Feeling the Embrace

Sometime in 2022 I first saw early renderings of a new sculpture, The Embrace. It was planned by a group in Boston to celebrate Rev. Martin Luther Jr. and Mrs. Coretta Scott King. The couple met as students in Boston, and city leaders wanted to honor them.

Architectural renderings have an amazing fluidity and brilliance

The sculpture, designed by Hank Willis Thomas, captures them in an embrace, modeled on a photo taken after Rev. King learns he has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964.

The idea of just using their arms is interesting, it’s exciting to see modern sculpture that is more than just a man standing looking out at the horizon.

And it was being crafted in my hometown, Walla Walla Washington at the Walla Walla Foundry. If this sculpture could travel from Walla Walla to Boston, I could travel from Greenville, SC, to Boston to see it. I also have a dear friend living there, and I hadn’t seen her in five years, so it was definitely time for a visit. Thus, Boston was the first stop planned on Epic Summer Road Trip 2023–everything else fell into place as a place to visit on the way there or the way home.

Once the sculpture was unveiled on Martin Luther King Jr. Day in January, 2023, seeing it in person became imperative. It was either ugly as sin, or being captured in very unflattering positions in the popular press. Its wikipedia page is constantly being edited, but generally people deriding it as the worst piece of public sculpture “evah” dominate the discussion. This, this I had to see for myself.

A friend and I stayed at Wompatuck State Park for the weekend. On Memorial Day, we drove to Quincy to enjoy breakfast with another dear friend. [Side note, on 11:11 on Memorial Day I was sitting with two friends I met at Scarborough Faire. What a wonderful world indeed!] Then we got on mass transit to Boston Common. Or near it, actually, we landed in South Station instead of Boston Common and walked the rest of the way. So many gorgeous buildings!

We found the sculpture filled with people wandering through it and enjoying it. It is much more gorgeous in person than any photograph has captured. Two-dimensional photographs don’t capture the three-dimensional reality that you can walk through and truly feel the embrace. In person, it’s a hug.

It is also a testament to Coretta Scott King’s strength. She is holding him up.

And It’s a heart. No one there at the site on a busy Memorial Day saw anything but love. It’s a great piece of public art. Yes, it’s possible to catch it from a bad angle, and yes, there is a design failure. There are some problematic angles from the ground. When we look at models, we look down on them, they are smaller than it will be in real life, as if we are gods. Humans are stuck with our feet in the humble clay. If only we could fly! The drone imagery for the sculpture is even more beautiful. Imagining the human scale of our creations will never be easy.

The Boston Public Gardens are a great public space. Seeing people out and about enjoying free and public shared space on a holiday weekend was good for the soul. I am happy that my current home town, Greenville, SC, is working towards downtown public spaces in their new Unity Park. One feature of the Boston Public Garden is a museum of trees, specimens from across the world, in all sizes. This one caught our eyes for echoing the shapes of The Embrace.

Next time I visit, I will plan ahead to take walking tours of the historic places around Boston Common. Seeing a costumed person calling attention to their wares made hearkened back to the renaissance faires I’ve usually been at on Memorial Day! There is a well-advertised Freedom Trail, and a Black Heritage Trail which has sites important to Boston’s role in abolition and freedom for all Americans.

Photo credits:
(1) https://www.wgbh.org/news/embrace
(2) MASS Design Group, from https://www.architecturaldigest.com/story/striking-new-martin-luther-king-jr-memorial-captures-feeling-of-love and also a great article about the sculpture
(3) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:The_Embrace_Jan_16_2023.jpg
(4) (5) (6) taken by the author

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