A new Harriet Tubman statue sculpted by Emmy and Academy award-winner Wesley Wofford has been revealed, and its symbolism is moving to say the least.
Harriet Tubman was the best known "conductor" on the Underground Railroad, a network of safe houses that helped thousands of enslaved black Americans make their way to freedom in the north in the early-to-mid 1800s. Tubman herself escaped slavery in 1849, then kept returning to the Underground Railroad, risking her life to help lead others to freedom. She worked as a spy for the Union Army during the Civil War, and after the war dedicated her life to helping formerly enslaved people try to escape poverty.
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Commissioned by a private individual, the 9-foot Tubman statue will be displayed in a private building in Dallas, Texas. Wofford was bound by a non-disclosure agreement until the piece was finished, but he has now begun to share photos of the piece along with the story behind its creation.
In a Facebook post that has been shared more than 7,000 times, Wofford shares images of the statue taken at the foundry where it was cast in bronze. The photos show a determined Harriet Tubman pushing against the wind with a freed slave child holding on to her arm and finger behind her.
Wesley Wofford Sculpture Studio/Facebook
Wofford explained some of the symbolism in the sculpture's details in a comment:
"There is a lot of embedded symbolism within the narrative of the piece. The contours of the base represent the Maryland/Delaware Peninsula, where Harriet was enslaved, eventually escaped, and continued to return for her freedom raids. The dramatic step up/cut is the Pennsylvania state line, and they are stepping out of the slave states to an elevated freedom. The wind illustrates the peril of the journey but is also a metaphor for the intense opposition she faced. The dress is enveloping the girl, billowing protectively like a flag, and is meant to represent all of the legal protections afforded every United States citizen-a symbol of the future equality to come. Each hand signifies an attribute, Determination, Protection, Fear, and Trust. The Union military coat represents Harriet's time in South Carolina raiding plantations and bringing the freed slaves back to Union occupied Beaufort."
Such details give depth and meaning to an already striking piece, and an added layer of humanity to the story it tells. Wofford's description of the symbolism is a powerful reminder of how art can bring history closer to us and drive home the emotional elements of human stories that textbooks often overlook.
Wofford says that more details about the creation of the piece will be shared publicly in the coming weeks. Can't wait.