A bronze bust of the late California political icon, the Honorable Mervyn M. Dymally was unveiled at the Mervyn M. Dymally School of Nursing on the Charles R. Drew University campus on Thursday, February 27. The project was ten years in the making and is the work of renowned portrait sculptor Nijel Binns.
Binns, a local resident of Southern California has been working as an artist for 30 years and is best known for his monumental 16 foot bronze “Mother of Humanity” sculpture of an African woman standing on the globe of the world and holding a feather of peace. As one of the largest bronze sculptures in Los Angeles, the Mother of Humanity, located at the Watts Labor Community Action Committee in Watts, was designed to uplift mothers, women and girls of the world and reminds us of the loving kindness of all mothers. The sculpture was unveiled on Mother’s Day, May 11, 1996.
The Mervyn M. Dymally bust represents the latest in a long line of sculptural works by the English born artist that pays tribute to local and international public figures. Other works from the artist’s Nijart International Studios include the Nate Holden bronze sculpture for the Nate Holden Performing Arts Center in Los Angeles, the John W. Mack bas relief for the John W. Mack Elementary School, the Shirley Temple monument for 20th Century Fox, life sized portrait busts of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mohandas K. Gandhi for WLCAC, along with many others.
The inspiration for a portrait bust of the distinguished lawmaker took hold in April 2005 when the artist met Dymally at the unveiling of his John W. Mack bronze monument for the Los Angeles Urban League Headquarters. The idea of a portrait bust was suggested at that meeting. Soon after that unveiling, Nijel was commissioned for another project so the bust for Dymally was put on hold. With his passing in 2012, Binns revisited the project and contacted Dr. Kenneth Orduna, Dymally’s longtime Chief of Staff. That meeting subsequently led to a meeting with Dymally’s wife, Alice Dymally, and the project officially got underway.
With Binns representing one of a very few African American sculptors, and possibly the greatest portrait sculptor in the African American community, Binn’s process for creating true to life representations in bronze is a lengthy one. A subject, once selected, must be thoroughly researched. In the case of Dymally, books, video, and still photographs provided the materials that the artist used to explore the essential qualities that he represented. Among the most important source of research materials was Dymally’s autobiography “From Island Immigrant to US Congress: An American Success Story”.
“It was only after reading this book”, says the artist, “that I truly understood the impact and essence of this great statesman. It was a privilege to be a part of this tribute to an exceptional man who truly made a difference in the community, and the nation,” said Binns . In most cases, weeks can be spent studying photographs alone before the artist even touches one piece of clay. When he is ready to begin, Binns creates the clay model and refines it to perfection. Next, the artist will create a mold of his original sculpture, make a wax copy from the mold and send that to a foundry. There, a process called the “lost wax process” which was developed in Africa thousands of years ago, will be used to transform the wax into bronze. Once the bronze has been cast, the next step is to color, or patina the bronze by applying a specially formulated acid to the hot metal. Afterwards, the base will be designed and the statue installed. The entire process can take a few months to complete but a finished bronze sculpture can last over a thousand years.
In the case of the Mervyn M. Dymally monument, Binns created a six inch portrait sculpture of Dymally and invited Orduna and Mrs. Dymally to review the finished product. Her reaction upon seeing the completed work was that it was “a magnificent sculpture of my husband. I am very, very pleased and looking forward to the life-sized sculpture”. Orduna remarked that “At the viewing we were both amazed and very pleased with the precision and detail of Mr. Binns’ work and how he captured the features of the Congressman”.
With the six inch portrait completed, the artist had the sculpture digitized and enlarged, preserving every detail. With the production of the finished bronze monument, the site for it was selected to be the Mervyn M. Dymally School of Nursing. David M. Carlisle, president and CEO of the Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science said, “The life-sized monument will help the University and the South Los Angeles community, more generally continue to honor Dr. Dymally’s legacy to champion education and health care access.” An invitation went out to the friends and supporters of Dymally to help fund the project. Ten donors responded and through the purchase of 10 limited edition bronze statues of Dymally, the Mervyn M. Dymally Memorial Fund raised the $60,000 needed to create the monument.
The Mervyn M. Dymally monument represents the latest work from the sculptor in what he calls a persistence of vision. “All of our esteemed leaders,” said Binns, “had a persistence of vision that enabled them to be of great service to our society over a long and extended period of time. That persistence of vision carries over into my work as a sculptor which I hope will preserve their legacies in bronze for generations to come”.