MLK Jr. statue going up in Atlanta
Artist describes portrait as most difficult ever
ATLANTA — The sculpted clay was dry and the bronze would soon be cast, but artist Martin Dawe still found himself waking with a start before dawn, worried that he didn’t get the details of the famous man’s face exactly right.
On Monday, Dawe will find out if he succeeded when officials unveil his statue of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. on the Georgia state Capitol’s grounds for the 54th anniversary of the March on Washington.
The civil rights leader’s statue is going up in his Southern hometown at a time when monuments honoring Civil War Confederates are coming down in many other places across the South.
Getting to this point was a three-year struggle. Officials had to negotiate with King’s family for the right to use his image. Then an artist was selected for the project, only to be killed in a motorcycle accident. After a lengthy screening, Dawe replaced him.
Then came the artistic challenge.
“It’s the most difficult portrait I’ve ever done in my whole career,” Dawe said. “He has very elusive features. He has a very distinct profile but no over strong characteristic like some historical figures.”
Dawe knew other tributes to King had been criticized and he set one goal: Make the 8-foot statue look like the man.
In the finished piece, Dawe aimed for an expression just short of a smile but “hopeful” and “deep in thought.” Once in place, the completed statue’s head will be turned slightly, gazing toward Martin Luther King Jr. Drive.