Philadelphia's Trail to Tribute: Showcasing Semifinalist Designs for Harriet Tubman Monument

By Brandon Dinh

On August 3, 2023, the City of Philadelphia Office of Arts, Culture, and the Creative Economy (OACCE) held a virtual webinar for the “Harriet Tubman Statue Public Design Presentation Meeting”. This meeting was held to present the designs of five semi-finalist artists who are all in line with hopes of creating Philadelphia’s Harriet Tubman statue. These artists included Vinne Bagwell, Richard Blake, Tanda Francis, Alvin Pettit, and Basil Watson. The webinar, hosted by Marguerite Anglin, Public Art Director for the OACCE, emphasized the exciting milestone for the city and that this will be the first-ever statue of a Black woman in Philadelphia. It is being planned to be positioned at City Hall, on the Northeast Apron.

Each artist was given a limited time to propose and express their designs and ideas throughout the webinar. Vinnie Bagwell’s design included the usage of imagery, texts, and braille. She noted that this nine-foot-tall sculpture would incorporate eye-catching pieces, such as a skirt on Harriet Tubman including butterfly designs. Moreover, she proposed that the statue should be facing east to represent the “light of wisdom” and to capture Tubman regaining her humanity. 

Next, Richard Blake proposed his statue of Harriet Tubman holding a lantern, having her belt contain a pistol, and the back of the statue holding the keystone, the state symbol of Pennsylvania. Blake’s design also included other details including a scarf given by the Queen of England to recognize her heroic deeds. 

Tanda Francis presented her design, “Together in Freedom”. This piece wanted to show the fact that “Harriet had a lot of moments in her life”. Francis wanted the statue to show the inclusive path Harriet Tubman paved and to symbolize her as a community leader. The design also incorporates a constellation to show Tubman’s mission. 

The fourth artist to propose a design idea was Alvin Pettit, who wants to not only capture something unique for the statue but also something unique about Philadelphia. Pettit’s design showed Harriet Tubman as a military soldier holding her handings together in a praying position to represent Tubman as a conqueror and to exemplify her spirituality.

Lastly, Basil Watson presents his design with the quote “Keep going”. Basil wants the statue to symbolize Harriet Tubman’s personal fight for freedom. The design itself shows Tubman on a slant, in which others are holding on to her, to signal to others the motivation to keep on going. The platform is very detailed, showing a terrain to represent the rough land Tubman had to experience. 

After the meeting, an online survey was put out to the public in order for others to provide feedback on the designs proposed by the five artists. Once the public input survey is finished, all comments and rankings will be shared back to each of the semi-finalist artists, who will have the opportunity to revise and critique their design proposals, using the information from the survey and the public.