The Daily Plant : Tuesday, May 6, 2003
NEW SCULPTURE HONORS AFRICAN-AMERICAN LUMINARY
On Thursday, May 1, Parks & Recreation commemorated the completion of the Ralph Ellison Memorial with a dramatic dedication ceremony. Attended by numerous public officials, including Deputy Mayor Patricia E. Harris and former Council Member Stanley E. Michels, the event centered around the unveiling of the memorial’s sculptural feature, an enormous bronze structure designed by noted artist Elizabeth Catlett. The statue faces Ellison’s former home—730 Riverside Drive—where his wife, Fannie Ellison, still resides and is located in an area where Ellison used to sit and walk. The monument stands 15’ high and 10’ wide with the body of the "invisible man" carved into its mass. It is the first new, permanent sculpture to be placed in a City park in over two years, and the second to celebrate the life of an African-American artist. Parks & Recreation Commissioner Adrian Benepe called the sculpture, "one of the most important artistic monuments to be added to New York City’s landscape in the past 100 years. Ralph Ellison was a champion of American literature, a quintessential New Yorker, and a frequent visitor to this park. Elizabeth Catlett’s work will stand as a testament to his achievements."
To properly honor Ellison, Parks & Recreation worked with the Riverside Park Fund, the Ralph Ellison Memorial Committee, and local residents to design the memorial. A panel of art experts, advised by a broad-based group of community members, guided the selection process. Distinguished artist Elizabeth Catlett, whose works are in the permanent collections of several institutions, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., was selected to build a bronze monument. This is her first public commission in New York City. The project, including both the monument and the park renovation, broke ground in November 2001.
Hundreds of community members and supporters of the project, including Ellison’s wife, actors Bill Cosby and Ruby Dee, and sculptor Elizabeth Catlett, attended the ceremony to pay tribute to the author of Invisible Man. The sculpture was entirely funded by private monies, raised by the Riverside Park Fund and the Ralph Ellison Memorial Committee. The Committee’s Chair, John T. Reddick, said the "project rose from Mr. Ellison's neighbors. They have kept it true to his spirit, and their efforts have brought special significance to this tribute." James T. Dowell, President of the Riverside Park Fund also found special meaning in the project saying, "of all of Riverside Park Fund’s projects to maintain and improve Riverside Park, none has been more satisfying. We've created a new treasure for the City and for all those who have been touched by Mr. Ellison’s work." Attendees also celebrated the completion of Parks & Recreation’s $750,000 renovation of the parkland which surrounds the sculpture. Funding for the work was allocated by former Council Member Michels. The renovation included the creation of new pathways, fencing, benches, lighting and landscaping. Benches in the park were named for former Council Member Stanley E. Michels and the late husband of Ms. Catlett.
Among the ceremony’s most notable moments were a booming reading about yams from Invisible Man by stage actress Ruby Dee and several anecdotes about Ellison and his neighborhood shared by Professor John F. Callahan. As the event progressed, sunlight broke through the gray skies and the beautiful notes from Joey Marant's trumpet echoed off the Beaumont and other buildings along Riverside Drive. When, at the close of the ceremonies, the veil was finally lifted nothing could prepare one for the sculpture's magnificence. Blossoming trees and passersby animated the monument's negative space, and offered an infinite number of vantage points for appreciating the work.
Written by Hannah Gersen
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"Education is…hanging around until you’ve caught on."
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