by Leah Small
The city provided a first glimpse of what a statue and plaza dedicated to Maggie Walker could look like yesterday -- a week after a committee decision to chop down the oak tree that towers over the site.
Conceptual drawings of the plaza, at the intersection of Broad Street and Adams and Brook roads, show a Walker rendition that towers over the center, where the oak stands. Artist Toby Mendez says that draft plans have Walker standing at a height of 12 to 14 feet, on a pedestal of about five feet, which he says is proportional to the site. Walker is upright, with a bank ledger in her hand.
“She feels close to you,” Mendez says, “but it still has a sense of formality.”
A few other prominent features of the plan include several trees would stand at the edges of the plaza. The section of Brook Road that fronts the plaza is incorporated into the design as a brick pedestrian walkway.
The Public Art Commission unveiled the plans during an open house at the Richmond Public Library on Saturday, where attendees mingled around several renderings of the design, and had the opportunity to ask questions and offer suggestions. A week earlier, the statue’s site selection committee, which reports to the Public Arts Commission, voted to remove the tree from the site.
Lovers of the Southern live oak aren’t happy.
Those who are in favor of the oak remaining say they're upset that the city didn’t present designs of a plaza with or without the tree, after officials said that plans with both options would be presented. A small protest rally was held around the tree after the unveiling.
“It makes me mad,” tree supporter Kathryn Henry-Choisser says. “I thought there would be plans with the tree and without the tree.”
City officials caution that the design isn’t finalized. It will go before the Urban Design Committee, the Public Art Commission and the Planning Commission before final approval.
Mendez and Sarah Driggs, who heads the site selection committee, say they have concerns that the tree would dwarf the statue. Those who want to see the oak removed hold the same view.
Asked why only one rendering was presented, Driggs said that it would have been good to have included one that the city drafted of the site with the tree.
“I think if people had seen the rendering with the tree they would see that the tree overwhelms the monument,” she said. “So, maybe we made a mistake.”
Ellyn Parker, the city’s public art director, says that the selection committee made its decision after meeting with Walker’s descendants, the Historic Jackson Ward Association and Maggie Walker High School Alumni.
“They were adamant about moving forward without the tree,” she says.
She says that feedback from multiple public meetings also was considered.
J. Maurice Hopkins, an alumnus of Maggie Walker High School, says that placing that statue under the oak would be distasteful. “There’s a negative connotation toward the lynching of black folks many years ago,” he says.