Replacing the Columbus Statue: Richard Duarte Brown's Manifesting Kindness
A 15-to-20-foot-tall sculpture on a four-sided base showcases an act of compassion.
Until 2020, Central Ohio artist and teacher Richard Duarte Brown had never given too much thought to the Christopher Columbus statue at City Hall. The likeness of the controversial figure was just there—like a mountain or some other unchanging feature of nature. “It’s established,” says Brown, who, in addition to making his own work, teaches at Whitehall City Schools. “It’s bigger than life.”
Besides, Brown didn’t think of himself as an artist who would come up with a replacement for something as monumental, something as significant as a statue at City Hall. But when it came time for Brown to conceptualize his proposed replacement to the likeness of Columbus, the ideas flowed easily. His proposed sculpture, Manifesting Kindness, is a testament to care and compassion, and a tribute to minority or disadvantaged communities, including the Indigenous population of Ohio.
The work is anchored by the striking image of two young Black men: One is on the ground, as though he has fallen, while the other, in a standing position, extends his hand in a gesture of help.
In creating the piece, Brown reached deep into his memory bank. He remembered watching the Los Angeles riots unfold on live television in 1992. “Somewhere in all that, I watched Reginald Denny be pulled from a truck,” Brown says, referring to a white truck driver who was beaten amid the chaos. “There was this little old Black lady who walked up and said, ‘Stop beating that man’ … They got out of her way and left him alone, and he lived.”
Inspiration for the specific figures depicted in the statue came closer to home: Two 10th-graders at Whitehall City Schools, John and Mike, agreed to serve as models. “[John] is a basketball player,” Brown says. “Mikey, this year, was trying to turn his life around and mature up, and so I just asked him, would he help me?” Both students eagerly threw themselves into the project.
On the four sides of the base of the piece are equally impactful images. For example, a row of deep-rooted trees take on strangely human shapes, with limbs that resemble arms and leaves that look like hair. “I always see the trees as people reaching out,” Brown says. “It reminds me of generations.” A shape of the state of Ohio is augmented with a Native American butterfly symbol—“it’s symbolic of everlasting life,” he says—and a construction worker’s hat is festooned with another symbol, upside-down eagle feathers. “It’s like the provider, the caregiver, the chief, the worker for the family,” Brown says.