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(Un)Known Project Picks Louisville Artist To Lead Design On Memorial To Enslaved Black People

The view of the Ohio River from a forthcoming memorial to Black people whose names have largely been lost to history.
The view of the Ohio River from a forthcoming memorial to Black people whose names have largely been lost to history.

Louisville-based sculptor William M. Duffy will lead the effort in designing limestone benches for a memorial dedicated to Black people whose names have been lost to history, according to a news release from the organizations behind the (Un)Known Project.

IDEAS xLab, Roots 101, Frazier History Museum and Louisville Metro Public Art announced Duffy as the lead artist Monday. His selection was conducted through an application process coordinated by the partner organizations as well as a panel of artists from the Louisville arts community, including sculptor Ed Hamilton and muralist and painter Jaylin Stewart.

Duffy was born and raised in Louisville, according to his website, and he’s done commissions for the Speed Art Museum, Farmington African-American Slave Monument and Kentucky Arts Council to create the 2007-2008 Governor’s Awards.

Josh Miller, courtesy of IDEAS xLab

The artwork will be installed near the Ohio River, “informed by the stories of (un)known enslaved Black people and hidden figures,” the news release said. The site is of significance as the Kentucky side is where enslaved people would have looked across the river to southern Indiana, essentially to freedom. 

It will consist of, what the project is calling, “Limestone Reconciliation Benches,” that Duffy will design with the help of community input. 

“I believe the bench project will convey respect for and dignity to forgotten people whose stories will educate and inspire people for generations,” Duffy said in the release. 

“We wanted people to come here and sit, and just acknowledge some things,” Hannah Drake of IDEAS xLab told WFPL last summer about the benches. “And if you sit on the bench for five minutes, or you sit on the bench for five hours, I think seeing it will stir up something. That’s my hope.”

Duffy intends to collaborate with artist Dave Caudill on the project.

The (Un)Known Project collaborators plan to install the benches in the spring or summer of 2021. 

“We believe Duffy’s artistic experience and passion for engaging the community is going to infuse life and energy into the Limestone Reconciliation Benches,” Drake and IDEAS xLab’s Josh Miller said in the release.

In October, four Black Louisvillians lent impressions of their feet to the project