Atop a four-feet-high brick wall in Federal Hill’s Robert Baker Park sits In the Garden by Sam Christian Holmes. The artist and educator at Morgan State University and the Maryland Institute College of Art created the sculpture this past year for the Federal Hill Neighborhood Association. The association received a 2017 Transformative Art Prize from Baltimore Office of Promotion & The Arts. The 14 feet-tall and 20-feet-wide sculpture illustrates woman and man’s union in the Garden of Eden, with a nod to blacksmithing traditions associated with the African diaspora.
Sam Christian Holmes: I mostly work in welded steel. Certainly I’ve added some additional media to my work, primarily printmaking and ceramics.
BOPA: What is the style of your recent work, In the Garden? How did you choose it?
Holmes: In the Garden continues a consistent theme in my work that utilizes the form of a gate or iron fence. Not in the traditional sense of a gate as barrier, but using the language of the gate to tell a lyrical story.
BOPA: How did you approach this public art project?
Holmes: I thought it was important to develop a symbiosis of strengths of both the community and myself. After meeting on several occasions, the obvious thing drawing us together was the park’s role as a garden. I was taken by their ownership of the park as a creative space. The garden park is a year-round activated environment and a rallying space. The community wanted the garden to serve as a place for contemplation. Contemplation as a component of my sculptures has been a consistent theme. The woman and male figure in a garden is an obvious connection to make. However I wanted it to be a universal theme and not directly tied to any allegorical referencing. The visual language of my work draws from the cosmographical marks of the African diaspora. I liken the female figure to a mermaid queen and the male to an astral traveling king, set in a futuristic star map.
BOPA: Does your artwork respond to the history of an area or a neighborhood? If so, how?
Holmes: The work is always tied to place. In this case the proximity to water played an important role.
BOPA: Tell us about your other recent artistic projects.
Holmes: I am currently working on a sculpture for the Purple Line Metro project in Montgomery County. It is a related work that carries additional references to the subject of the mermaid.
BOPA: Does arts education inform your practice? How has it shaped how you teach as well as learn?
Holmes: As an educator I’ve been serving in the pedagogical role of artist-in-residence for a Masters in Community Arts program. It’s a grand opportunity to practice what I preach.
BOPA: You were recently appointed to the Baltimore Public Art Commission. What are you most anticipating in this new role?
Holmes: I see this new position as an opportunity to give back and help develop and increase the presence of public arts in Baltimore.
BOPA: Where can people find out more about you?