"Glimpses of the Promised Land"
A Sculpture for Chavis Park in Raleigh, NC
Mike Roig, Sculptor
A commission begins with a proposal. I usually like to work without a lot of preliminary visualization if it's just me in the studio trying to discover some new idea. Public commissions are different, but while I'm bound to give a good idea of where I'm going I try to hold room for as much creative serendipity as possible. What follows are my initial responses to the possibilities this project offered, and that I expressed many months ago when this process got rolling.
Chavis Park has a wonderful history as the place where a full expression of black aspirations for community in the Jim Crow south had a safe, generous venue for expression. Today there seems to be movement toward some intermingling of the races here, a setting for that rapprochement to move from the realm of theory towards reality. In the studio one evening, not long after our visit to Chavis Park, I listened to a radio show about Martin Luther King, Jr. on NPR. I was again struck by his allusion to the “Promised Land” he had seen in the distance, although he had his doubts he would accompany there those to whom he spoke. I had heard that quote many times over the years, but it was with renewed awe at the prophetic intensity of that vision that I realized those words came so shortly before his death.
For my offering of a sculpture for Chavis Park I wish to create an attraction that will draw people to sit, talk, reflect and look out over our land of promise. The placement of the sculpture was the first element to become firm in my mind. I want to utilize the swale in the land that dips down toward the creek. The sculpture will involve a place to sit, to look outward over the paths and watercourse of the restored creek bed. I want to use this as my allegorical “Promised Land.” From the rim of the dale the view is quite pastoral and idyllic. By orienting slightly more to the right the dramatic skyline of the city rises with all the proximate promise of an energetic environment for commerce and livelihood.
Viewers seated on the bench suspended between the straddling legs of the sculpture will lookup into a swirling flock of stainless steel birds circling in eccentric ellipses, filtering and shimmering in the sun. I have often revisited this avian theme in the course of my career, an example of which can be seen at left. Joseph Campbell called them a universal symbol of spirit found in many cultures. I know I began using them for more intuitive reasons, and have come to witness over time their broad appeal to the sense of wonder in people of all ages, from all backgrounds. They can be seen as symbols of peace, of the need to cooperate in community. They can be enjoyed for the simple play of light glinting off their wings as they move in the sun.
The image provided here is a generalized idea of the final sculpture. As I said in the Glenwood proposal, my working method is to draw directly with steel, incorporating recycled structural materials and allowing the forms I find to work with influence the ultimate composition. This creative process inevitably suggests subtle design shifts that improve on what is seen as possible from this theoretical vantage point. I’ve made a couple of trips to the steel yard, and I have my eye on some substantial I-beams for this sculpture. There may also be components to be found from the park itself, elements known to be destined for replacement in the park’s renewal. This could be an interesting way to literally build some history into the sculpture.
The movement of the birds will incorporate the lessons I’m learning in creating the changing compositions of my more abstract pieces - a strategy I’ve not employed with these avian structures before and which I anticipate will lend an increasingly naturalistic illusion to their movements. Oh and one last thing, I have a notion to imbed a couple of flyers in that flock. My father was a pilot in the Air force, which is one reason my ears perked at the mention of the old Tuskegee plane that once lived at the park. I think it might be nice to have a couple of those guys riding cover for the “promised land” journey.
After many months of review and negotiation it seems that I can begin the actual building, and I'm ready. Over the summer I've accummulated many of the components I think will be useful in building the sculpture. Since I work in large measure with recycled materials, there are already possibilities suggested by the finds I wouldn't have been able to count on back when the proposal was first made. Twenty two inch wide I-beams are not an every day find at my local scrap yard. Step one is to lay them out and let the thoughts percolate.
I've gathered stainless steel both old and new to create the kinetic topper for the sculpture. I'm considering the options for the bearing assemblies to facilitate the motion. Certainly this old third-axle wheel hub with its design load of many tons ought to be able to carry my birds.
I would say a lot of the sculpture is there. It just needs a little work....
Let the scupturing begin.
I'll post some periodic pages devoted to the progress of the sculpture for those interested. That's where the links below will lead. Enjoy.