Sculpture provides inspiration
July 20, 1995
By Pamela Cressey
Public art has a long history. Often commemorating famous war heroes or battles, or providing beauty in gardens and fountains, art in public spaces has a tradition of being monumental. It is usually created by government or the elite as the physical manifestation of a shared value in the society. Two new park spaces along Alexandria’s Hooff’s Run have taken public art into a new dimension.
The art created for the African American Heritage Park along Holland Lane and for the Gateway Park by the King Street Metro station incorporate newer, more inclusive themes and methods, and therefore manifest results far different from those of traditional public art.
And where is Hooff’s Run, you may ask. It is not a frequently visited waterway. In fact, it is often invisible under sidewalks, streets, and grass. Hooff’s Run can be viewed from Duke Street just as you pass Daingerfield Road. It moves from Timber Branch down through Rosemont, under Duke Street and then parallel to Holland Lane into Great Hunting Creek.
Gateway Park will be taking final form in the months ahead, but the African American Heritage Park has already been completed. Jerome Meadows’ inspirational sculpture, titled “Truths That Rise From the Roots – Remembered,” is the central point in the park. The bronze memorial sculpture is in the form of three stylized trees, etched with African American names and accomplishments. The trees rise 12 to15 feet above the Black Baptist Cemetery established 100 years ago.
Meadows also included a raised grave mound in bronze with limestone supports. The trees and mound are in a circle surrounded by gray stone. He has stated that his concept for the sculpture “draws from the immediate environment of the cemetery and surrounding site.” The tree branches suggest “organic and expressive movement.”
The flat surfaces of each tree have etched information on people and groups to acknowledge religious, cultural, social and professional accomplishments. The names read like a dictionary of African American life. To touch the names, and perhaps even make rubbings, connects us with these historic people. Their names may not appear in history books, but their deeds surround our lives today. Symbols also are etched into the tree surfaces to provide visual stimulation.
This work speaks to Meadows’ philosophy: “As an artist I enjoy opportunities to have my work exist as an integral part of a collective effort whose focus addresses the myriad issues pertinent to humanity. In spite of the prevailing notions of art as elitist, it is, in truth, an inherent part of the broad fabric of human involvement…”
As Meadows has envisioned, the memorial is “a living testimony to our higher ideals and best efforts.”
Pamela Cressey is the Alexandria City Archaeologist.
Caption: Jerome Meadows’ memorial sculpture in the Alexandria African American Heritage Park can be appreciated both by sight (above) and touch, as names and images are etched into the bronze trees (below).