HAATz Off to Pioneer Teachers of MPS Column
By Taki S. Raton
Milwaukee may have an emerging Edmonia Mary Lewis or even a Richard Hunt in the image and talent of 26-year-old sculptress Care Ekpo. Believed to have been born 165 years ago on July 4, 1845 in Greenwich, New York, Lewis was the first African American woman to gain fame and recognition as a sculptor in the international fine arts world.
She is best known for her 1867 work in white marble “Forever Free” and her 1868 “Hiawatha,” also in marble. Born in 1935 on Chicago’s South Side, Richard Hunt is documented to have completed more public sculptures than any other artist in the country.
He was appointed by President Lyndon Johnson as one of the first artists to serve on the governing board of the National Endowment for the Arts and he additionally served on the board of the Smithsonian Institute. Lewis was the youngest artist to exhibit at the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair, a major international survey exhibition of modern art and is the recipient of numerous awards and honorary degrees.
Upon viewing the works of Care Ekpo, one might easily envision that she may be well on the illustrious paths paved by Lewis and Hunt. Ekpo has been commissioned by the Historic African American Teachers (HAAT) of the Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) project to design and create the Lifetime Achievement Award sculptures for the scheduled March 26, 2011 recognition ceremony honoring Milwaukeeans Gerald Wallace and photographer Harry Kemp at Serb Hall, 5101 West Oklahoma Avenue.
Singh is founder and director of HAAT, established to recognize and celebrate the exceptional efforts made by African American educators who were the earliest pioneers of African ancestry to be formally hired as teachers in the MPS system.
These trailblazers are distinguished for breaking down racial barriers and for teaching and inspiring many young people of their day who have since become in their adult professions civic, government, corporate and educational leaders.
HAAT has sponsored monthly Saturday luncheons at Serb Hall to honor what will be a total by this coming March of 144 African American educators and administrators who were the first to start with Milwaukee Public Schools as late as 1934. To date, HAAT has honored 44 teachers over five scheduled Serb gatherings from this past July through November.
“I feel truly honored to be asked to be a part of this project,” says Ekpo. She adds that she thinks that “it is great that HAAT is recognizing all the recipients. This is an amazing opportunity and I feel very fortunate to be a part of both the design and casting of these most deserving awards.”
Ekpo notes that the HAAT teachers have done a lot for their community and that they deserve the recognition for doing excellent work and for displaying such a strong commitment to teaching.
“Vicki Singh could have picked any artist to participate in this project, yet she chose me, a newbie. And for that, all I can say is thank you so much!” says this young sculptress.
A native of Lawrence, Kansas, Care is the middle child of 6 children. Her mother is from the small town of Greely, Kansas and her father was born in Cross River, Nigeria. She grew up in Lawrence and upon graduating from Lawrence High School in 2002, she moved to Milwaukee to attend the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design (MIAD). She received her Bachelor of Fine Arts in sculpture from MIAD in 2006.
It was during the summer of 2006 when she was hired by the fine art bronze casting foundry, Vanguard Sculpture Services as the “wax worker” responsible for casting wax molding, fixing defects in the mold and ensuring that the wax mold is ready for the liquid metal which will be poured into this casting.
“I had taken a semester of foundry casting both in my junior and senior year in college, so I was familiar with the lost wax method. But I still had and will remain to have many things to learn,” she says.
Ekpo still works at Vanguard and reveals that since becoming a part of this business, she has become more familiar with the stages of the lost wax casting method.
During her sophomore through senior years at Lawrence, her art was exhibited in the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards Exhibition from 1999 through 2002. In 2006, her work was included in the MIAD Senior Exhibition. Also during this year she collaborated with fellow student Jin Soo Kim on a work entitled “Sit Down and Listen to an Old Lady Talk” which has become a part of MIAD’s permanent collection.
“Sculpting is a very physical art form and I enjoy that aspect of it,” she says. She would add that sculpture is also mentally challenging “because to take something such as a sketch that is two dimensional and to recreate that form into a three-dimensional form is difficult. You have to be aware of the light, the proportions and how the piece looks from multiple views and angles. It really fascinates me how much a sculpture can change based upon the choice of lighting and the angle at which the work is viewed.”
Special effects and prop design is a field that Ekpo believes that she might explore in the future. “When I’m watching movies that have a lot of amazing sculptural special effects, I just get blown away by the level of craft and skill of the special effects artist. I always think that ‘someone made that’ and that those props look so real. So, I think it would be pretty cool to get into that field of work,” she says.
For any additional information on HAAT, the pioneer teacher recognition luncheons or the coming March 26 award ceremony, please contact Singh at (414) 551- 2107 or visit the Historic African American Teachers’ office at 1840 North Farwell.