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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Honoring yet another dark but ultimately inspiring period of human history is Elbert Weinberg’s “Holocaust,” a bronze and cement sculpture inside Freedom Plaza between City Hall and the state building. It was dedicated in 1979 in commemoration of the victims and survivors of the Jewish holocaust in the 1940s. Borrowing a page from abstract art, the work is composed of three concrete blocks arranged in a triangular pattern. Wedged between the stones, which bear inscriptions that name several of Germany’s most brutal concentration camps, are evocative bronze figures of a woman, a man and a mother holding a child aloft, a display of suffering and the promise of hope.
“The holocaust memorial is important because it reminds people of the cruelty people can inflict on one another over insignificant issues,” Baker says. “It also reminds us of the terribleness of what happens when governments run amok and spin out of control. You have to have that kind of memorial. It’s a remembrance of what we can do when we’re at our most horrible.”
Wilmington’s Vietnam War Memorial inside Brandywine Park at Washington Street is a work by Charles Parks that pays tribute to the veterans of that conflict. The sculpture shows an African-American soldier carrying a wounded soldier in his arms.
Not all sculpture in Wilmington is commemorative. Some of it exists purely for the sake of aesthetic enjoyment and enlightenment, such as the works at the New Castle County Courthouse, where artist Brower Hatcher’s “Beacon” was unveiled in 2007. Soaring 51 feet into the air, the towering, lighted sculpture is an intricate weave of strands of color that was commissioned by the courthouse’s art committee several years ago. The idea was to create and display a visual representation of the legal system, its evolution and its resilience over time.
The result is a breathtaking series of concentric shells and multicolored geometric structures of stainless steel that wrap around a tower of glass and steel. The bands contain quotations from landmarks in judicial history, including the book of “Exodus,” the Code of Hammurabi and the legal writings of Confucius. “‘Beacon’ is the concept of law realized as a structure,” Hatcher said at the time of its dedication. “The idea of laws is monolithic, transparent and historic. It has a historic source.”
A Garden Full of Work
Finally, no tour of Wilmington’s sculpture landscape would be complete without a mention of the Copeland Sculpture Garden at the Delaware Art Museum, where visitors can walk around well-manicured surroundings while enjoying a prized collection of public art. Favorites include “Crying Giant,” a 13-foot-tall bronze statue; “Three Rectangles Horizontal Jointed Gyratory III,” by George Rickey, which moves with the slightest breeze and causes many to pause and marvel at its seemingly impossible structural integrity; and a sound sculpture by local artist Joe Moss, which is designed to manipulate the voices of those nearby. In total, nine sculptures are displayed in the garden.
But just as all cities are forever growing, so are its works of public art. Baker would like to see this segment of Wilmington’s cultural flair expand.
“What I’d like to see us do is some art work that makes it even more interesting for people who live here or visit,” says Baker. “For a city to become a world-class city, public art is crucial.”