A Buffalo cultural committee has announced that local artist Julia Bottoms will be designing a bronze statue honoring the late Shirley Chisholm.
Back in October, we posted that the search was on for an artist to come up with a suiting tribute to Chisholm, who was the first black woman to be elected to Congress, where she served seven terms. In 1972, she was the first woman – and the first Black candidate – to seek a major party’s nomination for the presidential office. Ultimately, she became the Secretary of the House Democratic Caucus in 1977, which was considered a monumental achievement. Chisholm is entombed in Forest Lawn Cemetery’s Birchwood Mausoleum. The statue will be installed near the mausoleum this fall.
Bottoms’ concept depicts Chisholm at a podium, which is emblazoned with the 1972 Democratic National Convention’s seal. Her hand raised high, displaying a peace sign.
The folding chair serves as a symbolic reference to the famous quote and a reminder of the power of creating a space – not only for yourself, but for those that come after you.
Next to the podium is a folded chair, which is in reference to Chisholm’s timely quote, “If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.
“Being selected for this project is a deep honor for me. I have been given the opportunity to celebrate the legacy of a woman whose work has opened doors for me,” said Bottoms (SUNY Buffalo State College), who earning a bachelor’s degree in Art and a master’s degree in Multidisciplinary Fine Arts Studies. “I live in the reality of Shirley Chisholm’s vision for the future: a future in which Black women bring seats to tables that the world thought they’d never have a place at. Shirley sparked the imagination of women everywhere when she made her historic run. Seeing her boldly try for that which had not yet been done echoes here in 2022 with my own work. As a Black woman in the fine arts world, my art has fought to create representation where it has been lacking, and to redefine the idea of what a professional visual artist looks like. With each project I work on, it is my hope that the next generation will find inspiration in it. Just as I have traveled the path laid by Chisholm’s life and legacy, I hope to also pave the way for the women who come after me. So it is with deep gratitude to Chisholm and the other trailblazers who have preceded me that I begin work on this incredible project.”
Chisholm passed away on January 1, 2005. Inscribed on her crypt is her presidential campaign slogan, ‘Unbought and unbossed.’
Bottoms, currently serving as an artist-in-residence at Albright-Knox Northland, chose podium design because it symbolizes Chisholm’s powerful abilities as a charismatic orator. She also chose to include strong clothing patterns in the work of art, as Chisholm was well known for her “personal flair” that captivated audiences along with her progressive stances.
While in Congress, she fought for programs like Head Start, school lunches, and food stamps. Notably, Chisholm was a founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus and the National Women’s Political Caucus.
Senator Sean Ryan said, “We received several impressive submissions for this project, and the steering committee had a difficult decision to make. The concept that has been selected stood out for its thoughtful symbolism, and for its ability to authentically convey Shirley Chisholm’s personality in a single pose. In her proposal, Julia expressed a meaningful personal connection to the subject, describing her appreciation for the many doors Chisholm opened for Black women in America. I am thrilled that we have identified a local artist who is such a great fit for this project.”
“Shirley Chisholm was an iconoclast who refused to play by the rules of the establishment,” said Erie County Legislature Chair April N. M. Baskin. “Buffalo has a wealth of local artists who embody her ethos: When they are denied a seat at the table, they ‘bring a folding chair.’ Ignored by the major institutions and public officials, they have created a thriving, dynamic community, and I am elated that one of these artists will create a monument honoring a national hero like Shirley Chisholm. Like Shirley Chisholm, Julia Bottoms is not easily intimidated. Although she is a groundbreaking artist, she had not worked in sculpture before, so she partnered with local sculptors to develop a design concept that honors Shirley Chisholm’s life and legacy. Julia used her ability to capture the struggles and stories of African Americans in an entirely new medium, and the result will be a monument that will inspire new generations to learn about Ms. Chisholm’s contributions to our country. I am excited to see this project come to fruition.”
“It’s been an honor to be part of this process and see the power of Shirley Chisholm’s legacy imagined in the designs of each artist’s submission. Julia Bottoms’ design captures Chisholm’s essence and is rich with symbolism,” said Melissa Brown, Executive Director of the Buffalo History Museum. “Her design invites engagement from all that will encounter the sculpture.”
“It is wonderful and rare to have a sculptor capture in bronze not only the countenance, but also the style and soul of a person,” said Joseph Dispenza, President of Forest Lawn Cemetery. “Young, local sculptor Julia Bottoms has accomplished this with such excellence, her Shirley Chilson sculpture appears to breathe. This will be a treasured new addition to Forest Lawn’s 270 sacred acres of natural and built landscape – one that will be admired and appreciated by visitors from across our community, our state, the nation, and the world.”
Steering Committee members for the project include:
- April Baskin – Erie County Legislature Chair
- Ruth D. Bryant – Chair of the Communities of Giving Legacy Initiative at the Community Foundation For Greater Buffalo
- Dr. Barbara A. Seals Nevergold – Founder of the Uncrowned Queens Institute and Former President of the Buffalo School Board
- Melissa Brown – Executive Director of the Buffalo History Museum
- Joseph Dispenza – President of Forest Lawn Cemetery
- Zainab Saleh – Program Coordinator for Partnership for the Public Good