Rare Sculpture of Martin Luther King Comes to the Smithsonian

Martin Luther King, Jr, Sculpture, Smithsonian

Less than two years after Martin Luther King, Jr was assassinated, the African-American artist Charles Alston received a commission from Rev. Donald Harrington for the Community Church of New York to create a bust of the Civil Rights leader for $5,000.

Alston, who was active in the Harlem Renaissance, was better known as both an abstract and representational painter. He had been the first African-American supervisor for the Works Progress Administration’s Federal Art Project. But his 1970 bust of MLK, of which he made five casts, became one of his most prominent pieces.

The Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery commissioned one of the 1970 castings and lent the work to the White House, where it has stood in the library since 1990, the first image of an African American on display at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

When Barack Obama became the first black President in 2009, he brought the work into the Oval Office, replacing a bust of Winston Churchill that had been returned to the British Embassy. There it became a prominent work, seen in official portraits with visiting dignitaries and heads of state.

Now a second copy of the famous King bust comes to Washington for all the public to see close up.

On the eve of Martin Luther King Day weekend, officials from the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture are announcing the recent gift of one of the rare copies of the 1970 Alston sculpture of Martin Luther King, which will be on display when the new museum opens this September.

“We’re very excited to have it,” says curator Tuliza Fleming. “It really fits quite nicely into our mission.”

The sculpture is a gift from Eric and Cheryl McKissack of Chicago, who had purchased it from the N’Namdi Contemporary art gallery in Miami five years ago.

“We have a couple of other works by Charles Alston,” McKissack said from Chicago, where he is a principal in an institutional investment and management firm. “We are obviously fans of his work. We don’t have a very long history with this particular piece, but we felt it was such a significant subject as well as an important artist of color.”

It won’t be the first Alston for the new museum, either … read more —> http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smithsonian-institution/


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