Sitting On a Corner: Bronze Rosa Parks Finally Arrives at the West End DART Station

Rosa Parks Plaza at DART's West End Station is still a noisy dust-covered construction site, but with help from sculptor Erik Blome, the corner at least has its centerpiece installed: a bronze statue of Parks on a bus seat, planted on a granite hill.

The city had planned to open the plaza in February, but construction went slowly during a run of rainy days, according to an engineering consultant on site Thursday. Along with the Parks sculpture, the $1.4 million plaza will also include a curved granite water wall, bus shelters and places to take a seat that aren't made of bronze.

Blome says the Parks sculpture has been finished for six months, and been sitting here in Dallas for the last two. (It's actually the second casting of a sculpture Blome made for the Rosa Parks Museum in Montgomery Birmingham, Alabama.)

We caught up with the Northern California-based artist Thursday afternoon, as he helped crack open the crate with the bronze Parks inside, and worked out the installation details on the corner of Elm and Lamar Streets. The city will officially welcome the sculpture to town at a ceremony on Monday, but by then Blome will be on the way to oversee another sculpture installation in Chicago.

Turns out there was still plenty of work to do Thursday once the sculpture was set in the middle of the plaza -- in order for the statue's granite base to form a hill, more concrete needed to be poured, which meant hours more work with a paver under the blazing afternoon sun.

"There's always little things like that left to do," Blome says.

Anyway, this was nothing compared to what the artist has been through trying to deliver other civil rights-themed sculptures in the past.

If you're a close follower of public art in this country, you may recall Blome's name from a 2003 dust-up over a Martin Luther King Jr. statue that upset some residents of its future hometown, Rocky Mount, N.C., who took issue with its appearance -- some said its expression seemed arrogant -- and then with the choice of Blome, who is white, as the artist.

"They put me through absolute hell," Blome recalls.

In the heat of the outcry, the statue was removed, then quietly re-installed in Rocky Mount. And while Blome says it's mostly a coincidence that he's become such a popular choice for sculpting black leaders, he is thoughtful about the questions raised in 2003, particularly the argument that the job could only be done right by an African-American artist.

As one woman told the New York Times' Jeffrey Gettleman, "We need an artist who can relate."

"I think it could be argued pretty strongly that your perspective has relevance," Blome says, but he disagrees with the idea that to do justice to civil rights leaders' memories, he must be black.

Blome and his wife have an adopted son from Ethiopia -- where their foundation helps teach children's art -- and he says there are little things every day, like the looks they get out at a restaurant, that inform his thoughts on race. "Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, these people have meaning for me. It does transcend race," he says.

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