Artist unveils Harriet Tubman bust for state OK
EASTON — Artist Brendan Thorpe O’Neill recently unveiled the clay bust of Harriet Tubman for approval by state officials at the Troika Gallery in Easton.
O’Neill spent about six to eight months crafting a clay bust of Harriet Tubman for the new Harriet Tubman Visitor’s Center that is being built in Dorchester County. The grand opening of the new center is slated for March 2017.
The theme of the visitor’s center is “the view north,” which is related to the journey north that the enslaved people took to escape to freedom in the 1800s. The location of the building, as well as all of the exhibits will tie into this theme. The Harriet Tubman bust will specifically be positioned to face north, for the purpose of the theme.
“This bust is modeled after photographs of her in her 60s,” O’Neill said. “But the bust is a younger version of her.”
The exhibits will touch on three main themes — the Choptank area and Harriet Tubman’s family, community, and faith; the Underground Railroad as a national resistance movement; and how Harriet Tubman is still relevant today.
With the bust approved by members of the Maryland State Park Service, O’Neill’s next step was to transport it to the New Arts Foundry in Baltimore to have it bronzed. The bronzed version would be the one to ultimately stand in the visitor’s center.
The bust merely shows Harriet Tubman from the top of the chest and up. O’Neill decided to keep her hair in a bun, tied with a strand of rope. A scarf was wrapped around her neck and the back of her shirt exposed a few scars from whippings she endured when she was enslaved. There was also a chain on the back of the bust to allude to her being a slave.
“I wanted to portray her strength,” O’Neill said.
He also said he decided that it would be inappropriate to have her scarf around her head.
“I wanted the scarf to be loose and natural, not tight around her neck,” O’Neill said.
O’Neill has been a portrait sculptor since 1980 and he had another bust of Harriet Tubman that was accepted into the Maryland State Archives and displayed at the State of Maryland Government House in Annapolis. He studied at Georgetown University and Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.
The bust will be placed in the lobby of the visitor’s center and O’Neill said he wanted it to stand at her exact height. The bust will be placed on a red cedar log base which is supposed to relate to the work she used to do with her father as a child. The finished sculpture will be officially unveiled when the center has its grand opening.
The complex will also feature 3/4-mile in walking paths and a 2,600-square-foot outdoor pavilion, complete with fireplace, which will be available for rental for family reunions and other events. Also situated on the land will be offices for the Maryland Park Service, the National Park Service’s Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Historical Park and the Network to Freedom national headquarters.
From left to right (front row): O’Neill’s wife, Brendan O’Neill, State of Maryland Park Manager Dana Paterra and State of Maryland Park Ranger Angela Crenshaw. From left to right (back row): Easton Business Alliance Town Manager Ross Benincasa, Troika Gallery Owner Laura Era, Troika Gallery Manager Peg Fitzgerald and Jordan Loran of the Dept. of Natural Resources. The Harriet Tubman clay bust was unveiled at the Troika Gallery on Wednesday, Sept. 21.