall. I had wanted a wall, because I was thinking about symbolizing something that had to do with cities, having to do with what's going on now. But the wall became different. It became something that these people were emerging from, as if it's the wall of bondage. And as I worked on that piece, everything just came together for me. I loved that freedom of being able to express myself. And when I finished it. . . I look at that piece now and I feel that it's intensely personal and that every character in that piece is really me, a reflection of me. But it’s also definitely, Harriet Ross Tubman, doing what she was put on this earth to do. And I feel that it does the job
that I was given to do.