Artist Blog

Tag Archives: Jesse Benjamin

Artist Ayokunle Odeleye with his W.E.B Dubois Bust

Making History: Kennesaw State Professor Ayokunle Odeleye creates bronze bust of famed scholar W.E.B. Du Bois for historic Clark Atlanta University conference

Making History

CAU officials unveil bronze bust of W.E.B. Dubois by Kennesaw State Professor Ayokunle Odeleye, at right.Kennesaw State Professor Ayokunle Odeleye creates bronze bust of famed scholar W.E.B. Du Bois for historic Clark Atlanta University conference


It took two months, a cadre of Kennesaw State technicians, artists and students and many sleepless nights for Professor Ayokunle Odeleye to ready a bronze bust of noted scholar W.E.B. Du Bois for its public debut: a Feb. 23 unveiling at the ““W.E.B. Du Bois and the Wings of Atlanta 50th Anniversary Commemorative Conference” at CAU.

The 3.5-foot, 800-pound bronze bust of Du Bois sits atop a nearly 4-foot concrete pedestal near the entrance of the quadrangle in the center of CAU’s campus.  It commemorates the life and work of Du Bois, a scholar, activist, educator, historian and writer who, among his many accomplishments, cofounded the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). During his tenure at the former Atlanta University, he wrote his most prominent book, “The Souls of Black Folk” and completed what some consider his best historical scholarship.

It was important to get this right, says Odeleye, who knows well the value of public art projects of this magnitude. Among the 22 public art projects he has created around the country, the Du Bois statue ranks alongside a bust of Martin Luther King Jr. he was commissioned to create in Pensacola, Fla., some 20 years ago.

Odeleye was commissioned to create the Du Bois bust for the conference, held 50 years after the scholar’s death in 1963. The interdisciplinary conference was the culmination of a year-long series of seminars on Du Bois at the institution where he spent 23 years ─ from 1897 to 1910 and 1934 to 1944. It brought together 140 panelists from 50 institutions to “return the legacy of Dr. Du Bois,” says Stephanie Y. Evans, chair of CAU’s Department of African-American Studies, Africana Women’s Studies and History and conference organizer. Evans and CAU President Carlton E. Brown commissioned Odeleye for the project.

“It was critical that we celebrate and commemorate the life and scholarship of Dr. Du Bois here at the HBCU where he served for 23 years and that we do so in a manner worthy of his stature,” Evans said.  “We didn’t have to look far to find a superb artist with the skill and expertise to create a special and lasting tribute here on the CAU campus, and someone who would work within our budget and time constraints.”

It was those constraints that guided the process and resources Odeleye employed at KSU to complete the mutli-stage project, which evolved from clay to wax to bronze.  Before it was completed, two Kennesaw State technicians, three faculty — all artists and sculptors — and five students contributed to the project.

The process began with Odeleye’s research on Du Bois and a careful study of dozens of photographs of the famed scholar over many years of his life. Coming up with a consolidated image was no small task considering Du Bois’ look was always changing, Odeleye said.

“Sometimes his mustache was curved, sometimes straight, sometimes he had a beard and sometimes not, and the suits he wore were completely different in 1904 and 1920.”

Once he settled on the image, the first step was to create a clay portrait, called a pattern, at his studio in Stone Mountain, Ga. That involved building a skeletal structure in Styrofoam and covering it with a steel skeleton. Sculpture student William Darnell worked with Odeleye over the winter holidays to pack the bust with almost 400 pounds of oil-based clay.

Once CAU’s Evans and President Brown reviewed and approved the clay pattern at the studio, the bust was moved by truck to the Kennesaw State sculpture studio with the help of 15 Clark Atlanta University students and students from the KSU Sculpture Club. The bust was separated into seven sections and cast in wax under the direction of shop technician Page Burch. Kristin Fox, a recent Kennesaw State graduate, senior Rachael Kidd, and Colin Skees also assisted.  The wax sections were welded back together into a bust so it could once again be approved.  The wax bust was again cut into seven sections, cast in a hard, solid resin-bonded sand and baked in a kiln, creating a negative space into which the hot liquid bronze could be poured. The bronze sections were then reassembled into one piece and finished.

Etienne Jackson, a Kennesaw State adjunct professor and sculptor who has worked with Odeleye for more than 10 years, assisted throughout the process. Chris Dziejowski, who cast the concrete pedestal for the bust and Keith Smith, assistant professor of art, were also among the Kennesaw State technicians and art faculty working on the project. Carole Mauge Lewis, professor of graphic design, created the composition for the text on the pedestal’s stainless steel plaque.

“We worked pretty much round the clock for more than 60 days to accomplish what should have taken six months to complete,” Odeleye said.  “When other people were out partying for New Year’s and enjoying themselves over the holidays, we were hard at work in the studio trying to complete this very important project.”

In addition to the contributions of Odeleye and art department faculty, staff and students, Kennesaw State faculty members participated as conference presenters and were on hand for the unveiling. Jesse Benjamin, associate professor of interdisciplinary studies and sociology, chaired a panel on DuBois, scholar and activist Walter Rodney and Atlanta’s Institute of the Black World.  Seneca Vaught, assistant professor of history, was on a panel discussing Pan-African policy studies.

“This is a truly historical conference that presents a great opportunity to elevate the KSU/CAU relationship to a much higher level,” said Benjamin, who also is presenting a weekly lecture series on Walter Rodney at CAU this semester. “Professor Oyodele’s amazing bust of Dr. Dubois on the CAU campus is a lasting reminder of that relationship, which we are sure to build on in the near future.”

With the hard work and all-nighters behind him, Odeleye focused on the honor of working on a bust of such an important historical figure.

“As a major public arts project, we created a sculpture that will be there and be cared for by an institution for a very long time,” he said. “Working on this lasting tribute to Dr. Du Bois gives me a chance to forever be associated with him, to attach myself to his legacy. Projects like this present a chance for me to leave a footprint of my existence on this earth long after I’m gone.”

– Sabbaye McGriff