Thursday, May 9, 2013

MEDIA NEWS: Sacramento arts agency seeks to restore vandalized Elizabeth Catlett statue

The 7-foot-tall sculpture "Sojourner," of Mexican limestone, stood on the south patio of the Sacramento  Convention Center at 13th and K streets. Photo: Ren√©e C. Byer via

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The broken statue of abolitionist Sojourner Truth by renowned sculptor Elizabeth Catlett Mora, knocked down by vandals in January, now lies in a warehouse awaiting restoration that could take several months and cost $20,000.

Published | May 8, 2013

For 15 years, a sculpture of abolitionist Sojourner Truth watched over the south patio of the Sacramento Convention Center at 13th and K streets.

But in January, the statue by renowned African American artist Elizabeth Catlett Mora was found pushed over on the ground, broken into large pieces.

"It was brought to our attention the morning after it happened," said Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission Executive Director Shelly Willis. "It's a tragedy."

The statue had been a prominent fixture in the area known as the Convention Center Sculpture Garden on the short street linking L and J streets at the east end of the K Street Mall.

Now it is in a warehouse until officials figure out how best to restore it.

Details of the vandalism remain unclear, and no suspects are in custody. The incident was not reported to the Sacramento Police Department until last week, police spokesman Doug Morse said.

Willis didn't have an explanation for why her agency waited four months to report the vandalism to the Police Department.

"I don't know why the police report wasn't filed," Willis said. "But I have to be honest, we have a very skinny staff here."

The commission, a joint city-county agency, oversees Sacramento's public art. The statue is valued at $250,000 and was insured through the city's risk-management department, according to Willis.

In an email to The Bee on Wednesday, Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson called the vandalism "disgraceful."

"Sojourner Truth is a symbol of the remarkable power of the human spirit. It is disgraceful that somebody would vandalize a statue of such an incredible person," he wrote.

Isabella Baumfree, born circa 1797 as a slave, later became a well-known abolitionist and women's rights activist. She later changed her name to Sojourner Truth. She was also the first black woman to successfully win a case against a white man in a U.S. court.

Mora created the 7-foot-tall Mexican limestone piece titled "Sojourner" in 1998. Born in Washington, D.C., in 1915, Mora graduated from Howard University in 1935 and in 1940 received the University of Iowa's first master's degree in sculpture. Mora married a Mexican artist, Francisco Mora, in 1947. She made her home in Mexico and became a Mexican citizen.

By the 1960s and 70s, she had become one of the civil rights era's pre-eminent artists. Her abstract sculptures reflected her own experiences.

She was head of the sculpture department at the National Autonomous University of Mexico from the 1950s to '70s. She died April 2, 2012, at age 96.

Her death complicates efforts to restore the vandalized sculpture.

"These things are a lot easier to fix if the artist is alive," Willis said.

She estimated it would cost $20,000 and several months to restore the sculpture.

Without the creator, the arts commission will have to start from scratch and research information about the sculpture's construction.

"It's not like painting a building. There are certain methods, techniques and tools that are used," Willis said.

Dion Dwyer, director of community services for the Downtown Sacramento Partnership, noted that "vandalism of this sort is fairly uncommon."

"Often, it's metal theft or tagging. It's very rare to see actual statues damaged."

The arts commission hopes to eventually relocate it to the Community Center Theater on L Street.

"It was a gorgeous piece," Willis said. "It's just really sad."

Truth be broken: the vandalized statue. Image: Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission via

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