Michael Richards (sculptor)

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Michael Richards
Tar Baby vs St Sebastian by Michael Richards.jpg
Tar Baby vs St Sebastian by Michael Richards
Michael Rolando Richards

(1963-08-02)August 2, 1963
DiedSeptember 11, 2001(2001-09-11) (aged 38)
New York City, New York
Alma materMFA New York University,
BFA Queens College

Michael Rolando Richards (August 2, 1963 – September 11, 2001) was an African American sculptor of Jamaican and Costa Rican ancestry who was killed on Sept. 11, 2001 during the World Trade Center attack while in his art studio on the 92nd Floor of the World Trade Center's North Tower. He explored his African American history and identity through sculpture, conceptual art, and installation pieces. Deeply influenced by the Black Arts Movement of the 1970s, Richards delved into African American history and folklore for the images that would expose the contradictions of American society. Michael Richards worked primarily in bronze.[1]

Early life[edit]

Michael Rolando Richards was born in Brooklyn, New York, and raised in Kingston, Jamaica. He graduated with honors from Excelsior High School and then went on to receive a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Queens College and a Master of Arts from New York University.[2]


He was an artist-in-residence at the Studio Museum in Harlem in 1996 and showed his work there in "Passages" in 1999.[3] Michael Richards had received several fellowships during his lifetime. In 2000, he received the Franconia Sculpture Park/Jerome Fellowship in 2000. It was during this time that he created the "Are You Still Down" piece that is now displayed in the park. He was also a recipient of a studio residency from the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council. This fellowship is what provided him with the "Studio in the Sky" in the World Trade Center.[2]

His first work, entitled Are You Down and is located in Franconia, MN at Franconia Sculpture Park. Franconia Sculpture Park is an innovative community arts organization that provides residence and work space to emerging and established artists. Are You Down featured three sculptures of Tuskegee Airmen and is best described by Glenn Gordon, "…a tableau of three nearly life-sized human figures. Three parachutists fallen from the sky, they sit disconsolate on the ground in what appear (once the snow has melted to reveal them) to be puddles of tar. Backs turned to one another, the figures form a triangle about twelve feet on a side. Within the triangle is a large bulls-eye flat on the ground, the target where the men had aimed to land. Their heads clad in close-fitting leather aviator helmets, their shirts torn from the drop, the figures represent three downed aviators from the storied, all-black Tuskegee Airmen's Squadron of the Second World War, men whose images Richards (using himself as his model) returned to in his work obsessively, again and again. They speak not so much of the exhilaration of flight as of dreams of freedom crashed to Earth."[2] Currently, there are plans to have this sculpture cast in bronze, so that it may be a permanent part of Franconia Sculpture Park and serve as a memorial to the legacy of Michael Richards. This would make it the only permanent sculpture in the park.[2]

Richards' 1999 sculpture Tar Baby vs. St. Sebastian, featured a Tuskegee Airman portrayed as St. Sebastian and was a part of his "Tuskegee Airmen Collection" that he spent over 10 years creating. St. Sebastian was an early Christian martyr and the patron saint of soldiers and athletes because of his physical endurance. St. Sebastian was killed for protecting captured Christians he was supposed to imprison. St. Sebastian was executed by being shot full of arrows. However, in this sculpture it was a Tuskegee Airman who was being pierced by multiple airplanes. Tar Baby vs. St. Sebastian measures 7 feet tall and is made out of resin and steel. Michael Richards actually cast his own body in plastic resin to create this sculpture and others.[2] Tar Baby vs. St. Sebastian is currently located at the North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh, NC and was initially presented in the prestigious "Passages: Contemporary Art in Transition" by Deidre Scott. It was this work that led to Michael Richards being considered the "…most prolific artist to come through The Studio Museum A-I-R program…" by Franklin Sirmans.


  1. ^ Vallen, Mark (2001). "Gone But Note Forgotten - (Michael Richards - 1963 - 2001)". Art for a Change. Retrieved February 25, 2018.
  2. ^ a b c d e "The Sculpture of Michael Rolando Richards". Black Art Depot Today. 2010-09-15. Retrieved 2017-10-01.
  3. ^ Staff report (September 25, 2001). Artnet News Artnet

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