Committee choses sculptor for Johns statue

Published 3:11 pm Friday, January 6, 2023

Following a lengthy national search, the planned Barbara Johns art project has a sculptor in place. On Wednesday, Jan. 4, the Commission for Historical Statues in the United States Capitol today announced that Maryland sculptor Steven Weitzman of Weitzman Studios has been chosen. The bronze statue will be installed as one of Virginia’s two contributions to the Statuary Hall Collection at the United States Capitol.

Virginia State Senator and Commission member Louise Lucas acknowledged that Weitzman was the unanimous choice. 

“His obvious passion for this project and his articulation of Barbara John’s legacy evoked an emotional response from the Commission,” Lucas said. “After his moving presentation, the decision to offer this commission to Weitzman was quickly and easily reached.”

Most of Wednesday’s commission meeting was devoted to a discussion of the design concept for the bronze sculpture. It will depict Johns at age 16 when, in 1951, she led a student strike for equal education at R.R. Moton High School in Farmville. Weitzman’s proposed concept shows Johns on the school stage, standing beside a lectern. The spines of books can be seen beneath the wood floorboards and Johns is holding a book in her uplifted hand. 

The design will be slightly modified in response to comments offered by the Commission as well as members of the Johns family who were in attendance and will remain engaged throughout the design process. Once a design has been approved by the Commission, it will be submitted to the Architect of the Capitol and the Joint Committee on Libraries for final approval.

More about Weitzman

Weitzman, who is known for his bronze sculptures, has received several prestigious commissions, including a bronze sculpture of Frederick Douglass that was permanently installed in the United States Capitol. Another DC example of Weitzman’s work is his heroic-sized bronze sculpture commemorating the life and work of DC Mayor Marion S. Barry Jr. which is permanently installed outside of the John A. Wilson building on Pennsylvania Avenue. 

“Barbara Rose Johns led an extraordinary act of nonviolent civil disobedience which helped to ignite the American Civil Rights Movement,” Weitzman said. “As was the case for numerous Black youths of the Jim Crow era, this brave young woman has not been celebrated in the great halls of America until now.”