Local Artists Join with Arts Organization to Restore Sculpture by Black Artist

IMG_1860-e1344550724640SACRAMENTO – To no one surprise, the African American community of artists around Sacramento are clearly disappointed about the vandals who nearly destroyed the “Sojourner” Truth sculpture that stood near 13th and K streets.

But it must be noted that the administration for the Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission (SMAC) is also torn about the artwork created by African American artist Elizabeth Catlett. Members of the arts organization told the The OBSERVER that they are faithfully doing something to correct the problem.

Standing powerfully at seven-feet tall, the sculpture, made of Mexican Limestone, was found on Jan. 6, pushed off its pedestal, and broken into separate pieces. Unknown until recently, Catlett’s statue was placed in storage by the SMAC and is still there today.

“It looks like some kids, being vandals, just knocked it over and it broke,” said Shelly Willis, the interim Executive Director and Arts in Public Places Director for SMAC. “We recovered it quickly and have all the pieces.”

Willis said Catlett’s artwork is salvageable and a restoration project for “Sojourner” is underway. SMAC has been getting calls about the status of the sculpture, but Willis has asked for patience for such a fine piece of art that means so much to Sacramento.

“We are consulting with several restoration experts,” Willis told The OBSERVER. “You have to have a real fine area of expertise to be able to restore something like this to its former condition. It’s a long process because it’s complicated and it can’t be moved around a lot.”

The front runner to restore Catlett’s damaged artwork, Willis said, is Molly Lambert from San Francisco. Lambert is the principal and owner of Architectural Conservation, Inc. The firm performs consulting services and hands-on treatment of immovable cultural property for educational organizations, religious institutions, museums, communities and government agencies.

After examining “Sojourner,” Lambert is preparing a report for a conservator. Once the conservator has reported its findings to SMAC, the City of Sacramento Risk Management Department must approve it to secure funding for the repair. Lambert believes she can repair the sculpture.

Since “Sojourner” was broken into pieces, once it’s repaired it will have to be installed in an interior location in oppose to the exterior site the sculpture sat at for 14 years where it was more public and accessible.

“I would really like to install it at the Community Center Theatre site,” Willis said. “But the Community Center Theater is going to be redeveloped soon once the budget is approved. So I wouldn’t want it to be installed until after the theater has been redeveloped if that’s where we decide to put it.”

Sojourner Truth, born in 1797 and died 1883, was a slave that escaped to freedom, became an abolitionist, and fought for women’s rights. She was the first Black person to claim victory in a court case against a White man.

Elizabeth Catlett, born 1919 and died 2012, was also an activist fighting injustices against Black Americans. She was a target for her politics during the days of “McCarthyism,” which led her to move to Mexico for a short period. Catlett did have issues getting back into the United States despite being a citizen. At the age of 95, she completed one of her last sculptures, a life-size bronze sculpture of gospel music icon, Mahalia Jackson.

Local artists Kevin Hellon, A. Michelle Blakley, Delgreta Brown, and many others fine art collectors led an online posting alerting art lovers and the community of the statue’s situation.

“Her work is treasured,” Brown said of Catlett. “It has has value and meaning on so many different levels. The selected sculptor would be honored to restore her (statue of Sojourner Truth).”

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By Antonio R. Harvey
OBSERVER Staff Writer