“The Hand” to return?

PHOTO: “The Hand” at it’s current location in Mt. Vernon Square, Washington, DC. 2014 photo courtesy The Historical Society of Washington, D.C., www.DCHistory.org.

BY AUBURN MANN

Several Takoma citizens met Wednesday, Nov. 18 to discuss restoring “The Hand,” a sculpture commemorative of the mid 20th century civil rights movement, to the neighborhood bordering Maryland and Northwest, Washington.

“The Hand” was created by the late Jim Fauntleroy in 1968 to be a part of a series of pieces used to symbolize the Southern Christian Leadership Conference’s Poor People’s Campaign. According to the Historical Society of Washington, “The Hand,” a brown metal sculpture, measures 12 feet by 5 feet. It was built with the index finger protruding out, pointing. The sculpture was originally intended to be placed in context with related mural panels to represent the struggles of African American’s. “The Hand” was meant to be pointing symbolically towards the Capitol on the National Mall during one of the campaign’s many Resurrection City encampments around the country.

“It’s provides a perfect symbolic snapshot of the struggles of the Civil Rights movement and Poor Peoples Campaigns of the 1960s,” said Dan Turbitt, the project coordinator and the host of the meeting.

However, due to the demolition of the encampment, the sculpture never made it to the Mall. It eventually was housed at SCLC associate Vincent Deforest’s Takoma, D.C. residence where it remained for decades. “I was trying to save as [many] artifacts as I could from the campaign, just in case an exhibit of the movement was one day created,” said Deforest. Some of these other items have included SCLC newspaper clippings, buttons, records, photos and other miniature monuments such as the 32-foot long hunger wall that Deforest has already donated to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. “My background is in history and preservation; I felt the Poor People’s Campaign is historically important,” said Deforest. “It’s not really about the hand, but what is behind it.”

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“The Hand” in Takoma DC circa 2008, prior to it’s current installation. Photo by Julie Wiatt.

Takoma Park has historically been at the forefront of many progressive trends, including equality. In 1958, Neighbors INC. was founded to counteract discriminatory housing policies prevalent in the immediate years prior to and following integration. This established the tolerant climate that enables modern Takoma Park’s diversity. “Takoma Park is the perfect setting for it, it’s an area that’s sacred in many respects and mirrors what the movement was all about,” said Deforest.

In 2008 the sculpture was transported to its current location at The Carnegie Library in Mt. Vernon Square. It was here one of the leaders in this endeavor Faith Wheeler, the Chair of Infrastructure and Transportation Committee of the Advisory Neighborhood Commission 4B, came across it and soon after began to plot a way to get “The Hand” back to Takoma. “’The Hand’ was here for many years and naturally fits in with the prevailing philosophy of many living in harmony,” said Wheeler. She gathered people from who were involved or influential in the local art scene.

According to landscape architect Tanya Topolewski, who is managing the design process for the sculpture’s relocation, “The Hand” will be installed on an elevated panel at the intersection of Blair, Cedar and Fourth Streets, NW, adjacent to Triangle Park. Topolewski, who also contributed to the concept design of the recently (as of 2012) refurbished Triangle Park, said that “The Hand” is now meant to be an extension of the renovation of the park, placed at a cohesive location for the Takoma community.”

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The November 18 citizen’s meeting. Photo by Auburn Mann.

Urban design architect for the National Capital Planning Commission and lifetime Washingtonian David Hamilton explains how “The Hand” provides an aesthetic addition to the neighborhood, fitting right in with some of the other signature neighborhood artwork. “It can become another landmark for Takoma, like the Metro station’s clock tower and the Sam Gilliam murals – the equivalent of “The Chair” in Anacostia,” said Hamilton.

Currently, the project has garnered interest and potential support from several organizations and agencies, including the District of Columbia’s Commission for Arts and Humanities (DCCAH), the Washington Historical Society and Historic Takoma. “Where and when we go from here depends on how fast we can identify financial support,” said Wheeler.

Turbitt states the goal is to raise approximately $100,000 dollars in the total funding of the restorative and relocating efforts.

“There are two scenarios that would produce two different timelines. If we try to get the piece approved as a Public Art Building Communities Grant, it would cover funding for everything by fiscal 2017. If we pursue the Special Arts Initiative Grant our proposal would need to be completed and ready to present to the DCCAH by March of 2016,” said Turbitt.

Prior to this they need the approval of the aforementioned agency, “I would describe our status as more so a yellow light, rather than green. They are not guaranteeing anything, but it is still an early positive sign that they deem us worthy of supporting,” said Turbitt.