Why We Should Remember Inge Hardison
By Ryan Velez
CultureType reports that sculptor Inge Hardison passed away on March 23rd at the age of 102 in Manhattan following a long-term battle with Alzheimer’s. She is most well known for her series of sculptural portraits of famous African-American figures.
Born in Portsmouth, Virginia in 1914, Hardison’s parents moved to Brooklyn, New York, shortly after her birth to leave the Jim Crow South. Her first flirtation with the arts occurred shortly after her leaving high school, landing the role of slave girl Topsy in the 1936 Broadway play Sweet River. She would take on a few other small roles afterwards, but her discovery of clay as a medium took place while working as a model, posing at the Art Students League of New York.
In a video interview, Hardison describes the discovery as “a surprise. As I paused to rest after posing, I would handle the clay and I found that it was interesting and that I could do something [with it]. I was delighted. I began to do people I knew and people began to buy what I was doing.”
As a sculptor, Hardison’s most celebrated work was “Negro Giants in History,” a collection of bronze busts she created in 1963. Beginning with a bust of Harriet Tubman, the collection soon expanded to include other figures who fought slavery and segregation and paved the way for civil rights. Included in the series were Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. Du Bois, Paul Robeson, George Washington Carver, Sojourner Truth, and Martin Luther King Jr., among others. Another popular series was “Ingenious Americans” which depicted black innovators such as Benjamin Banneker, Charles Drew, Garrett Morgan and Lewis Latimer.
Along with her own widely celebrated art, which has drawn attention both from museums and auctions, Hardison also worked to support other black artists. In 1969, she helped to establish the Black Academy of Arts and Letters (BAAL), an African-American organization founded to support the preservation and promotion of black culture. She was the only woman among these founding members. In 2014, the International Review of African American Art (IRAAA) wrote about Hardison for her 100th birthday.
In an interview with The Daily News, Hardison’s daughter Yolande Harrison described her as “a renaissance woman, a force to be reckoned with. She inspired a lot of people, and worked with a lot of people.”