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"Boundless": A new sculpture unveiled at the Cameron Art Museum to honor the United States Colored Troops

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Ashley Brown
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WHQR
The sculpture "Boundless" commemorates the United States Colored Troops.

A celebration at The Cameron Art Museum unveiled a sculpture by Duke Professor and artist Stephen Hayes. The sculpture “Boundless” features the life casts of eleven men and commemorates the United States Colored Troops who fought in the Civil War.

The Civil War Battle of Forks Road was fought in 1865. The United States Colored Troops played a major role in a Union victory, pushing the War closer to its end. Today, the Cameron Art Museum sits on the site of the battle.

Heather Wilson is the Museum’s Deputy Director.

“So when Cameron Art Museum moved to the site, 20 years ago, we became stewards of a historic Civil War site, and as we learned more about the story, the story of the United States Colored Troops, it really stuck out to us," she said.

In 1863, a clause in the emancipation proclamation allowed African American men to volunteer to fight for the Union Army. The United States Colored Troops — many of them ex-slaves — fought for freedom, equal rights, and the abolition of slavery.

“We knew years ago, that we wanted to bridge the gap between the historic Civil War site and the art museum with a work of contemporary art made by an up and coming artists of color to commemorate the story of the United States Colored Troops," she said.

The sculpture’s creator, Stephen L. Hayes, was born in Durham, North Carolina. His work has won awards and been featured at the National Cathedral, the Rosa Parks Museum, amongst others. He’s the winner of the 1858 Prize for Contemporary Southern Art.

“I had real tools at second grade. Like real hammers, real nails, real saws, all that stuff," he said.

He loves working with his hands and finding different materials to create art. He works with sculptures, casting, knitting, woodcuts, video, and audio to explore issues of race and economics in the United States.

“You know that saying, one man's trash is another man's treasure, you know, you can catch me looking at a dumpster or dumpster diving and finding things and pulling it out or finding stuff on the side of the road and trying to make stuff out of it," he said.

Hayes chose the name “Boundless” because he says, these men fought for our freedom, and African Americans must continue that fight.

“It also talks to a whole a greater whole of today, that continue to fight, that we're continuing to fight on, you know, to be treated equally," he said.

The eleven men featured in the life-sized bronze sculpture are connected in ways such as descendants, reenactors, and African American veterans. One of the young men that was cast for the sculpture is the descendant of four U.S. Colored Troops.

Carmen Perkins-Grant is also a descendant, whose grandfather was a U.S. Colored Troop. Her brother and two cousins were cast for the sculpture. She says she is honored to have witnessed the unveiling.

“Really words can’t explain it joyful, happy, just knowing that the colored troops are being recognized for their tribute to the Civil War," she said.

The sculpture also has an audio element. When guests scan a QR code, they can hear the marching, singing, and chanting of the 35th United States Colored Troops.

After the battle in 1865, many of the black troops settled in Wilmington. 1,820 men who fought at the Battle of Forks Road, have been identified. In December, their names will be placed on the sculpture.

Haye’s other exhibit Voice’s of Future’s Past opened November 12 at the Cameron Art Museum. The exhibit features audio recordings of young African American men from Wilmington. His ground-breaking work Cash Crop will also be on display. Cash Crop features 15 life-size statues — chained to a pallet — that represent the 15 million people who were transported as slaves.