Silas Hunt sculpture by UCA professor dedicated at U of A




September 5, 2012

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FAYETTEVILLE — The University of Arkansas dedicated the Silas Hunt Memorial Sculpture, designed and sculpted by University of Central Arkansas Professor of Art Bryan Massey, last week.

The sculpture celebrates the legacy of Silas Hunt, a decorated World War II veteran from Texarkana who became the first African-American student at the UA School of Law in 1948. He completed one semester of classes before becoming ill and withdrawing from school. He died the next year from tuberculosis, aggravated by injuries he received during the war. Hunt’s admission to the university began the process of integration at the UA and in colleges and universities across the southern United States.

“Bryan Massey is one of UCA’s faculty treasures,” said Dr. Rollin Potter, dean of the College of Fine Arts and Communication, who attended the dedication. “His work as an artist and teacher have brought much to the outstanding reputation of UCA’s arts programs.”

Massey, who grew up in North Carolina, said he didn’t know a lot about Hunt prior to the commission.

“I knew of (the difficult 1957 desegregation of) Little Rock Central, but I didn’t know about Silas Hunt,” Massey said during the dedication of the sculpture, located between Old Main and the Pi Beta Phi Centennial Gate entrance to campus. “After I researched him, I wanted to create a sculpture that would be a positive image for the U of A campus.”

The sculpture includes three pedestals engraved with the words of Hunt’s story, another topped with a bronze medallion depicting Hunt accompanied by Wiley Branton and Pine Bluff attorney Harold Flowers going over documents of the law school in the office of Dean Robert Leflar on Feb. 2, 1948, and a fifth piece of two limestone arms (signifying Hunt’s family and friends) rising to support his efforts (depicted by a bronze medallion of Hunt at a sign marking the University of Arkansas). The steel base represents Hunt’s strength, Massey said.

“This represents the past and future for this university,” he said.

Dr. Jeff Young, chair of UCA’s Department of Art, said Massey’s interpretation of Hunt’s journey was striking.

“The Silas Hunt story is significant to the history of Arkansas, and Professor Massey’s work is a fitting tribute because it symbolizes the importance of a strong foundation through education and the support and caring of family and others,” Young said.

The sculpture is the first work of art commissioned by the U of A’s Public Art Oversight Committee.

“This beautiful sculpture celebrates the spirit of Silas Hunt, who redefined ‘possibility’ at the University of Arkansas,” Chancellor G. David Gearhart told those gathered for the dedication, including members of the Hunt family. “It both honors the past and reminds us of the distance yet to travel.”

Gearhart reminded that it had been 64 years since Hunt gained admission to the UA and almost as many since his death, “yet his spirit remains vital on this campus.”

Jeannie Hulen, chair of the UA Department of Art, said 30 to 40 applicants from all over the country applied for the commission. Once the committee began deliberations, she said, Massey quickly became the clear favorite.

“We also felt like it was pretty awesome to have someone who is a scholar in our region,” she said. “He put together a proposal and brought us several different models, but this piece was most what we wanted, and it’s the piece Bryan really wanted to do.”

Massey is primarily a stone carver who works with a variety of stone, including alabaster, soapstone, limestone, marble and granite. He said the Hunt sculpture began with an 8,200-pound block of limestone. Massey also casts iron, bronze and aluminum and works in the fabrication of steel sculptures.

He was recently selected as one of 84 artists nationally for inclusion in a new book, Studios and Work Spaces of Black American Artists. His most recent work, The Jazz Player, was selected and presented to former President Bill Clinton for the celebration and commemoration of the fifth-year anniversary of the Clinton Presidential Center in Little Rock in November 2009 and is now located in the Vogel Schwartz Foundation Sculpture Garden in Little Rock. His work is exhibited regionally, nationally and internationally.