A Column for Sally Hemings 2019
Cast iron, painted tulip poplar
80 × 15¾ × 15¾ inches; 203 × 40 × 40 cm

Martin Puryear conceived A Column for Sally Hemings for his exhibition in the United States Pavilion at the 58th Venice Biennale. Its fluted base echoes the Doric columns at the entry of the neoclassical building, which was directly modeled on Thomas Jefferson’s Virginia home, Monticello. As the title suggests, this work is dedicated to Sally Hemings, a woman enslaved on Jefferson's estate and the mother of six of his children. A shackled cast-iron stake appears to have been rammed into the top of the column, drawing the flutes down with it and disrupting the column’s classical perfection. This form has been a recurring motif in recent sculptures by Puryear, including Shackled (2014) and Big Bling (2016).

“A Column for Sally Hemings speaks multiple historical languages. There is that of the streaming robes that fluted columns originally meant to evoke — being, as they are, proxies for the bodies of women positioned to hold everything up, and to be seen doing this and nothing but. And there are the many languages of iron, from the colonial to the quotidian. For the black part, tightly fitted to the white, could be said to intervene upon the latter.”

—Darby English, 2019

A Column for Sally Hemings in progress at
the artist’s studio, 2018

<p><em>A Column for Sally Hemings</em> in the US Pavilion at the Venice Biennale, 2019</p>

A Column for Sally Hemings in the US Pavilion at the Venice Biennale, 2019

<p><em>Shackled</em> 2014<br />Private collection</p>

Shackled 2014
Private collection

<p><em>Big Bling</em> 2016<br />Installation view in<br />Madison Square Park,<br />New York</p>

Big Bling 2016
Installation view in
Madison Square Park,
New York