Cultural Heroes

Through February 25, 2016
at the National Civil Rights Museum
State of Tennessee Gallery
Included with admission

Artist Talk - Thursday, January 28, 6:00 pm

Cultural Heroes is a concept conceived by Alan LeQuire inspired by one of his favorite museums, the Cluny Museum in Paris. The museum displays the heads of the Kings of France, which were broken off the facade of Notre Dame during the French Revolution and rediscovered during the 1970s. These larger-than-life stone heads are displayed in such an ethereal setting that they continued to affect Alan LeQuire, even years after he first encountered them.

Cultural Heroes features the first seven icons of an ongoing series of artists who were key role players for Civil Rights, putting their careers on the line. Sculpted in a moment of performance, these colossal portrait heads also represent various ways of handling clay, always with the intent to make the material and its treatment at least as important as the subject matter. The artist's seven role models currently represented in the sculptures are Marian Anderson, Bessie Smith, Billie Holiday, Lead Belly, Paul Robeson, Woody Guthrie, and Josh White.

The Cultural Heroes series showcases Alan LeQuire's passion for working with clay and his impulse to infuse the clay with the living presence of a person. With the Cultural Heroes series, I wanted to create larger-than-life portrait heads that would affect the viewer with their beauty and presence, states LeQuire. I am interested in real people whose art succeeded despite obstacles. This early 20th Century group represents the great contributions of the artists who were the grandparents of the Civil Rights movement.

LeQuire strives to create a larger-than-life portrait that has the breath of life of the individual. Sculpting his personal heroes, he understands and communicates their artistic ecstasy. The result is a miraculous object that possesses the living presence of a person and gives it permanence. Insight into a personality can be found through movement sensed through posture and passion projected through expression. LeQuire sculpts in clay, and there is always the opportunity to explore texture and new ways of handling the material. For the sculptor, the manipulation of the clay is his signature.

The Cultural Heroes larger-than-life sculptures are a tribute to role models who succeeded despite obstacles.

 

Regarded as one of the world's greatest contraltos, Marian Anderson is represented in the exhibit along with Paul Robeson, actor and social activist of the early 20th century civil rights movement.

 

Blues singer Bessie Smith was born in poverty in Chattanooga, and became the best selling recording artist in the 1920s. Her songs not only addressed issues about lost love but also pain and oppression of racism. Named the Empress of the Blues, Smith became the voice of the African American masses.

 

Billie Holiday's statue is part of the exhibit. Holiday was a world renowned jazz vocalists who used her talents to point to the ills of racial terrorism, despite the risks to her career. In 1939 her song Strange Fruit caused an uproar and elevated the discussion of racism in the U.S.

 

Born on a Louisiana plantation, Huddie Lead Belly Ledbetter was a folk guitarist from Jim Crow South whose songs on racism and segregation raised the social conscience of the nation. He recorded his songs for the Library of Congress after being incarcerated for 19 years.