City wants statue of African-American woman to replace Stephen Foster monument

A statue of an African-American woman will rise at the site of the controversial Stephen Foster memorial in North Oakland, Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto’s office said Wednesday, urging public input as leaders pick the new sculpture’s honoree.

No existing monuments in the city represent African American women, according to the administration.

“It is imperative that our public art reflect the diversity of our city and that we accordingly represent our diverse heroes,” Mr. Peduto’s office said in a statement. The city believes in “ensuring that all can see themselves in the art around them,” it said.

The 10-foot-tall Foster statue, sculpted in 1900 to depict the late composer, is due to be removed from its Schenley Plaza site next month. Pittsburgh Art Commission members recommended in October that the city-owned piece be relocated to a private, “properly contextualized” location.

That location has yet to be announced. The Foster statue has long been controversial for its presentation of an African-American banjo player at the feet of the seated composer. Critics say the imagery glorifies white appropriation of black culture, and pictures the banjo player in a way that’s at best condescending and at worst racist.

For the new statue, the city will host community meetings — yet to be scheduled — to let residents nominate African-American women whom they believe should be honored. The administration has been collaborating with several organizations to “begin the process of commissioning public art representing women of color and their many notable achievements,” Mr. Peduto’s office said.

The city’s Task Force on Women in Public Art will use input from the community meetings in drafting a request for proposals for the piece, Mr. Peduto’s office said. Art commission members will consider the artwork, and city departments will support the procurement and installation process, according to the administration.

Foster composed some of early America’s most signature songs. Among those titles were “Oh! Susannah,” “My Old Kentucky Home,” “Camptown Races” and “Old Folks at Home.” Despite his artistic contributions, Foster, who was originally from Lawrenceville, died penniless in 1864 at the age of 37.

The list of black icons to be votes for the statues include Catherine Delanay (1822 – 1894), an abolitionist, Madam C.J. Walker (1867 – 1919) an entrepreneur, Selma Burke (1900 – 1995), an artist, and Gwendolyn J. Elliot (1945 – 2007), a Police Officer.

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