The Chestertown Public Art Committee is pleased to announce a new installation from the Peter and Hanna Woicke Sculpture collection at Sumner Hall in Chestertown. The sculpture, entitled “The Dance,” joins nine other sculptures from the Woicke Collection already installed at sites such as Henry Highland Garnet Elementary, the Kent County Public Library, and the Kent Cultural Alliance, with more to arrive in the coming months.
“The Dance” depicts a young woman dancing as part of an initiation rite in the artist Shakiru-Ola Erogbogbo’s homeland of Nigeria. Assembled from found metal objects welded together, the sculpture can be seen as representing the vibrancy of traditional beliefs and rituals within a modern Africa. The piece also draws on the rich history of west African art, which is valued the world over for its visual complexity and innovative use of materials.
The Board of Directors of Sumner Hall and members of the Public Art Committee discussed several different works for possible installation in front of the historic building, finally choosing “The Dance” as a meaningful tribute to the historic institution. Larry Wilson, president of the Sumner Hall Board, has observed, “Looking at the young girl dancing through to womanhood makes me feel the struggles that we as African Americans are still going through today to obtain equality, freedom and peace. I believe that one day we will be dancing too! One day I pray that we can sing, ‘Free At Last! Free At Last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at Last!’ ”
The Chestertown Public Art Committee was established in 2019 with the goal of helping to promote and implement the installation of artwork in public places for the enrichment of the community. The committee also seeks to foster educational programming and activities that engage the community and increase the understanding and enjoyment of public art by residents and visitors. Since 2021, it has been coordinating the installation of the Woicke Sculpture Collection, an extraordinary gift of twenty-four outdoor sculptures donated to the town by Peter and Hanna Woicke of St. Michael’s. More information about public art in Chestertown can be found at https://chestertownpublicarts.com/.
Built circa 1908, Sumner Hall honors the service of African American members of the U.S. uniformed services from Revolutionary War days to the present time. The building was a community center and hub of Kent County African American life for sixty years. When it fell into disrepair and was slated for demolition, a coalition of preservationists, foundations and philanthropic citizens engaged in a thirteen-year campaign to save the building. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, it is just one of two African American Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.) veterans’ halls still standing in the United States.
Sumner Hall’s mission is powered by core values and illustrated by the wide range of exhibitions, cultural events, educational programs, community socials, performances and social justice initiatives. It stands as a place of remembrance of the contributions of African Americans who served in the U. S. Civil War by (1) honoring all African American veterans of the U. S. armed services; (2) promoting an understanding of the African American experience within the overall context of American history and culture; and (3) advocating for social justice and racial equity in all aspects of civic life.