A Monumental Journey Kerry James Marshall Project Implementation

Location
Des Moines, Iowa
Year
2018
Size
30 feet tall

Client
Greater Des Moines Public Art Foundation

Project Team
Tim Hickman
Paolo Orlando

A Monumental Journey Kerry James Marshall Project Implementation – Substance Architecture
A Monumental Journey Kerry James Marshall Project Implementation – Substance Architecture

A Monumental Journey Kerry James Marshall Project Implementation

In 1925, the American Bar Association did not allow black attorneys to become members. This meant that they couldn't present cases in court. Recognizing the injustice, 12 courageous African American attorneys in Des Moines, IA formed the National Bar Association (NBA), a beacon of civil rights, justice, and equality in the legal system. Unfortunately, this pivotal moment in history remained largely unknown or forgotten.

The idea to commemorate this historic moment and these courageous pioneers was born in 2002 when the 75th Anniversary Celebration of the NBA was held in Des Moines. Artist Kerry James Marshall created A Monumental Journey to honor these individuals and preserve local cultural history that has had great significance at the national and international levels. Marshall’s vision was a 30-foot-tall sculpture that symbolized unity and balance. 

The sculpture, reminiscent of African talking drums, features two precariously balanced masonry forms, a metaphor for communication among diverse people and a legal system striving for equilibrium. Creating a sculpture of this magnitude and complexity from bricks was no easy feat. The design team, led by Substance Architecture, was hired to assist the artist in the design detailing, documentation, and construction to bring the concept to life. To achieve the desired form, each brick was painstakingly customized and hand-cut before firing to fit the unique tapered and suspended shape. The design team modeled every brick, obsessing over the best brick pattern solution, and ensuring the monument would be a durable and lasting tribute.

Location
Des Moines, Iowa
Year
2018
Size
30 feet tall

Client
Greater Des Moines Public Art Foundation

Project Team
Tim Hickman
Paolo Orlando

A Monumental Journey isn't just a sculpture; it's a symbol of resilience, justice, and the power of public art to tell untold stories. It stands as a tribute to the architects' commitment to design with purpose and their unwavering dedication to solving complex challenges. Through bricks and artistry, they've revived forgotten history, celebrated a community, and left a lasting legacy.

Continuous Pursuit of Elegance and Simplicity

The realization of the sculpture's complex form showcases Substance’s dedication to crafting elegance and simplicity in design. It exemplifies their approach to problem-solving, where the solution emerges from the process of understanding and achieving the client's goals.

“This sculpture is about more than just bricks and steel. It's about remembering the unsung heroes who paved the way for justice. It's about telling their story through art."

Tim Hickman, Architect & Principal, Substance Architecture

A Monumental Journey Kerry James Marshall Project Implementation – Substance Architecture

Artist Kerry James Marshall with maquette

A Monumental Journey Kerry James Marshall Project Implementation – Substance Architecture

Exploded axonometric diagram of sculpture

A Monumental Journey Kerry James Marshall Project Implementation – Substance Architecture

Construction of the internal structure of the sculpture

A Monumental Journey Kerry James Marshall Project Implementation – Substance Architecture

Structure installation

A Monumental Journey Kerry James Marshall Project Implementation – Substance Architecture

Masons installing brick on structure

Crafting Balance from Bricks

Turning bricks into a symbol of unity and balance was no small task. The sculptural form needed to be both aesthetically pleasing and structurally sound. The intricate tapering and suspension of the bricks required expert craftsmanship. Before firing, each of the nearly 10,000 bricks was hand-shaved by one of the Endicott Clay Products Company’s highly skilled craftspeople. Her dedication was clear in her work (especially when a kiln issue required a large batch to be remade) and in the monument that stands today.

Community Impact

Kerry James Marshall's sculpture, through its profound storytelling and artistry, has made a significant impact on the African American community. It has created a space for celebration, acknowledgment, and remembrance. It serves as a reminder of the community's resilience and ongoing efforts toward racial equality.

Consultants

Structural Engineer
KPFF (formerly Saul Engineering)
Landscape Architect
Genus Landscape Architects
General Contractor
Neumann Brothers
Brick Manufacturer
Endicott Clay Products
Masonry Contractor
Seedorff Masonry, Inc.
Steel Fabrication
Johnson Machine Works, Inc.

Awards

2022 Excellence in Design Award
American Institute of Architects - Iowa Chapter
2021 Best in Class Award
Brick Industry Association
2021 Merit Award - AISC IDEAS2
American Institute of Steel Construction
2019 Honor Award-Small Project
American Institute of Architects - Central States Region
2019 Public Art Network Year in Review
Americans for the Arts
2019 Impact Award
American Institute of Architects - Iowa Chapter
2018 Grand Award
Masonry Institute of Iowa
2018 Excellence in Craft Award
American Institute of Architects - Iowa Chapter

Publications

Winter 2023 Iowa Architect
May 2021 Modern Steel Construction
Summer 2019 Iowa Architect
Fall 2018 Iowa Architect

Photography by Corey Gaffer