By Dwight Hobbes
It doesn’t require an aficionado to appreciate the breathtaking art of sculptor Frank J. Brown. He wouldn’t have it any other way: “My work is made for the community to enjoy.”
He was talking, in a telephone interview, about his richest achievement to date, the arresting vision “A Community Within Reach,” which, after a year in the creating, stands in Fred Glossie Atkins Park, Sarasota, Florida, a distinct addition to the landscape. The towering structure is a dramatic depiction in ceramic of humanity so lifelike you almost expect the figures to move.
It’s a roiling knot of men, women and children determinedly reaching together toward the heavens with a common heartfelt goal in mind. To view this masterpiece is to be profoundly moved.
“A Community Within Reach” serves well as a representative statement from Brown, who reflects, “I have always considered my [work] to be social statement art.” Far from being an ivory-tower intellectual living in a vacuum, he connects with others, relating to concerns many of us share.
“I attempt to create a direction for individuals to have conversations about some of the struggles we all might have to endure,” Brown says. “I hope that the images that I create will help others to express their ambitions to strive toward changing the things that are occurring around us, to where we come to realize that we are one.”
Of “A Community Within Reach,” he emphatically states, “All of the figures…pull others up. That it is the message of this artwork. It is our responsibility as Black men and women to pull each other up to a higher level.”
Brown works in clay, bronze and stone, often addressing concerns of the African American community. “Most of my artwork depicts the struggles of those that have not been given the opportunity to secure their dreams of equality. But I also create work that displays unity among all ethnic groups working together.”
The veteran craftsman lists an enviable record of accomplishments. Brown received his B.F.A. from Southern Illinois University — Carbondale and his M.F.A. from the University of Wisconsin — Madison. He has taught in Madison Area Technical College (Wisconsin) and in the Twin Cities at University of Saint Thomas and Macalester College. Brown’s artistry is exhibited in permanent collections of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Southern Illinois University, St. Paul Foundation and the University of Utah Museum of Fine Arts (Salt Lake City).
He has exhibited at, in a laundry list of prestigious institutions, Concordia University, the Jewish Community Foundation of the Minneapolis Jewish Federation, and the St. Paul Foundation. Among numerous grants and awards received: National Endowment for the Arts/Individual Artist Grant, Minnesota State Arts Board/Cultural Community Partnership Grant, and the Medtronic Black History Celebration Appreciation Award. He has hand-carved stone ornaments for the John Hancock Center in Chicago and Minnesota’s State Capitol Building in St. Paul.
His online artist statement at “Inspire Arts” reads, “The work can help create conversations between some observers and viewers by connecting to the sense of basic human emotions of a large group of people. I have come to believe that a powerful image can help us speak about the negative human condition in which a large group of people are forced to live. I hope that my artwork will help people understand that we all suffer if one person is left alone to suffer.
“Through my artwork I hope to help others create change and dialogue about the human conditions both good and bad. My hope is that my sculpture will create more dialogue among African Americans to help dispel the myths and stereotypes that we attribute to ourselves and that others attribute to African Americans. I hope these discussions will lead us to take personal responsibility to eliminate negative actions such as fatherless children, prostitution, physical assaults, and drug abuse.”
The next step in Frank Brown’s career? He told the MSR he plans “to create a direction for men of color that have artistic talent that have been placed into our prison systems. Too many prisons across this country have our young talented Black men in prisons where they will never grow. I am tired of Black men complaining about Black men [while] many Black men do nothing to pull each other up.
“Black men must take more responsibility for each other in some way to support each other. I will do my part by opening a gallery in each state that will give support to those talented men that wish to change their direction in life by using their artwork to create a new life for themselves.”
He also intends to start a school for sculptors. And to create another large-scale public artwork.
Historic bard Dylan Thomas unabashedly said his poetry was “written for the love of man and in praise of God and I’d be a damn’ fool if they weren’t.” Frank J. Brown, gifted artisan, is of the same bent.
Asked how he feels about the triumph of seeing “A Community Within Reach” realized, he answers, “Triumph for me is to place as many sculptures that give honor to God’s will to bring people of all races together. It is my commitment to make a difference in others’ hearts by creating artwork that brings us together as one. If my work continues to do this long after I am gone, then in God’s arms I will do his will and that will bring me joy.”
Dwight Hobbes welcomes reader responses to email@example.com.