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CoastLine: Stephen Hayes seeks to make Black bodies more human through his art; Cameron Art Museum unveils new Hayes work honoring U.S. Colored Troops

Stephen Hayes casting Boundless
North Carolina Public Television
Cameron Art Museum
Artist Stephen Hayes modeled his new work, Boundless, on the descendants of the U.S. Colored Troops. The Cameron Art Museum commissioned the work and will do the unveiling on November 13, 2021. The CAM will also display other works by Stephen Hayes in its Hughes Wing.

On this episode of CoastLine we talk with Sculptor Stephen Hayes about his mission: to make Black bodies more human in the eyes of the world. The Cameron Art Museum commissioned a work from Hayes to commemorate a group of unsung African-American heroes: the United States Colored Troops who fought the Battle of Forks Road on the current site of the CAM. It's a skirmish that led to the fall of Wilmington and ultimately, the end of the Civil War. Our conversation with Hayes can be hard to hear sometimes due to our remote Zoom recording, but it's worth fighting through.

It was Carter Woodson who, in 1926, explained the reason behind Negro History Week this way:

“If a race has no history, it has no worthwhile tradition, it becomes a negligible factor in the thought of the world, and it stands in danger of being exterminated.”

That tradition grew into Black History Month, now called African American History Month in the United States.

We continue to uncover as-yet untold stories of people of color in American history – as-yet untold for a host of reasons. Paramount among those reasons: the culture of white supremacy.

The Cameron Art Museum is on the site of one of these emerging stories: The United States Colored Troops fought the Battle of Forks Road in Wilmington -- a Civil War skirmish that led to the fall of the Port City, which essentially ended the Civil War and handed victory to the Union. But the stories of the Colored Troops have never been fully told.

According to the CAM, “Many of the 1800 African-American soldiers who fought [in the Battle of Forks Road] were native to this area, and after the war, many of them stayed to settle, raise their families, establish educational opportunities, and build a thriving merchant class. Their impact is significant, yet their story is virtually unknown.”

In an effort to honor this key part of American history, the Cameron Art Museum commissioned Durham Artist Stephen Hayes to create a sculpture of the Colored Troops. The unveiling is planned for November 13, 2021. The CAM also produced a documentary about the Battle of Forks Road – which we’ll link to in the show notes.

On this edition of CoastLine, we talk with artist Stephen Hayes about his process, what learning about the Troops and meeting their descendants has meant to him, how he found his “why”, and flipping from his planned mechanical engineering career into art.

Stephen Hayes is the winner of the 1858 Prize for Contemporary Southern Art. He teaches in the department of Art and Art History at Duke University. And here’s just a sampling of the sites where his work has been featured:

  • National Cathedral
  • Duke University
  • Rosa Parks Museum
  • African American Museum of Philadelphia
  • Harvey B. Gantt Center
  • Mason Fine Art, a gallery in Atlanta, helped Stephen Hayes get his start.  

EDITOR’S NOTE:  The audio was recorded via Zoom, and at times, it can be difficult to understand.  Thanks for your patience.


Cameron Art Museum

Boundless unveiling Nov 13, 2021

Documentary on the Battle of Forks Road

Stephen Hayes Creations

Cameron Art Museum
An early conception of Boundless, created by Artist Stephen Hayes for the Cameron Art Museum