The Shapes of Things That Are
A city that believes in the arts, Wilmington boasts a stunning collection of public sculptures. Here’s a tour.
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Father and Son
Of a very different, but nonetheless equally impressive, aesthetic is “Father and Son" inside Spencer Plaza at 800 French St. This bronze sculpture is the creation of local legend Charles Parks. The work portrays an African-American man holding a small child asleep in his arm and resting on his leg. Dedicated in 1973, “Father and Son” honors the spirit of Spencer Plaza, which sits on the former site of a church founded by former slave Peter Spencer, whose remains are buried in the grounds of the plaza.
Other commemorative sculptures abound in Wilmington, and one of the city’s most well known is the Caesar Rodney equestrian statue in Rodney Square. Commemorating Rodney’s historic horseback ride from Dover to Philadelphia on July 3, 1776 to cast his vote for independence, the Caesar Rodney sculpture is perhaps even more stunning than the casual observer typically realizes.
Created by James Edward Kelly and dedicated on July 4, 1923, this bronze-brass-metal statue portrays Rodney on horseback. What is so remarkable about the work is that it shows Rodney’s horse in full gallop, with its two front legs in the air. The considerable weight of the statue rests on the animal’s hind legs. The effect was a notable accomplishment for Kelly, a world-famous artist in his time.
From the Revolution to the Vietnam War, Wilmington has several sculptures that pay homage to some of this country’s most formative and devastating conflicts. One of its most celebrated is the Soldiers and Sailors Monument (sometimes called Crozier Monument) at 14th and Broom Street in Trolley Square, which was dedicated on Memorial Day in 1871 to veterans of the American Civil War. Atop a 45-foot granite obelisk sits a bronze eagle with its wings spread, perched upon a bronze ball. Union symbols are carved into the top of the column. And here’s a bit of trivia sure to impress at your next dinner party: The eagle was molded from a Civil War cannon that was melted for the sculpture.
Also paying tribute to the same era is the Harriet Tubman and Thomas Garrett plaque at 1999 Water St. in Tubman-Garrett Riverfront Park. This piece is a dedication to the two most fervent contributors to the Underground Railroad. The memorial contains two sculptures—one of Tubman and the other of Garrett—mounted on a dedication plaque. The piece, dedicated in 1976, reminds visitors of Wilmington’s crucial role in helping escaped slaves make the journey north to Philadelphia and freedom.
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