The sculpture aims to capture the history of slavery

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BALTIMORE – At Baltimore’s historic Lexington Market, an enslaved man named Robert once sold butter to local customers.

Robert, who had no recorded last name, is one of two motifs at the heart of Robert and Rosetta, a sculpture designed by artist Oletha DeVane, 70, and her son Christopher Kojzar, 40.

The sculpture, crafted from steel and stainless steel by blacksmith Nicholas Ireys at his shop about a mile from Lexington Market, captures the history of slavery at the market while reflecting the decorative ironwork scattered throughout Baltimore. It will be installed in the plaza of the newly opened Lexington Market in the BROMO Arts District.

DeVane, who lived in Baltimore until she was 13 and now resides in Ellicott City, said she’s interested in the Robert and Rosetta stories because she enjoys looking at “where the African-American presence is and has been, and especially during.” this time. ” The origins of Lexington Market can be traced back to 1782.

Dean Krimmel, a public historian and museum consultant from Baltimore, worked on the restoration project and provided DeVane and Kojzar with documentation on Robert and Rosetta.

Krimmel said former Maryland Governor George Howard enslaved Robert and sent him to sell butter in the market before Robert later escaped.

Krimmel gathered the information about Robert from a runaway notice that appeared at least five times in July 1833 in the Baltimore American & Commercial Daily Advertiser. A $50 reward has been offered for Robert’s capture.

Rosetta was an enslaved girl with no recorded surname who was auctioned off at the market. The advertisement for their sale was published in The Baltimore Sun in March 1838.

The readouts, the only information available about Robert and Rosetta, are engraved on granite slabs as part of the sculpture.

“It’s really just to reflect on where we’ve been, where we’re from,” Devane said. “It was very important for me to kind of explore these two people who were ordinary people who were trying to … live their lives in some way within the construct of this social system.”

The Robert and Rosetta panels are attached to light posts with a “pretty delicate” design at the top, which DeVane says represents growth and change. The posts form an archway that allows visitors to pass through the space after encountering the flagstone markings.

DeVane and Kojzar hired Ireys to do the metalwork for the project because they wanted a “more historic” and “timeless” feel, Ireys said.

“Although I’m not one of the lead designers, I was able to put a lot of myself into this piece, which has been a very rewarding process for me,” Ireys said.

Kojzar said everyday people’s appreciation of Black history is a common thread running through his work and that of his mother. Kojzar is currently a fellow and teaches at the University of Vermont.

Earlier this year, DeVane produced a sculpture for the McDonogh School at Owings Mills as part of a larger tribute to the 200 men, women and children enslaved by the school’s founder, John McDonogh, at the time of his death in 1850. DeVane used to study at McDonogh.

Kojzar said that as part of the McDonogh play, DeVane had to create images of people that “represented something so much bigger than the brief narrative that was being presented about their lives.”

The same goes for Robert and Rosetta, he said.

Katie Marshall with Lexington Market developer Seawall led the public art component of the market’s redevelopment. She said traders, customers and community members asked about links between the market and slavery.

“I think[their]piece is a beautiful tribute to both of these individuals, as well as an appreciation of all the different ways that enslaved individuals interacted with the market and with Baltimore City as a whole,” Marshall said.

Ireys said it’s rare for an organization to be so open about its “very checkered past.”

“I’ve never worked on a project that so directly represented difficult social issues that were directly related to the organization that paid for the play,” Ireys said.

DeVane has loved art ever since she watched her father paint in the dining room. A graduate of the Maryland Institute College of Art and the University of Massachusetts, she is a multidisciplinary artist whose exhibits have been featured in museums such as the Reginald F. Lewis Museum in Baltimore and the Art Museum of the Americas and the now-defunct Corcoran Gallery of Art in DC She was previously the program director of the Maryland State Arts Council’s Individual Artists and Visual Arts programs.

DeVane’s work from the 1980s through 2022 is currently on display at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County’s Center for Art, Design and Visual Culture. The Oletha DeVane: Spectrum of Light and Spirit exhibit features paintings, works on paper, videos, and interactive sculptures, including a piece that visitors can add beads to.

In addition to Robert and Rosetta, the new market will feature Food Play by artists Ireys, Reed Bmore and Eric Smith, and Corned Beef and Flavored Water by SHAN Wallace. Four 16-foot murals lining the new plaza were designed by Ernest Shaw, Jr., who has painted a number of murals throughout Baltimore.

“(Oletha DeVane) is such an incredibly important and respected artist in the Baltimore community, the Baltimore arts community and beyond,” Marshall said. “It just felt right to have her as one of the main artists working on pieces for the new market.”

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