Faculty, staff, press reporters and members of the community gathered on February 1, 2019 to commemorate the 59th Anniversary of the Woolworth’s Sit-in. On a winter day in 1960, four African-American A&T college students took seats at the segregated “Whites Only” lunch counter and would not move. This action sparked national attention as well as other similar sit-ins around the country. Two of the original four were present alongside family members of the other two. The celebration was hosted in front of Barnhill’s “February One” sculpture representing the four man who changed the course of history.
Jim Barnhill looks through archival photos on a workbench: of a 2002 visit on site with many members of the Class of ’53, all in hardhats. Of the foundry in Seagrove. Of the 2003 installation of the statue onto the 10-foot base. He wanted it to be placed tall, in order to inspire – and so students were less likely to try to climb it.
“Poor Mr. McIver over there,” he says, referring to the statue on Jackson lawn. “He’s had all sorts of stuff put on him over the years.” So far, students have mainly just put apples at the Minerva statue, a good luck tradition.
There are lots of memories in those snapshots.
The Class of ’53 commissioned him to sculpt Minerva. Elliott University Center (known earlier as Elliott Hall) was expanding. The statue would anchor the area between the center and College Avenue.
He gave Minerva’s face a stern gaze, feminine with a strong jawline, he says. She is our “alma mater – ‘nourishing mother.’”
The helmet with crest suggests power – and wisdom gives you power, he adds.
“In conceiving Minerva, I was looking for a figure with both movement and, yes, a stillness.”
One foot is off the base, the plinth. “I call it ‘plinthus interruptus.’”
Additionally, the form has a curve, further suggesting movement, with the heel out of the frame.
“The robing was to suggest the flutes of a column.” He used ropes of clay to achieve the ripples in her robing. He notes you can still see the ropes under the tooling marks if you look very closely.
The paneled-looking device on her chest, above the high waistband, is inspired by an approach Michelangelo took on one of his Madonna statues. “I think it worked pretty well.”
The greenish, verdigris patina was of vital importance. “I wanted a crusty, came-from-the-bottom-of-the-Mediterranean-Sea look.” It conveys age and depth, associated with wisdom.
At the Carolina Bronze Sculpture foundry in Seagrove, he worked on the patina himself. He still maintains the patina with cleanings and touch- ups of the statue.
The rise of a sculptor
Jim came to UNCG to study painting as a master’s student. During his first semester he ventured into a sculpture class, and he was hooked.
He had never before sculpted live models. Professor Andy Martin let him finish the painting course doing sculpture. He has never looked back.
Department Head Bert Carpenter had recruited sculptor Peter Agostini from New York City. Jim still marvels at his first visit to campus, into the foundry. “There was Peter Agostini working on something, and he just started talking to us about art, and it was fascinating.”
“He had an international reputation.”
After graduation, Jim was in various locations in the U.S. He returned to teach art in the school system, then at NC A&T. Early commissions included works in Asheville and Birmingham. The large bust of Booker T. Washington at his birthsite. Then the iconic statue of the Greensboro Four on the front lawn of NC A&T. As he worked on that, the Woman’s College/ UNCG Class of ’53 commissioned him to create Minerva at his alma mater. Later, he’d be commissioned by the Bryan Foundation for yet another iconic Greensboro statue, of General Greene on downtown’s Greene Street.
Through this public art, he has shaped how the people of Greensboro see their city, their history – who they are. These statues draw you to them, and reflect something vital.
Artistic legacy in the making
He sometimes stops by to see the Minerva statue, often getting a cone at Yum Yum beforehand.
He is well aware of the new tradition of leaving apples or coins at the base, especially at exam-time.
On a recent visit, a tall student came up and placed an apple in dead center of the base of the statue.
You have a test? Jim asked him. Be sure to study, Jim told the student as he continued to class.
Jim created Minerva in NC A&T’s Harrison Auditorium’s basement, before it was renovated. There was plenty of space to work and view it from different perspectives. Minerva’s gesture was particularly important – he had to get that just right.
The arms were key. The two-part gesture represents the students’ journey, he says. It’s the perfect gesture for an incoming student, a student at exam-time, one who’s graduated, one returning for reunion.
Her left arm reaches out and beckons. It’s an invitation. “It says, ‘Come to me.’”
The other is equally clear, he explains.
“Go. Go out full, complete. Go out ready for the world.”
A tradition for students at UNCG during exam time is to place apples at the base of Barnhill’s Minerva statue for good luck. (UNCG Magazine, Fall 2017)Read More
by YES! Weekly staff
There is a statue over on the campus of NC A&T State University that rightly should be replicated, on a grander scale, in the most prominent spot in Greensboro.
Maybe that’s the intersection of Elm Street and February One Place. Maybe it’s out near Wendover and I-40.
Either way, the magnitude of what the Greensboro Four accomplished in 1960 is impossible to overstate. A documentary made in 2003 dramatizes the events for those of us too young to have lived through them. It should be required viewing in every school in the land.
It’s a testament to what they achieved, in a way, that so many today have no knowledge of the Sit In Movement. It’s what happens when you achieve something so good, so transformative, that in a couple of generations the young people can’t comprehend a time when it was vastly different.
That four young men decided that they would walk in to the Woolworth’s on Elm Street in Greensboro on Feb. 1, 1960 and simply ask to be served at the lunch counter did, in fact, change America. Similar protests spread within days across the state, and across the Deep South within a week. Though the department store owners held firm that winter and into the spring, by late summer they realized that arc of history was bending toward justice.
When you hear someone say that racism is dead and black folk should just get over it, remind them that only 57 years ago this month an African American could work in the kitchen at Woolworth’s, but they couldn’t take a sandwich and a cup of coffee at the lunch counter.
A lot of those people are still alive today, and even more of their descendants have heard the stories and seen the pain in their loved one’s eye as circumstances are described.
Those memories are valid and our common future would benefit if everyone were to acknowledge it. !
YES! WEEKLY chooses to exercise its right to express editorial opinion in our publication. In fact we cherish it, considering opinion to be a vital component of any publication. The viewpoints expressed represent a consensus of the YES! Weekly editorial staff, achieved through much deliberation and consideration .
Greensboro sculptor and North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University art professor, James Barnhill, is the man behind some iconic figures seen throughout the city.Read More
Greensboro News & Record
Thursday, November 17, 2011
WHAT HE DOES
I am a sculptor primarily, although, I do draw and paint. My passion is the figure. I do life figure drawing. I work in clay from the life model usually.
For a lot of my pieces the ultimate ending is in bronze. I work in the clay, and then I take the molds to the foundry, and they coat them in the bronze.Read More
Why is a figurative sculptor showing in Green Hill Center's, "Drawing Revisited" exhibit? It has to do with how Jim Barnhill created this piece, which is different from the process he normally uses.
Tuesday afternoon, the former legendary women's basketball coach of the Wolfpack, Kay Yow, was memorialized for her contributions to the university. To honor Yow, a garden was constructed in between Reynolds Coliseum and the Talley Student Center. This garden was named the Coaches' Corner and in the middle of it, a bronze statue of Yow now stands immortalizing her.
Yow succumbed to her longstanding battle with breast cancer on January 24, 2009. She finished her career with 680 wins at State, five ACC regular season titles, four tournament titles and an Olympic gold medal in 1988.
Before the unveiling of the statue, words were given by chancellor James Woodard and athletic director and younger sister of coach Yow, Debbie Yow. Linda Robuck, a close friend of Yow's, gave the closing remarks.
Tuesday's ceremony was the culmination of Kay Yow's dedication to her family and N.C. State University, according to Debbie Yow.Read More
Cover article, News & Record, Saturday, March 6, 2010
"He's got his game face on," says Jim Barnhill, the N.C. A&T sculptor who created him. "I made him a lean, mean fighting machine."Read More
GREENSBORO — There’ll soon be a new Greene giant downtown: a 10-foot-tall bronze statue of Gen. Nathanael Greene, the Revolutionary War hero and the city’s namesake.
Leaders of the artistic endeavor have tapped the roundabout at Greene and McGee streets for the work to be created by sculptor Jim Barnhill, an associate professor of art at N.C. A&T.
The Joseph M. Bryan Foundation is offering the statue as a gift to the city; organizers plan to unveil it in the spring during Greensboro’s bicentennial celebration.
Barnhill then placed a large brush soaked in the mixture atop the crown of thorns and in places on the figure he had fashioned from a dead pine tree found on his front lawn, letting the paint run as gravity would control it.Read More
By Jeri Rowe
January 30, 2002
Thick-shouldered storm clouds hovered over U.S. 220 when Jim Barnhill pulled his white Chevrolet pickup into Seagrove’s Carolina Foundry. He came for another visit, to see one more time the four bronze figures caught in mid-stride toward making history.
When he turned the corner, two workers were welding the base. Barnhill smiled and stopped, watching the sparks fly. He walked slowly toward the 10-foot sculpture he had carved, looked up and squinted.
Beside his sculpture, he seemed so small.
“I think it’s going to be okay,” said Barnhill, not taking his eyes off the largest sculpture he’s created. “I did get pretty nervous when all of this was coming to a head. I knew everyone was going to see it. You know, I felt naked, exposed, and I kept thinking, ‘Am I worth my salt?”
Barnhill will find out Friday. He’ll say a few words and unveil on the N.C. A&T campus a sculpture that depicts one of the most important moments in American history, especially for African-Americans. His sculpture captures Feb. 1, 1960. It shows four young students from A&T – Ezell Blair, Frank McCain, Joseph McNeil and David Richmond — walking shoulder to shoulder after they staged a sit-in at Woolworth’s, asking to be served, spurning the whites-only, lunch counter etiquette. Their act spurred sit-ins nationwide and became what Martin Luther King Jr. called the “turning point” in the country’s second revolution, the civil rights movement.
A big project. Barnhill, an assistant professor of art at A&T, knew it. A year ago, A&T Chancellor James Renick picked Barnhill to tackle this project after he had seen his work. He told Barnhill, “When I find somebody with talent, I turn them loose on a project.”
Barnhill found an old photograph from the Greensboro Record that showed the four students leaving Woolworth’s Feb. 1, 1960. He blew up portraits of Blair, McCain, McNeil and Richmond from that photograph, laminated them and turned the basement of A&T’s Dudley Building with its 14-foot ceilings into a makeshift studio.
Barnhill created a skeleton from large pipes and wrapped them in construction mesh usually used to make shower enclosures. Then, he bagan coating his pipe-and-mesh contraption with clay. Six thousand pounds of clay. He relied on rakes, paddles and his own cracked, cigar-thick fingers to create what he saw in his head and in the black-and-white photographs.
For five months, Barnhill worked on weekends and between the art classes he taught at A&T. He worked alone, listening only to his own thoughts and the classical music coming from his portable CD player. He held the laminated photos or tacked them to the clay, looking at them constantly and saying to himself, “Is it natural? Is it working? Does the head look like a pinhead?”
Soon the answers came. A&T’s board of trustees liked it. So did Renick. Barnhill, a slender, soft-spoken man of 46, who knew hardly anything about the sit-ins when he started teaching at A&T six years ago, had created an enduring symbol of black freedom.
The obvious irony hardly ever came up. But when it did, like when an A&T official smiled and told him, “You’re white,” Barnhill responded: “This can build bridges. Whether you’re white or black, this is where we need to be.”
Stand back from the sculpture, and you get an idea of Barnhill’s talent. Twenty to 30 plaster molds make up each bronze figure and help complete such telling details as the bag of toothpaste and sundries McCain holds in his left hand.
But stare at Barnhill’s work for awhile, and the impact of the sit-ins sinks in. You see it in the faces of the four students some call the Greensboro Four: the sturdy gaze of Richmond, the dignified elegance of McCain, the youthful innocence of Blair and the nervous tension of McNeil.
It’s an awesome sight, one that should make Greensboro proud.
“I’ll be the first to admit a lot of prayer went into this,” he said. “I often said, ‘Lord, let me get this right,’ because it stood for something so important, just a symbol when our society changed forever.”
You’ve probably seen our cover photograph before.
It was shot Feb. 1, 1960, by Jack Moebes, a photographer for the Greensboro Record and Daily News. He stood on South Elm Street and trained his camera at the four young students from N.C. A&T who spurred the national sit-in movement.
Henry Coble remembers that time. In February 1960, he worked for the Greensboro Daily News. On some late afternoons, he looked out the window and saw the crowd from A&T coming up Friendly Avenue to participate in the sit-ins at the Woolworth’s lunch counter on South Elm Street.
“Here they come,” someone would often say.
“I sometimes get the feeling when I see pieces on television that they have an impression that the sit-in at Woolworth’s was some violent confrontation, and it really wasn’t,” says Coble, now 82, a 45-year veteran of the Daily News who retired in 1985 as the newspaper’s assistant managing editor.
“It was a contest of wills and resolved peacefully, and I think it’s a tribute to the city and the people of Greensboro.”
You’ll get a sense of that on page 18 in Cari Jackson’s story about the future of the Sit-In Museum inside the 51,000-square-foot building where Woolworth’s once operated.
Some call it Greensboro’s “shining star.” Can that happen?
In sculptor James Barnhill's hands, heroes really do stand 10 feet tall.Read More