John Wilson, "Martin Luther King Jr. (Maquette)," 1982

CHLOE JUNG '23, Class of 1954 Director's Intern
Hood Quarterly, spring 2022

John Woodrow Wilson was an American sculptor, painter, printmaker, and art educator best known for creating powerful portraits of African American figures and for addressing political issues in his artwork more generally. Born in Roxbury, Massachusetts, in 1922, Wilson was the son of immigrants from British Guiana (a former British colony now called Guyana.) Trained early by various art instructors, he was a capable painter by the time he entered the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, in 1940. After finishing his degree, he traveled to Paris, where he extended his studies with modernist artist Fernand Léger. Later, he spent five years in Mexico, where he studied the political art and graphic style of the Mexican muralists such as José Clemente Orozco.

Wilson created this 30-inch bronze bust of Martin Luther King Jr. in 1982 as a maquette, or study, for an eight-foot version he realized in 1985. With a calm and serene face, King stares slightly downward, making intimate eye contact with the viewer. Despite his outward peacefulness, King's inward struggles and worries can be seen and felt behind his stoic facial expression. Wilson favored creating large works with the intention of taking up space and establishing a monumental presence for his African American subjects. His use of scale makes it impossible to ignore or dismiss Wilson's sculpture. The confronted viewer, assuming a more deferential position, must look upward, acknowledging King's presence, power, and significance.

Written April 11, 2022