Leaving a Legacy

Hamilton's sculptures inspire,
bring historical people to life

His own journey took a turn when he met Barney Bright

Don Ward

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (July 2015) – At age 68, Ed Hamilton has left his mark on the art world through his many sculptures and bas-reliefs – especially in his native Louisville.
Take a walk along the waterfront downtown and you will find his eight-foot-tall statue of York, a slave of explorer William Clark that was dedicated in 2003 at the Belvedere. The York Memorial was part of the Bicentennial celebration of the Lewis & Clark Expedition, the Corps of Discovery.

Ed Hamilton Major Public Works

• 2014: Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, 25th & Jefferson Ave., Newport News, Va.

• 2012:
Abraham Lincoln statue, Centre College, Danville, Ky.

• 2009: Abraham Lincoln, Waterfront Park, Louisville, Ky.

• 2004: Migration to the West, Frazier Museum, Louisville, Ky.

• 2003:
York, the slave, Riverfront Plaza-Belvedere,
Louisville, Ky.

• 1998:
The Spirit of Freedom (African-American Civil War Memorial), 10th & U Streets NW, Washington, D.C.

• 1992: La Amistad Memorial, City Hall, New Haven, Conn.

• 1987: Joe Louis, Cobo Center, Detroit

• 1984: Booker T. Washington, Hampton University, Hampton, Va.

• To learn more about sculptor Ed Hamilton, visit his website: www.EdHamiltonWorks.com.


Walk a little farther east through Waterfront Park and you will come across the elaborate Abraham Lincoln Memorial, dedicated in 2009. The 12-foot scale bronze of Lincoln also features four bas-relief plaques, each telling a different story of this nation’s struggles for freedom.
Inside the nearby Frazier Museum stands a life-size frontier family sculpture titled “Migration to the West” that was established in 2004. Hamilton also has created a bronze plaque of Owsley Brown Frazier, founder and namesake for the Frazier Museum. In 2008, Hamilton was commissioned to create a Christmas tree ornament for Mrs. Laura Bush’s Christmas Tree at the White House. He was honored by Congressman John Yarmouth of Louisville to represent the third District at the White House.
As a result of his talent and these works, Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer tapped Hamilton in 2010 to serve on the city’s newly established Commission on Public Art committee. Its goal is “to oversee the implementation and evolution of the 2009 Louisville Public Art Master Plan – essentially to evaluate and select proposals from artists for various new art installments around the city.”
The Master Plan is described as “a model in which civic and cultural leaders, city planners and developers, and art professionals come together to advance the importance of public art in the city’s artistic, intellectual and economic life.”
Fischer takes every opportunity to praise the talents of Hamilton and personally led the dedication ceremony in 2009 to dedicate the Lincoln Memorial at Waterfront Park.
“Ed is just an amazing, creative genius who has brought our city’s roots and history to life as no one else has done,” said Fischer in a statement. “From the York and Lincoln sculptures along the waterfront to the series of civil rights markers downtown to the Migration to the West artwork at the Frazier Museum, Ed has provided thoughtful and compassionate insights into our African-American legacy and history that are viewed by hundreds of thousands of citizens and visitors each year.
“Beyond the impact he has had with his creative hands and mind, Ed also works behind the scenes to add to our community’s treasure of public art through his leadership on the Commission on Public Art which works to place quality and creative artwork in public venues throughout the community.”
Lofty praise for a man who not only grew up in Louisville and makes it his home, but continues to promote his roots wherever his art work takes him. And in recent years, that road has led to him establishing sculptures in many cities, including Washington, D.C., Detroit, Newport News, Va., Hampton, Va., and New Haven, Conn.

Photo by Don Ward

Ed Hamilton’s art studio in Louisville, Ky., is cluttered with dozens of conceptual drawings and clay models of past and would-be sculptures.

Hamilton was born in 1947 in Cincinnati but grew up in Louisville, graduating in 1965 from Shawnee High School. He also earned a degree at the Louisville School of Art in 1969. While attending the University of Louisville and Spalding College in the early 1970s, he met the late sculptor Barney Bright. It was a meeting that would change his life.
The two began a lasting relationship that led to Hamilton becoming an apprentice to Bright.
While building his art career, Hamilton continued to teach at colleges and workshops, and give lectures for public schools, college and conferences. He has taught at the high school level and at Jefferson Community College and even today continues to teach and inspire other artists and would-be artists by opening his studio at 543 S. Shelby St. for tours.
Over time, Hamilton’s fame as a sculptor enabled him to eventually retire from teaching at colleges and focus entirely on his sculpting. Nevertheless, he spent a semester in 2012 as a visiting art professor at U of L.
He opened his first studio at his house in 1975-76, then moved to a location on Main Street for a short time. He moved into his current studio in 1978. It is there he continues to conceptualize and create his projects, beginning with drawings, then small clay models and finally to full-size sculptures that are then sent to a foundry in Baltimore to be cast in bronze. Hamilton uses a Louisville molding company to create the supporting bases for his artworks.
In May 2000 he was given a Doctor of Humane Letters degree from Spalding University. He has created and received numerous awards and honorary titles, and he frequently is asked to speak at commencements and conferences. In 2004, he received an Honorary Doctor of Arts Degree from Western Kentucky University, where he also gave the commencement address.
Hamilton and Bernadette, his wife of 38 years, have one son, Edward, who resides in Orlando, Fla., and one daughter, Kendra Jenelle, a graduate of Kentucky State University. Bernadette is a U of L graduate who is director of Options, Magnet and Advance Programs for the Jefferson County Public School System.
In February 2006, Hamilton published the first of two books, “The Birth of an Artist, a Journey of Discovery.” It outlines his journey from growing up in Louisville, becoming a sculptor and the secret that changed his life forever.
In June 2009, he published “Creating the Lincoln Memorial at Waterfront Park.” It outlines the creative process of the heroic scale Lincoln and the four bas-reliefs that tell the story of our 16th president.
Near the end of his biography book, Hamilton writes that “If I had the chance, I wouldn’t change anything. The stars were aligned for this young boy to do the things that he is doing and has done. I believe it was my destiny…”
He credits Bright for giving him the opportunity that changed his life, steering him on a path to greatness as a sculptor.

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