New York City-based artist Ruth Inge Hardison — best known for a series of sculpted portraits titled “Negro Giants in History” — died at age 102 years early Thursday morning.
The artist lived during the most intense moments of the Civil Rights movement, Jim Crow and segregation in the country. She was a sculptor, poet, actress and photographer who spent her whole life documenting the richness of Black people with her work.
“She was a renaissance woman, a force to be reckoned with,” said Hardison’s daughter, Yolande, 62 to the New York Daily News, “She inspired a lot of people, and worked with a lot of people.”
Born in Portsmouth, Virginia in 1914, she moved to Brooklyn to pursue a career in theater and make it as an actress. This move came during the Great Migration, when African-Americans began moving to northern industrialized cities to escape rampant racism in the South.
However, many people like Hardison still experienced racism in the north. She was active in the Civil Rights Movement by turning her passion for acting and theater into sculpting beautiful busts of Black stalwarts.
In the 1960s, Hardison created a series of bronze busts featuring the likenesses of inventor Benjamin Banneker, heart surgeon Charles Drew, inventor Lewis Latimer, and inventor Garrett Morgan. She has immortalized some of the greatest figures in American and African-American history in a series called “Negro Giants in History.”
This series has been considered the artist’s magnum opus. Here are some of her amazing pieces:
Norbert Rillieux (March 17, 1806 – Oct. 8, 1894)
Rillieux was an inventor and engineer who refined the way sugar was processed.
Matthew A. Henson (Aug. 8, 1866 – March 9, 1955)
Henson was the first Black explorer to step foot on Antarctica.
Lewis Latimer (Sept. 4, 1848- Dec. 11, 1928)
Latimer was an inventor who worked on making carbon filaments for the Maxim electric incandescent lamp and improving the elevator.
Garrett A. Morgan ( March 4, 1877 – Aug. 27, 1963)
Morgan was an inventor and businessman famous for inventing the modern-day traffic light and fine-tuning the gas mask.
Hardison’s work has been received by foreign and domestic dignitaries. In 1990, her 2-foot statue of Sojourner Truth was presented by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo to South Africa freedom fighter and former President Nelson Mandela on behalf of the people of New York State.
Funeral services will be held at 3 p.m. Saturday in Harlem.