San Francisco artist Cheryl Derricotte selected for Harriet Tubman monument
When the bridge development at Millbrae Station opens in the summer of 2022, it will include both a street and a new public monument celebrating the legendary abolitionist and Underground Railroad driver Harriet Tubman to mark the 200th anniversary of her birth.
The monument, titled “Freedom’s Threshold,” will be designed by San Francisco artist Cheryl Derricotte, who was selected for the project by a group comprising developer Republic Urban Properties, NAACP San Mateo, BART, Caltrans and members of Millbrae and Redwood City Council. Derricotte is one of 763 artists selected last year to exhibit at the Young Open and one of the first artists selected for the Villa SF residency program.
The 12-foot aluminum-and-glass sculpture is expected to feature a full-scale image of Tubman surrounded by a pointed roof structure. The foundation will consist of 14 glass bricks representing the 14 trips Tubman made on the Underground Railroad, with community representatives invited to imprint meaningful words on each brick.
Derricotte had wanted to create a public monument for some time in the Bay Area and was in the running for the Maya Angelou project that Lava Thomas eventually got in San Francisco as well as the 19th Street BART station in Oakland, so when she was commissioned because it was “the most delicious surprise”.
“With my proposal, I wanted them to see that I was a person who had worked with glass for a long time and who was also used to making images of former slaves, starting with my first solo exhibition at MOAD in 2016, ”she said, adding that“ the threshold of freedom ”would be the first monument to Tubman built with glass.
The Chronicle spoke to Derricotte about her research on Tubman and why she thinks the careers of black female artists often have slower trajectories than those of other artists.
Q: Have there been any concerns about working with glass in a public space?
A: I did it two ways: one is to say, “Yes, glass can break”. However, we also know that glass can last forever. I mean, there was glass in the Pompeii show (from 79 CE).
One of the other things I did was design my sculpture with sections of glass to address this issue so that if one section was damaged you could remove that square and replace it, as opposed to a sheet. of 18 foot glass with Harriet Tubman’s image.
Q: Do you think this project will change your career?
A: Public art was a goal I set for myself when I graduated from my MFA. … It is a moment of growth for me as an artist and a professional. I’m 56 and I think a lot of black women’s careers can be slow to take off. Watch sculptor Simone Leigh nominated for the Venice Biennale for the American Pavilion in her 50s.
When I look everywhere at the women artists whom I admire deeply, they have a little longer and perhaps slower careers. When you look at what has happened with the careers of black women, you see that even fewer are making it to the upper echelons of shows. I remember going to Carrie May Weems’ solo at the Guggenheim and hearing that she was the first black woman to have a solo show there – that was in 2014.
Q: Is there an art or a public artist that has influenced you?
A: I am very fortunate to be from Washington DC. There was such a rich tradition of glass artists working in public art, both from the studio where I learned, the Washington Glass School, as well as from artist Therman Statom. We have always considered him to be the father of everything Washington glass.
I lived on the northeast side of Capitol Hill as an adult before moving to the Bay Area in 2011. There was a park not far from my house called Lincoln Park with an erected statue of the great educator. Mary McLeod Bethune. Many people have called it Bethune Park in his honor.
I also visited the Vietnam memorial and saw it when it was only the Maya Lin memorial, and I remember the fight to add the bronzes of the military and make sure that at least one of these soldiers was black.
Q: What did Harriet Tubman mean to you when you got started on this project?
A: I knew her as the legendary conductor of the Underground Railroad, but I also knew her as a famous Pisces, because I’m a Pisces, although people weren’t really aware of her date of death. exact birth because of slavery.
Growing up in Washington, Harriet Tubman was originally from Maryland, so much of her history also centered on the east coast of Maryland.
This proposal made me dive much deeper into its history. I learned how much property Harriet Tubman owned at the time of her death. We hear that she died poor, she was poor in money but rich in land.
I loved seeing the architecture of his house, which still stands in Auburn, NY – that was really a guiding principle for me. My original sketches were based on his house. I feel like what I’m trying to show is a fragment of the house and we’re going to see Harriet in the house or through the window.
Q: What’s the next step?
A: I have a month-long residency in New Orleans at Paper Machine where I will be working on a suite of prints and maybe some handmade artist books.
I have also been appointed to the Windgate Foundation at the Vermont Studio Center, and I plan to remake Open Studio in San Francisco at Islais Creek (October 1-3). I have a space there in front of the electrical room; When you come up with a large glass oven, you want to be as close to the electrical room as possible.
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