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Sculptor Of Daisy Bates Statue To Depict Her Leadership And Activism In Piece

Benjamin Victor

Arkansas' process of replacing its current statues in the National Statuary Hall has recently progressed with the selection of the sculptors for new statues of country artist Johnny Cash and civil rights leader Daisy Bates.

Sculptor Benjamin Victor, who the selection review committee chose in June to create the sculpture of Daisy Bates, says they’re still early on in the process.

"We’ve just got the scale models and we’re working with the state. The scale models have to be approved by the U.S. Capitol and the architect’s office before any steps can be made for the full-sized sculpture. So there’s a lot of protocol when you’re doing a sculpture for the U.S. Capitol and this is just step one," Victor said.

In addition to the creation of the statue itself, Victor says he’s also excited about the location of Bates’ statue in Statuary Hall, which will be across from a statue of fellow civil rights icon, Rosa Parks and in the same room of a statue of Chief Standing Bear, the first Native American to be judicially granted civil rights under American law.

"There’s going to be a power in that room to show that we as a nation stand behind the idea of all being created equal," Victor said.

Arkansas legislators passed a law in 2019 that called for the commission and creation of statues of Cash and Bates to replace the state’s current Statuary Hall residents: Uriah Rose, a lawyer who supported Arkansas through the Civil War, and James Paul Clarke, a former Arkansas U.S. Senator.

Victor spoke with KUAR to talk about how he chose to represent Bates through art. Below is a transcript of the edited conversation that aired.

KUAR: What is your history with sculpting? How did you get into it, how did this end up being your career?

Victor: "I started out in college in sculpture. I had drawn and painted my whole life so I really loved art and I decided to be an art major. And when I went into art as a major, sculpture is one of the required courses, so I took a sculpture one course and clay really just worked for me and I ended up doing sculpture ever since. I started receiving commissions while I was still in college and it’s really just grown into a wonderful career."

KUAR: So is this statue of Daisy Bates, is it going to be your fourth statue to make it to Statuary Hall?

Victor: "Yes. It will be my fourth. So, I’m the only living sculptor to have four. Well, currently I’m the only living sculptor to have three, so this is just an amazing honor. If you’d have told me in my career that I’d have one, I would have thought you were crazy, so to have four in there is just beyond my wildest dreams."

KUAR: Can you describe the sculpture for our listeners? What details did you decide to add and kind of, why did you make the decisions you made?

Victor: "She’s walking forward. So, I see Daisy Bates as a leader and an activist and there’s this great photo of her walking as a group follows behind and she’s leading a civil rights march and so that leadership really captured me in that photograph. So, I took from that photo, the idea of her walking and moving forward as an activist.

And then in her left hand she’s carrying the newspaper because she was not only a journalist, but a publisher and a Black business owner. So as a business owner in this country, as a Black woman at that time, I thought it was real[ly] important to show her newspaper in her hand.

And then in her right hand she has the notepad and pen as a journalist as a symbol that she used her ability in journalism to bring to life the stories of hardship of African Americans in the south at that time. So those are just two of the many icons along the piece as she strides forward and has this smile and the look of optimism because I wanted to show that optimistic attitude and also the fact that she won. So, I wanted her smiling."

KUAR: So the reason why these statues are even [being] made [is] due to a law passed by state lawmakers to update these statues. So I’m curious…what are your thoughts…of the preservation of the past [versus] a need for an updated representation of a state?

Victor: "To me it’s totally inappropriate to have leaders put on pedestals in the Capitol building that were not only not heroes of equality, but were voices that fought against equality. So those sculptures that are taken down that are leaders in the past that were not only segregationists, but pro-slavery and things like that, to me it’s totally appropriate that they need to be taken down, taken back to the state and maybe put in context in a museum…

I always think of when I went to the Holocaust Museum and saw some memorabilia from the Nazis. It didn’t have the power to arouse hate, it had the power in that context to really arouse empathy for those that they hurt. And so that’s kind of my thoughts about it. I think it’s a great stride forward for Arkansas to think of that and to want to remove these emblems of hate and replace them with individuals who were for equality and for everyone."

Sarah Kellogg was a Politics and Government reporter for KUAR from November 2018- August 2021.
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