Art History 396
Through the Hands of Ed Hamilton
Imagine a big, tall man gazing
into the river. He looks with determination at it. He holds a rifle in his left
hand, and two birds, tied together at the neck, in his right. His clothes are
wrinkled. He looks to have just come from a hunt. You wonder, What is he
thinking? What is he going to say? Make up your own mind. I see his expression
as being one of wanting to travel, wanting to lead, to help. That's just what
If you don't know what I'm
talking about, I'm talking about the statue of York, the first African American
slave to travel across the U.S. He was William Clark's slave. William Clark
journeyed with Lewis. Clark was the little brother of George Rogers Clark. A
Louisville sculptor named Ed Hamilton made this statue. He created York as a
memorial to him and to commemorate his journey on Lewis and Clark's expedition.
It was commissioned in 2002 by the city of Louisville.
a little background about Mr. Ed Hamilton. As a child, he never knew he was
going to become an artist. "You don't know what you're going to be", Mr.
Hamilton told me. Yet, he always explored different things as a child and he
analyzed them. Growing up, he lived near
a barbershop. His mother and father ran a combination barber and tailor shop
called "Your Valet Shop"; it was located on Walnut Street.
His dad was a tailor, so he played with his dad's tailor boxes,
Later on, when he was in junior
high school, one of his teachers found out he had talent. That allowed his
creativity to come forth. When Mr. Hamilton was 13, his father died and he
didn't get to see his son's art bloom. But his mother, who is now deceased,
supported and encouraged him.
Mr. Hamilton graduated from Shawnee High School in 1965. He recieved two Honorary
Doctorate of Art degrees, one from Western University and the other from U of L.
He recieved them both in the same week, so he didn't officially graduate from
either. He was working towards a teaching degree, but that didn't
go forward because he met Barney Bright, with whom he
worked with from 1973 until about 1978. It was in '78 that Mr. Hamilton broke
off and had his own studio.
Barney Bright was a role model
Mr. Hamilton met Mr. Bright when he was buying clay at a ceramic shop
called Kings, which was next to Mr. Bright's studio.
Mr. Bright was coming out of his studio, and that's when Mr. Hamilton met him.
He walked over to him and introduced himself. That's when
his career with Mr. Bright started. Mr. Bright was the creator behind the River
Horse, on Chestnut Street, the Derby clock, and the Winged Man, Icarus.
Mr. Hamilton's biggest influence
is Auguste Rodin, an artist from the 1800's. Rodin was born in Paris in 1840.
When Rodin was a student at the Petite
Ecole, he showed a lot of talent and won first prize for sculpture and second
prize for drawing in 1857.
Mr. Hamilton had talent as a youth, and it shows today in his many works. I
find that interesting that Rodin and Mr. Hamilton both showed talent when they
Rodin's The Thinker shows the
same strength and determination that Mr. Hamilton's York does. They both have
you thinking: What's he thinking about? The Thinker is from Rodin's doors the
Gates of Hell; which plays on another set of doors, the Gates of Paradise, by
York has a similar muscular body and smooth
skin like The Thinker.
As I've stated earlier, Rodin
was one of Mr. Hamilton's biggest influences. Some other artists he admires are
Barney Bright, Elizabeth Catlett, Barthè, Michelangelo and Richard Hunt. He
likes their styles and techniques. Now, I'll talk a little about Barney Bright.
Born Jeptha Barnard Bright, Jr.
on July 8, 1927 in Shelbyville, Kentucky, Barney Bright showcased his artistic
talent for school projects.
Throughout the 1950's in Louisville, he'd
been commissioned to do various sculptures near fountains for different
buildings. Take for instance "Pool Figures" and "Landscape." "Pool Figures" is
a group of three nymph-like women in a fountain. They resemble water nymphs we
see in fantasy movies. They're nude and slender. These pieces were made of
bronze and done in the late 1950's.
"Landscape", which was
commissioned by the Citizens Fidelity Bank and done in 1958,
is of a woman sitting near a fountain. She's leaning over, seeming to gaze into
the water. Both of these pieces have that same quality as York; they make you
wonder what the "nymphs" are doing in the water and what is the woman looking
at. The figure in "Landscape" has great texture and good features like
Mr. Hamilton had helped Barney
Bright look over "Truth and Justice", another one of Mr. Bright's works. "Truth
and Justice" is a woman floating over a man. They seem to be just floating in
the air. It was placed, and still is, in front of the Legal Arts Building here
in Louisville. William P. Mulloy commissioned the sculpture and the building.
Elizabeth Catlett is another
artist he likes. She's an African American sculptor and printmaker. She was
born in 1915 and has lived in Mexico for fifty years.
She's married to Francisco Mora, a Mexican
She does art about woman, black women in particular; a lot of them show
motherhood. Her sculptures hearken back to ancient cultures that made "Mother
figures", wide hips and women holding children. Take the sculpture Figura, made of mahogany and done in
It looks like a Venus de Milo statue because
of the slender shape and curve of the hips.
The Mother and Child sculpture
looks like medieval art's paintings and manuscripts of the Virgin and Child. It
was made in 1961 and the material she used was terracotta.
Her works show strength, femininity, Greek,
and other culture influences.
Another artist that Mr. Hamilton
admires is Barthè. Richmond Barthè was born in Mississippi in 1901.
He became a sculptor when he was praised for
his paintings of portrait busts at an exhibition called the Chicago Women's
City Club exhibition.
Like Mr. Hamilton, his artistic talent was seen early. Barthè's sculptures go
from large works to smaller portrait heads and studies of the body, just like
Mr. Hamilton does. In Mr. Hamilton's studio, he has multiple busts of
sculptures he's created and small models of bigger sculptures he's made.
Barthè's Bust of a Negro Boy
reminds me of some of the busts of men Mr. Hamilton has in his studio.
Michelangelo is another of Mr.
Hamilton's favorite artists. As we all know, he's a famous artist of the 15th
and 16th century. Michelangelo's Pietà,
which is made of marble and was made from 1497-1500,
has so much detail and natural anatomy. Michelangelo made the clothes drape
over them so well that you could reach out and lift up a piece of the fabric.
It's the same way with York: it seems like you could touch his skin and it'd
feel real, his clothes would feel rough, and he could just step off the rock
and talk to you.
Michelangelo's David is a
colossal statue. York is too: he's 8 feet tall on an artificial rock that was
made by Forest Boone; it's called a "museumrock."
Both David and York have determined looks on
their faces and, again, you wonder what they are thinking.
And lastly, Richard Hunt is
another artist that Mr. Hamilton likes. He was a metal sculptor that lives and
works out of Chicago, Illinois.
six artists were Mr. Hamilton's favorite artists. Now that I've told you about
them, I will now analyze one of his works: York. I'll tell what it's made of,
how he made it, and what I think of it.
York is made of bronze and,
as I've said earlier, is 8 feet tall.
It's a magnificent statue. It
shows great talent and attention to detail.
He gives off an air of strength and formidability.
When I had interviewed Mr.
Hamilton, he mentioned "Big Medicine."
I've read that on the plaques around the statue.
What's meant by that is the Native Americans
saw York as superior to the white man and to have great spiritual power because
of his skin color. He has such a strong
presence. He dominates the place he
first met Mr. Hamilton in 2004, he told me how he made York.
First, he created many busts of him and then
a nude clay model. He told me he made
him nude so he could get the proportions right and to know how clothes lay on
the body. I found that really
interesting because I had never thought of that in sculpture or drawing.
Also, I watched a news story about him when
I met him. It said he uses his hands as
eyes, feeling over each groove and rise in his sculptures.
sent off the clay model, with the clothes already on it, to get cast into bronze.
Later, he added the gun, the birds, and the items
at his feet, which are a hat and his satchel.
He used many tools to create York, such as loop tools (a wooden handled
instrument with a loop of metal at the top) and various other instruments to
make incisions into the metal. Mr.
Hamilton also told me, when I first met him, that when he makes the faces and
bodies of the people, he uses a composition of parts, such as a certain nose
with a certain set of eyes and mouth.
you about York, some of Mr.
Hamilton's favorite artists, and how he created York. Now, I'll give more
history of Mr. Hamilton, what his favorite sculptures are, and a work of art
that he hasn't done that he'd like to do.
of his favorite sculptures are York
and the Spirit of Freedom. The Spirit
of Freedom is a commemorative piece in D.C. that honors hundreds of black
soldiers. Mr. Hamilton was commissioned by
the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities of Washington, D.C. to create this
piece. On the front, there
are soldiers and sailors. On the back,
there's family of the servicemen. He
told me that wherever the soldiers go, they bring their family.
That's very deep and meaningful.
They may leave to fight, but they have their
family with them.
Mr. Hamilton's been married to
his wife Bernadette for 39 years and they have two children, Kendra, who's 28,
and Ed III, who's 38. Ed III is in the
culinary arts and Kendra works for Humana; she was in music in college and
played the French horn and violin at Manual's performing arts school.
She went to Montessori and Brown also.
A piece that he hasn't done but
he'd like to do is Martin Luther King, Jr. standing in an architecture with
columns. It's going to be in Newport
News, Virginia, by the beach. It's
going to be made of bronze. I'd like to
see that one.
It was good seeing Mr. Hamilton
again and to interview him. I learned a
lot about him. I hope you learned a lot
too. York is a great work of art.
He shows strength, determination, and pride.
Bright: A Fifty-year celebration.
Louisville: The Association, 1997.
Catlett Sculpture: A Fifty-year retrospective.
Purchase: University of
Washington Press, c. 1998.
Grove Dictionary of Art.
New York: Macmillan Publishers Limited,
Kelley, Robin D.G.
American art: 20th century Masterworks X.
New York: Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, 2003.