In the garden of Tampa’s C. Blythe Andrews, Jr. Public Library sits a life-size bronze sculpture designed to celebrate the community that surrounds it and inspire those who come across it.
Dreamed up and designed by McArthur Freeman, USF associate professor of animation and digital modeling, the sculpture, entitled “An Open Book,” features two African American children engrossed in a book. Situated between the two children is a globe, emerging from the book’s pages. Freeman says an important theme of the work is the significant role that books and published materials play in inspiring creativity within the minds of young people. His hope is that the sculpture conveys the notion that knowledge empowers individuals and can open anyone to a world of possibilities, no matter where you come from.
The location and timing of the project are significant to the artist. Located within Tampa’s College Hill neighborhood, a historically African American community, the C. Blythe Andrews, Jr. Public Library is named after the former owner-publisher of the Florida Sentinel Bulletin, a pioneering publication dedicated to informing and uplifting African American communities across the Tampa Bay region and the state. For Freeman, having the opportunity to create art tied to such an important local figure within a historically African American neighborhood means a lot, especially given the many social movements occurring across the country right now.
“It is a timely project,” Freeman said. “When racist monuments, both literally and figuratively, are being challenged and taken down, it is also important to see new works that represent and celebrate Blackness.”
Freeman utilized a mixed methods approach in creating “An Open Book.” His work combines the 3D digital technology often associated with animation, film and game design with traditional hand-sculpting techniques. By combining digital sculpting, 3D scanning and other digital tools, Freeman was able to shape the design before employing CNC routing, a computer-controlled cutting machine, and 3D printing to develop the physical structure. From there, he used traditional bronze casting to create the final product.
“With the sculpture, I wanted to create an experience that reflects on the Andrews legacy, while also projecting a message about innocence and Black humanity. Rarely are mundane images of Black kids living their lives part of the social landscape. These types of work normalize Black features (hair texture, full lips, etc.) and promote positive images of Black people simply living their lives. Seeing that type of representation is beneficial for everyone, and especially powerful for Black children,” Freeman said. “My hope is that the work contributes to a rich narrative of diversity and that there will be more opportunities like this which help to normalize the representation and celebration of blackness in public spaces.”