Picture yourself on a crisp spring day, walking by the Hudson River in Yonkers, New York. You hear the sound of flowing water and birds chirping. Luscious green trees and bushes line the path that you are walking. You are surrounded by towering bronze sculptures, each with their own unique personality. These elements of nature and art come together to tell the story of the city’s past.
This is exactly the experience that Vinnie Bagwell is creating through her “The Enslaved Africans’ Rain Garden” initiative. What exactly is a rain garden? A rain garden is a planted depression that allows the surrounding greenery to be watered using rainwater run-off. Having this in place in the city of Yonkers will save water sources and reduce pollution in the area.
Not only is she helping the natural beauty of Yonkers prosper, but she is sharing its rich history through the personalities of her sculptures. Bagwell will be focusing on the enslaved Africans who once lived at the Philipse Manor Hall, a popular slave-owning household in Yonkers during the 1680s and 1690s. Six of the slaves that lived here were the first to be freed from slavery, exactly 76 years before the Emancipation Proclamation.
Bagwell aims to create a life-size sculpture like this one to be the main focal point of the garden. She says, “The strongest aspect of the Enslaved Africans’ Rain Garden Project is that its underlying values and goals begin to address the righting of this wrong by giving voice to the previously unheard via accessible public art…”. Bagwell wants everyone to experience the emotions that these slaves felt by looking at the expressions on her sculptures’ faces. Yonkers must finally hear what the people of its past have to say.
When asked why she feels so powerfully about this project she says, “Despite the hardship and injustices of slavery, the enslaved people of African descent made important contributions to our cultural and intellectual life, and their experience is among the richest of legacies. Yet, there is no permanent, public, interpretive recognition of them”. Bagwell is trying to do exactly this. She wants to open Yonkers and the rest of New York up to the deep history that it holds but has forgotten. She is expressing this message in the most beautiful and powerful way she knows; through sculpture.