The Riverfront Wilmington Sculpture Committee commissioned Mario Chiodo, a California-based artist to create a monument for the Tubman-Garrett Riverfront Park. Founder of Illusive Concepts, Chiodo began his career crafting Halloween masks and props including Star Wars movie collectibles. In 1997, he established Chiodo Art in order to focus on fine art production including memorial design and portraiture. Chiodo cites Italian Renaissance sculptor and painter Michelangelo (1475-1564) and French modern sculptor Auguste Rodin (1840-1917) as influential on his style. He is particularly entranced with Michelangelo’s Pietà, located in St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City, and Four Prisoners or Slaves at the Galleria dell’Accademia in Florence. Chiodo admires the way in which Michelangelo conveyed “the dynamic gesture and depth of emotion possible in sculpture.”
At the time of the Wilmington commission, Chiodo was envisioning a series of monumental portraits for his Remember Them: Champions of Humanity monument. Located in the Henry J. Kaiser Memorial Park in Oakland, California, the 25 feet high by 52 feet long sculpture depicts twenty-five civil rights activists, including Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, Chief Joseph, Mother Teresa, Thich Nhat Hahn, Rosa Parks, and Nelson Mandela. The portraits reveal Chiodo’s ability to sculpt a range of races and ethnicities with sensitivity, something with which the committee was deeply concerned.
After being chosen as the finalist for the commission and submitting a model, Chiodo recalls that the city “enthusiastically accepted the design with no changes.” The artist’s design focused on Harriet Tubman, Thomas Garrett, and two freedom seekers. Chiodo writes that the monument “embodies the perseverance and sacrifice of Harriet Tubman and those who assisted her in leading enslaved African Americans out of the South, a dangerous, clandestine operation known as the Underground Railroad.”
“Unwavering Courage in the Pursuit of Freedom,” CODA: Collaboration of Design + Art, accessed August 7, 2018, https://www.codaworx.com/project/unwavering-courage-in-the-pursuit-of-freedom-mayor-s-cultural-affairs-office.