NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – There is an artist who takes a vision in her mind and shapes it into clay with her talented hands, then casts it in bronze to tell a story that must never be forgotten.
CBS2’s Tony Aiello shares a look at how sculptor Vinnie Bagwell is capturing a piece of Yonker’s history in metal figures and poetry.
“These are people just like you: They were stolen from their home, their lives were destroyed, and that this process went on for several hundred years,” said Bagwell about her subjects. “I want people to understand that they had lives. They had thoughts, feelings, goals and dreams, and all of that was stolen from them.”
The New York-based sculptor has spent thousands of hours over more than a decade crafting a series of statues of Colonial Era enslaved Africans.
Impressive from a distance, close scrutiny reveals the rich details that tell the story of their lives as slaves on the Yonkers estate of the Philipse family.
Gesturing to her work, Bagwell highlights the family she made into art.
“This is Bibi,” she said. “Bibi is the elder, she’s the grandmother.”
On each statue is a message in Braille. The one on Bibi says, “I believe in freedom.” The children on her skirt are crafted in beautiful detail.
“Imagine somebody takes your children,” said Bagwell. “You don’t get them back and their lives are destroyed by greed.”
Themba and I’ Satta have a temporary home at the Yonkers library.
On the back of I’ Satta, there is a schematic of captured Africans packed into a slave ship.
“On the bottom of her skirt you will see a man drowning in the ocean and a ship sailing off into the sunset,” said Bagwell.
If everything goes according to plan, come Thanksgiving those sculptures will be out of the foundry and out of the library to instead be displayed along the Hudson River, on the property that used to belong to the slave-owning Philipse family.
“It’s not just something to read in a history book,” said Yonkers Mayor Mike Spano. “It’s something to see and feel, and that happens because we have a wonderful artist that’s willing to make it happen.”
Bagwell discovered her talent a bit later in life.
“Sculpting was a surprise at the age of 36,” she said.
With this monumental project nearing completion, she’s crafting a masterwork and a legacy.
Bagwell’s work is also on its way to New York City. She’s been commissioned to create a statue to replace the controversial Fifth Avenue monument to J. Marion Sims, a doctor who experimented on enslaved women.