Originally created 02/11/02

Sculpture honors spirit of founders

Without a ladder, it's difficult to see all of Richard Hunt's 45-foot sculpture at historic Springfield Village Park in Augusta.

That was the idea when America's foremost black abstract sculptor began building the piece of art. He wanted to unite the rich history of Old Springfield Village and Springfield Baptist Church with the living present, pointing upward to the future.

"Part of the design is to create something that has an upward thrust," Mr. Hunt said Sunday during dedication ceremonies for the sculpture. "I wanted to impress how they were able to persevere, develop a church from basically nothing, and then to have it be the beginning for the catalyst for a lot of other developments of such great historical importance."

On Sunday, about 300 people gathered at the 2 1/2 -acre park at 12th and Reynolds streets to help dedicate the towering sculpture, which was brought to Augusta this weekend by truck from Mr. Hunt's Chicago studio.

The sculpture's title, Tower of Aspirations, was meant to reflect admiration for the vision, fortitude and perseverance represented by the founders of Springfield Baptist Church and Springfield Village, Mr. Hunt said.

Springfield Baptist Church dates its origins to 1773 and is the oldest independent black church in the nation.

The people attending the dedication said they were impressed with the sculpture. Augusta resident Shell Knox called it inspiring.

"As I looked at the base of it, I thought it had such strength. And from it sprang all the hopes and dreams of an individual," she said. "I like the way it sits on the platform, like it just goes off into infinity."

Mike Searles, who teaches African-American history at Augusta State University, said he was happy to see the sculpture in Augusta.

"It does a couple of things. One, it celebrates the life of Springfield Baptist Church and the free black community that was here many, many, many years ago. And also, it represents a place of hope for folks to come and to see on these grounds what is risen from them," he said. "There are people who will detour and come to Augusta to see this who would never, ever see the city if it were not for this sculpture."

An estimated 500,000 visitors will tour the park in its inaugural year with more than a million cars passing it annually, according to Selena Swint, of the Georgia Department of Industry, Trade and Tourism.

"Identifying new and existing multicultural interests is an exciting indicator of the strength of tourism as an economic stimulator for our state," she said.

State Sen. Charles Walker spoke at Sunday's event, praising Springfield Village Foundation President Robert Kirby for making the park possible.

"Many people would have long abandoned the project, but not Bob Kirby. He made sure the project became a reality," Mr. Walker said. "It represents more than just a spectacular sculpture. It represents bringing people together, and it tells us in no uncertain terms what we can do when we focus."

With the dedication, the Springfield Village Park Foundation marks the end of the first phase in the $6 million project, funded by donations.

The second phase includes a reconstruction of some of the original church buildings. The third phase will involve building a living history museum of black life in the 18th and 19th centuries, Mr. Kirby said.

The foundation works to document and celebrate the national significance of Springfield Village as a center of religious, cultural and educational influence on black culture.

By summer, Mr. Hunt plans to return for the dedication of his second bronze sculpture and fountain titled And They Went Down Both Into the Water. The sculpture, which also will be in the park, is meant to symbolize baptism in the Savannah River and a source of strength for the church congregation.

Mr. Hunt has been sculpting for more than 50 years. His career includes more than 100 large-scale public art commissions created for American cities, campuses and corporations. He served on the selection committee for the Vietnam Memorial in the nation's capitol.

"I wanted to impress how they were able to persevere, develop a church from basically nothing, and then to have it be the beginning for the catalyst for a lot of other developments of such great historical importance." - Richard Hunt, sculptor

Reach Greg Rickabaugh at (706) 828-3851 or greg.rickabaugh@augustachronicle.com.


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