Public Art Proposal Display

Proposals for the Sculpture Honoring Dr. Maya Angelou at the San Francisco Main Library

The San Francisco Arts Commission is conducting a selection process to choose an artist to create a sculpture honoring the life and legacy of Dr. Maya Angelou to be located at the San Francisco Main Library. The artwork is intended to honor one of the most significant literary artists and activists of our time, and will be an ever-present role model and inspiration to girls and young women. While most of the sculptures in the City’s collection that honor individuals recognize white men, the sculpture of Dr. Maya Angelou will redress this gender imbalance by not only honoring a woman, but a woman of color. Three artists were chosen as finalists by a Public Art Selection Panel to create site-specific proposals for this artwork opportunity: Jules Arthur, Kenyatta A. C. Hinkle, and Lava Thomas. 



The Gift of Literature

Jules Arthur

Jules Arthur Dr. Maya Angelou Proposal Board_FINAL.jpgA transformation. A metamorphosis.

An ability to change darkness into a glowing beam of light.

This work represents a transitioning period like a metamorphosis from caterpillar to butterfly. No matter how dark our days are, the possibility of winning a purposeful day remains. Dr. Maya Angelou’s story and teachings are testimony to that fact.

Materials used for the monument consists of two historically achievable materials: Bronze metal and granite stone.  The monument is designed in 3 parts:Two larger than life size bronze statues and a radial curved granite stone wall that
presents one of Dr. Maya Angelou’s finest quotes. 

First Bronze Statue - 1.25 x life size:

Dr. Maya Angelou in her golden years sits refined and reflective as she gazes upon her yesteryears as a seven-year old girl poised for the world.  Known to rent out a room in her favorite hometown hotel for solitude to write, this bronze statue depicts Dr. Maya Angelou exercising her greatest gift. She is typing away on her typewriter and about to bestow upon us another one of her written gems for the world to lavish over. This Dr. Maya Angelou is the scholar, sage, teacher, mother, activist, and humanitarian that we have all come to adore and celebrate. The statue’s face of Dr. Maya Angelou is reflecting upon her journey and bestows her wisdom upon young girls and all walks of life about universal love and the potential that lies within each and every one of us. In mid stroke of the typewriter’s keys she looks up in memory and reflects upon her humble beginnings when she was a seven-year old girl. In doing so she manifests the presence of the seven-year old Maya only six feet from her. In memory she recounts the many great literary works she read as a youth that enriched her imagination and her life as a whole. The juxtaposition between the two statues become beautifully poetic as the narrative eloquently speaks about the duality of beginning and end. And in this wonderful narrative the conduit is about the life-giving power of literature.

I have created a typewriter in a state of virtual reality without the support of a table. The idea of abstraction comes from the desire to alter the perception of a
linear static piece. It becomes a design devise that allows the viewer’s imagination to wonderfully fill in the form. Less is more.

Second Bronze Statue - 1.25 x life size:

Through Dr. Maya Angelou’s testimony of her childhood traumas we bear witness to her strength, courage and resilience. This statue is of a young Maya, Marguerite Ann Johnson, age seven-years old who stands in utter silence, isolated and with limited emotional tools to circumvent the harshness of her circumstance. In a 6-year self-muted condition she embraces her saving grace, her rock, her tool to escape the confines of pain. In her silence, literature, the written word, the greatest novels and poetry written become her lighthouse in the dense fog of emotion. This sculpture of the young Maya Angelou stands on one tippy toe in a flight like position to evoke the whimsical nature that explores creative literature and its vast realms. This flight like motion resembles escapism, freedom and literary wonderment. This gesture takes on book’s uncanny ability to enchant our minds and dispositions. As a young adult dancing became a passionate outlet for Dr. Maya Angelou and would capture her spirit for years. She danced her way onto stages across the nation and appeared in the film Calypso Heat Wave (1958). I wanted to honor Dr. Maya Angelou’s passion for dance by capturing a beautiful gestural movement in the statue. The figure of this young Maya stands upon a birdcage that represents Dr. Maya Angelou’s most famous work “I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings” (1969). The caged bird sits upon a short stack of books, which is comprised of Dr. Maya Angelou’s poetry “And Still I rise” and other books by authors who greatly influenced her. The names of authors such as Edgar Allen Poe, Shakespeare, Paul Lawrence Dunbar, Lewis Carol and her friend James Baldwin grace the spines of the books. In the sculpture’s gestural attempt a duality occurs between the nature of imaginative literature, the literary works of Dr. Maya Angelou and other famous writers throughout history. The sculpture becomes dynamic in its characteristics as it explores the rich mind of a young reader.

The Granite Stone Wall:

The two bronze figures will sit at opposing ends upon a white stone wall.  The wall will roughly be 9ft wide, a little over a foot in depth and 5ft in height. The entire monument will be raised on a slab of 3” stone to be compliant with (ADA). The height of the monument is roughly over 8ft at its highest point, which would be the head of the 7 year-old that is flying above in an imaginative flight-like freedom. The curved white stonewall will become a surface where one of Dr. Maya Angelou’s greatest quotes is engraved into the granite.

“When I look back, I am so impressed again with the life-giving power of literature. If I were a young person today, trying to gain a sense of myself in the world, I would do that again by reading, just as I did when I was young.”  - Dr. Maya Angelou

In terms of scale each individual bronze determines height of the monument. The older Dr. Maya Angelou sculpture will reach up to 7ft” in height. The highest point of the monument will be the head of the seven-year-old sculpture of Maya Angelou, which measures slightly over 8ft” in height. In addressing ADA compliance the granite wall sits upon a 3” slab of granite stone. This stone slab will consistently surround the stone wall by a measurement of 2ft. The most protruding parts of the bronze sculpture are the young Maya’s left arm elbow and her extended right foot. These two concerning points in the bronze sculpture will stick out beyond the 2ft ADA measurement base. To give the young Maya a sense of flying through imagination she is perched high above the monument. This height gives her elbow and foot an accessible walkway clearance that is no lower than 7ft in height. The maintenance for this monument relies upon the traditional method for the upkeep of bronze and granite statues throughout the world. Periodic cleaning with a mild soap and water will leave the sculptures in a healthy condition for hundreds of years. Because of San Francisco corrosive environment it is best that the two bronze sculptures be waxed 3 to 4 times a year to give them a nice coat of protection. Facing the Main Library’s entrance the monument will sit on the left side of the library’s doors and will be facing southwest into the setting sun.

Timeline from creating clay sculptures to completed bronze sculptures ready for delivery is about twelve months. 5 months for the creation of the two clay figures in my studio and 7 months for Artworks Foundry Inc. to bring the statues to full bronze. If I am awarded the commission, I will commence the work immediately
after its announcement. Projected completion and deliverable date by the end of September 2020.

View a larger image of the proposal. 

The 3 MAYA(S)

Kenyatta A.C. Hinkle

KACH FINAL Proposal Dr. Maya Angelou_SM.jpgThe 3 MAYA(s) Design Concept:

The 3 MAYA(S) is a conceptual portrait of Dr. Maya Angelou designed by interdisciplinary visual artist, performer, and writer Kenyatta A.C. Hinkle. Through deep reflection upon Dr. Maya Angelou’s life and legacy, Hinkle realized that one singular rendering could not suffice due to the richness and complexity of her character. Her boldness and tenacious fight for social justice, through her ability to share intense facets of her life within  prose, poetry and performance, this portrait features Dr. Maya Angelou as the 8 year old child who decided to become mute after an incident of extreme trauma, the 16 year old who was the first female African-American street cable car conductor in San Francisco, and the 41 year old woman who wrote her first autobiography that is beyond powerful and soul-stirring, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.” This pivotal text tells the tale of the two Maya(s) that are featured within the sculpture creating a bridge between all of the manifestations of Dr. Maya Angelou in which the conceptual portrait comes full circle. The structure of the conceptual portrait is designed to be circumnavigated in which each panel/facet will be able to speak to a specific generation of people who utilize the library and the plaza. Every person can witness inspiration to tell their truth, to break down a barrier and to share their story with the world. The sculpture also has the inability to never turn its back to anyone in the same way that Dr. Maya Angelou refused to turn her back when any kind of injustice was carried out.  

The imagery within the design: 

Little Maya

There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you. 

Maya is depicted as an 8-year-old child during the time that she turned to reading and visiting the library due to the trauma she experienced. The posture of 8-year-old Maya is of a little girl that is embracing the book as a sacred friend, shield, and protector. The state flower of Arkansas, an Apple Blossom blooms above her head adorning it like a halo or crown. This inclusion of the flower is also a nod to Mrs. Bertha Flowers who introduced her to literary giants and helped her to recover her choice to use words again, it also represents the presence of her paternal grandmother who took a major part in raising her and her brother in Arkansas. Her skirt is silhouetted by mounds of books as if she is emerging from them and they are holding her up simultaneously.

Teenager Maya 

I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.

When asked why she wanted to be a streetcar cable conductor during an interview with Oprah Winfrey, Dr. Maya Angelou stated that she loved the uniforms. In the 3 MAYA(s) we see a 16-year-old Maya smiling proudly while wearing an MTA uniform. She is a young lady learning self-sufficiency while simultaneously being a champion for Civil Rights and integration as the first female African-American to work for the transit system in San Francisco. We see her determined, proud, inviting and emitting the spirit of belonging and self-reliance.

Grown Woman Maya

We must wage a ceaseless battle against the forces of greed and hatred which are the foundations of all political inequality.

At the age of 41 years old Dr. Maya Angelou wrote her first book I Know Why The Caged Birds Sings which shares her 8-year-old journeys on up to her life at 17 years old. These two ages are also main features in the sculpture. This depiction of Dr. Maya Angelou speaks to generations of people 30+ and shows them that it is important to tell your truth and to make your mark in the world no matter how big or small. She is surrounded by wax print cloth in which she was known to wear in the 50s-60s before it became popular to be worn by African-Americans in the 1970s  during the Pan-African and Black Power movements. She is flanked by woven Kente cloth which speaks to the geography and culture of Ghana in which she lived for a couple of years before she went on to publish the book. The intricate weave of the cloth represents her travels all over the world and how she wove all of her experiences into an indomitable life of love, fury, and reflection. 

Technical Logistics of the work:

Each portrait of Dr. Maya Angelou will be translated via photorealistic mosaics that will be set into three slabs of granite making a three-sided prism that will stand 7ft tall with panels that are 4 ft wide. Each panel will be 28 sq ft. Dr. Maya Angelou was 6ft tall and it was important for the sculpture to mimic her height and also have just a little bit extra to emphasize the scale of her spirit and being. Due to the library being located in the Civic Center Hinkle also wanted the statue to look like a unique column or pillar without subscribing to conventional Western ideologies of architecture. The dullness of the stone, with the brilliance of the colored glass, speaks to the power and uniqueness of her being in which she lived in a nation and society that expected her to conform to traditional notions of gender, constructions of race, ageism, conventional beauty standards and so much more. For Hinkle color is a healing mechanism especially in our external environment and to see depictions of Dr. Maya Angelou shine with a myriad of colors in front of the library will bring joy to people entering and will also give them healing energy upon leaving. Dr. Maya Angelou was a healer with her presence, words and her ability to step into the shoes of others because she lived such an intense life. Each small piece of glass represents her brilliance, color and sparkle that she brought to the world and continues to do so through her legacy. Each panel will feature a powerful quote from interviews and pivotal texts. 

​View a larger image of the proposal. 

Portrait of a Phenomenal Woman

Lava Thomas

LavaThomas_SFPLMA_DisplayBoard_FINAL_071119.jpegArtwork Description:

Basic Concepts:  Author, poet, activist, mother, feminist, global citizen, educator and much more, Dr. Maya Angelou’s extraordinary life, spirit and works are commemorated in the sculpture Portrait of a Phenomenal Woman. At a total height of 9 feet, the sculpture’s monumental scale speaks to Dr. Angelou’s towering achievements in the face of adversity and celebrates her lasting impact on humanity. The sculpture is fabricated in bronze which suggests timelessness and permanence, with a rich patina that conveys the warmth that Dr. Angelou exuded throughout her life.

The sculpture is inspired by the form of a book with the author’s name on its spine in bold capital letters. A portrait of Dr. Angelou appears on the sculpture’s surface, translated in bas relief from an original drawing. Based on a still from a 1973 interview with the author, the portrait depicts Dr. Angelou as if she is about to speak, captured in thought with her gaze directed toward the viewer as she discusses pressing social and political issues that still resonate today.[1] By portraying the author as a young woman, the sculpture serves as a role model for a younger generation, particularly for young women and girls.

Quotations by the author are inscribed on the sculpture's base and surface, allowing her words to reach the public across time and memory. The back of the sculpture bears a quote that emphasizes the importance of libraries in shaping her work's guiding philosophy. As Dr. Angelou continues to illuminate our world through her life and words, Portrait of a Phenomenal Woman creates an inspiring presence on Civic Center Plaza, encouraging us to find our own voice and courage while reminding us that despite our differences, we all belong to the human family.

View a larger image of the proposal.

[1] The portrait drawing is based on a still from an interview with Dr. Maya Angelou during which she speaks on the subject of justice. See “Maya Angelou on the Noble Story of Black Womanhood,” interview with Bill Moyer, 1973 ( Accessed June 17, 2019.

Opportunity For Public Comment

Please take a few minutes to review these artwork proposals above and provide feedback on the public comment forms below. Public comments will be considered by the Selection Panel as part of the Final Selection Panel meeting where the Panel will recommend one proposal for implementation. Please note that public comments do not constitute a vote.

The Final Selection Panel meeting will take place Friday, August 9, 2019, 10:00 a.m.–2:00 p.m. at 401 Van Ness Avenue, Room 302. All Artist Selection Panel meetings are open to the public. An agenda for the meeting will be posted 72 hours in advance of the meeting on SFAC’s website under the Public Meeting section:

What's Coming Up

Public Meeting

Executive Committee Meeting

December 18
1:00 PM to 2:30 PM

Hybrid: 401 Van Ness | Rm 125 and Online
Public Meeting

Visual Arts Committee Meeting

December 16
2:00 PM to 6:00 PM

Hybrid: City Hall | Rm 408 and Online
Public Meeting

Civic Design Review Committee Meeting

December 11
2:00 PM to 4:00 PM

Hybrid: City Hall | Rm 408 and Online
Public Meeting

Community Investments Committee Meeting

December 09
1:00 PM to 3:00 PM

Hybrid: City Hall | Rm 416 and Online