A University of Central Arkansas art professor’s sculpture that celebrates the first black student at the University of Arkansas School of Law was dedicated last week during a ceremony in Fayetteville.
Officials dedicated the Silas Hunt Memorial Sculpture, designed and sculpted by UCA professor Bryan Massey, Wednesday, Aug. 29, during a ceremony that drew Hunt family members, university leaders and art lovers.
The sculpture is located between Old Main at the Fayetteville campus and the Pi Beta Phi Centennial Gate.
“I knew of (the difficult 1957 desegregation of) Little Rock Central, but I didn’t know about Silas Hunt,” Massey said during the dedication. “After I researched him, I wanted to create a sculpture that would be a positive image for the U of A campus.”
The sculpture celebrates the legacy of Silas Hunt, who is a World War II veteran from Texarkana who became the first black student at the law school in 1948. Hunt completed one semester of classes before becoming ill and withdrawing from school. He died the next year from tuberculosis, but Hunt’s admission to the university began the process of integration at the UA and in colleges and universities across the South.
Massey said the Hunt sculpture began with an 8,200-pound block of limestone.
The sculpture includes three pedestals engraved with the words of Hunt’s story, another topped with a bronze medallion depicting Hunt accompanied by Wiley Branton and Pine Bluff attorney Harold Flowers going over documents of the law school in the office of Dean Robert Leflar on Feb. 2, 1948. A fifth piece of two limestone arms signifies Hunt’s family and friends rising to support his efforts. The sculpture includes a bronze medallion of Hunt at a sign for UA. The steel base represents Hunt’s strength, Massey said.
The sculpture is the first work of art commissioned by UA’s Public Art Oversight Committee. Chancellor G. David Gearhart said it has been 64 years since Hunt gained admission to UA and almost as many since his death, “yet his spirit remains vital on this campus.”
“This beautiful sculpture celebrates the spirit of Silas Hunt, who redefined ‘possibility’ at the University of Arkansas,” Gearhart said. “It both honors the past and reminds us of the distance yet to travel.”
Dr. Jeff Young, chair of UCA’s art department, said Massey’s interpretation of Hunt’s journey is striking. Massey’s sculpture is a tribute that shows the “importance of a strong foundation through education, and the support and caring of family and others,” Young said.
Massey is primarily a stone carver who works with stones including alabaster, soapstone, limestone, marble and granite. He also casts iron, bronze and aluminum and works in the fabrication of steel sculptures.
The UCA professor was recently selected as one of 84 artists nationally for inclusion in a new book, “Studios and Work Spaces of Black American Artists.” His most recent work, “The Jazz Player,” was selected and presented in November 2009 to former President Bill Clinton for the celebration and commemoration of the fifth-year anniversary of the Clinton Presidential Center in Little Rock. The piece is now located in the Vogel Schwartz Foundation Sculpture Garden in Little Rock.
The artist’s success reflects well on UCA, said spokeswoman Donna Lampkin Stephens, who attended the dedication.
“He’s a well-known sculptor in the region and nation,” she said. “It speaks well of what our faculty is doing all over Arkansas and the region and internationally.”