Harlem has an interesting array of public art that causes one to take notice. While the typical assortment of military commanders and abstract sculptures can be found in most mini-parks and green-spaces, there are 4 historic figures that are at the top of my must see list.
Location: Saint Nicholas Avenue, West 122nd Street and Frederick Douglass Boulevard (Eighth Avenue)
The Harriet Tubman sculpture, designed by Alison Saar shows stylized portraits of “anonymous passengers” of the Underground Railroad in Tubman’s skirt, some of which were inspired by West African “passport masks.” Around the granite base of the monument are bronze tiles alternately depicting events in Tubman’s life and traditional quilting patterns. The 10 foot tall, southward facing statue has generated quite a bit of controversy due to the reverse direction that Tubman faces.
Location: 110th Street, Fifth Avenue, Central Park North
A statue of Duke Ellington stands in Duke Ellington Circle, at 110th Street and Fifth Avenue, in the northeast corner of Central Park. Unveiled in 1997, the statue, by sculptor Robert Graham, is 25 feet tall, and depicts the Muses — nine nude caryatids — supporting a grand piano and Duke Ellington on their heads. Duke Ellington Circle is also the site of the future Museum for African Art.
Adam Clayton Powell, Jr.
Location: 125th Street and Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. Boulevard (Seventh Avenue)
The sculpture of Congressman Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. is located on the plaza of the Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. State Office Building at the corner of 125th Street and Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. Boulevard in the Harlem. The 12-foot bronze statute, honors civil rights activist and Harlem congressman Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Called Higher Ground, the monument by sculptor Branly Cadet was inspired by a quote from the late minister and politician: “Press forward at all times, climbing forward toward that higher ground of the harmonious society that shapes the laws of man to the laws of God.”
Location: 110th Street, Central Park West, Frederick Douglass Boulevard (Eighth Avenue)
In 2003, a collaborative proposal submitted by Harlem-based artist Algernon Miller and Hungarian-born sculptor Gabriel Koren was accepted for a moment dedicated to abolitionist Frederick Douglass. Miller is also known locally for his Tree of Hope sculpture dedicated in 1972 on Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard while Koren sculpted the Malcolm X Memorial statue located at the site of the former Audubon Ballroom, where the civil rights leader was slain.
For the Frederick Douglass Memorial Miller’s overall design includes granite seating and paving patterns based on traditional African-American quilt motifs, as well as a bronze perimeter fence with a wagon wheel motif. He also responded to the design competition guidelines with a bronze water wall depicting the Big Dipper constellation that guided those on the “underground railroad.” Koren crafted a standing bronze portrait of a pensive Douglass, cast at Polich-Tallix bronze foundry, and inspired by nineteenth-century photographs. The circle and memorial opened to the public in June of 2010. [View more of the monument here]
So, the next time you find yourself with a free afternoon take time go around the neighborhood and appreciate the rich history lesson that Harlem’s public art has to offer.
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