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The Experimental Printmaking Institute is engaging internationally renowned sculptor Melvin Edwards to create a sculpture to be installed on campus commemorating the College’s granting of a degree to David Kearny McDonogh, a slave, in 1844.

  • The McDonogh Report celebrates the contributions of African Americans to the Lafayette community.

The College is committed to raising funds for the project, which was proposed by Curlee Raven Holton, director of EPI and professor of art. Holton is producing a limited edition of 100 fine-art prints in celebration and support.

McDonogh was perhaps the first person with legal status as a slave ever to receive a college degree. President Daniel Weiss spoke of his achievements in his inaugural remarks.

“McDonogh was sent to Lafayette by his master, a Louisiana rice planter, so he could receive training to join a group of missionaries to Liberia,” Weiss said. “But McDonogh had other goals. He wanted to become a physician and, in the face of tremendous opposition, he prevailed, earning a medical degree at the College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York and becoming, for the remainder of his career, a member of the staff of the New York Hospital and New York Eye and Ear Infirmary.”

Five years after McDonogh’s death in 1893, the McDonogh Memorial Hospital opened its doors as the first New York City hospital admitting both physicians and patients without discrimination by race.

Edwards served as artist-in-residence at EPI in 2004-05, supported by Lafayette’s David L. Temple Sr. and Helen J. Temple Visiting Lecture Series Fund, established by Riley K. Temple ’71.

Holton anticipates the timetable for creating and installing the sculpture, which he says will be “abstract and symbolic, massive and upward-reaching, representing struggle and tension and achievement,” will be about two years. He expects his print edition, which will provide additional support for the project, to be available at the end of January. Priced at $1,000, the prints will be of interest to members of the Lafayette community, EPI’s collectors group, and beyond. It will be collected by arts institutions, major collectors, and leading artists, printmakers, and others in the arts community in this country and around the world with whom EPI has forged connections since its founding in 1996.

Entitled “Legacy,” the print will incorporate both historical and contemporary references and speak to the importance of the relationship of Lafayette’s African American alumni to the College and larger issues of educational opportunities locally and nationally, Holton says.

“Think about the debate going on in the country when McDonogh was here! During this dialogue about the abolition of slavery, here he was at Lafayette, a slave, right in the middle of this advocacy to end slavery and change our social complexion,” Holton says.

“You see this man saying, ‘I’m an American! I want to be a doctor, I don’t want to go to Liberia, to a colony for freed slaves.’ McDonogh was more than his owner perceived him to be, and that humanity came through at Lafayette. We still see first-generation college students here, and Lafayette still represents that same doorway to opportunity. This is a portal through which students walk and emerge as members of society, and we are the caretakers of that transition.”

Edwards’ work has ranged from large outdoor public sculptures to small pieces in a series entitled Lynch Fragments, which he began 1963, taking on slavery, racism, and the African American experience.

“Mel Edwards is among a distinctive group of black artists who came of age during the waning years of the Jim Crow Era and the early morning light of the Civil Rights movement. . . .” wrote Clement Alexander Price, professor of history and director of the Institute on Ethnicity, Culture, and the Modern Experience at Rutgers University, Newark, for the Procuniar Workshop in New York City.

“At this juncture in our nation’s history, when we know more about the past than ever before, and when the moral challenges of the 20th century enable us to move beyond shock onto a higher plane of discovery and reconciliation, Mel Edwards is all the more important to our visual literacy,” wrote Price. “His images of hurt, oppression, defiance, and survival, images hammered into and out of metals and placed on paper, embrace a new way of knowing and feeling about what was formerly unspeakable.”

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