University Heights: African-American and Women’s History in Art!

Great women, American Indians, African-Americans, and Latinos/as—from the Bronx to the national stage—are highlighted in P.S.15’s Hall of Fame Gates.  Taking a tour of the University Heights neighborhood by Fordham Road, bordered to the west by the Harlem River, draws you here.  You’ll find two monumental bronze gates commissioned in the early 1990s by our city’s Percent for Art program.  They were designed by retired Kent State University art professor Brinsley Tyrell and feature thirty-six clearly identified individuals!

Hall of Fame Gate @ PS15

Featuring 18 women (two with Bronx stories), 11 African-Americans (two with Bronx connections), 7 Latinos, 1 Asian-American and 2 American Indians, this modern public art piece can be viewed by anyone from the sidewalk 24/7!  Click on the hyperlinks by each person listed further in this article to learn their bios.  The Hall of Fame Gates was created with a view to updating the concept of the better known and much older Hall of Fame for Great Americans across the street at Bronx Community College (originally New York University Uptown).  Here you will find closer parity between female and male figures, a large number of African-Americans and Latinos and substantial space given to American Indians including Jim Thorpe, Chief Little Turtle and many un-named souls climbing vertical strands on the east side of the street.  Many 20th century icons like choreographer  Martha Graham await your attention.  Brinsley Tyrel was very sensitive to the fact that his pair of gates were part of a school.  He depicts many of the famous and/or noteworthy little known Americans (see them listed below) as they looked in childhood or young adulthood.  That perspective makes the whole composition very accessible and fun!

Chief Little Turtle

This masterpiece consists of two tall gates on opposite sides of Andrews Avenue south of West 183rd Street.  Its four panels feature:

West side of the street/ left gate panel

Margaret Sanger, Nurse/ sex education activist

Gloria Estefan, Singer/ businesswoman

I.M. Pei, Architect

Herman Badillo, Politician

Rachel Carson, Scientist/ author

Colin Powell, Statesman

Tito Puente, Musician/ entrepreneur

Harriett Tubman, Abolition movement leader

Albert Einstein, Scientist/ humanitarian

Florence Sabin, Medical doctor/ pioneer for women in science

 Marian Anderson

West side of the street/ right gate panel

Antonio Novello, Past Surgeon General of the United States

Pearl Buck, Writer/ novelist

Ralph Nader, American progressive

Louise Nevelson, Artist

Jesse Owens, Track and field great

Nate Archibald, Basketball legend

Cesar Chavez, Labor leader/ catholic activist

Chief Little Turtle (first detail photo above), Indigenous leader

Marian Anderson (second detail photo above), Classical singer

Thurgood Marshall, Supreme Court Justice

Mary Bethune, Educator/ civil rights leader

  Roberto Clemente

 East side of the street/ left gate panel

Jim Thorpe, Athlete (Native American)

Eleanor Roosevelt, Humanist

Edward R. Murrow, Journalist/ media critic

Ella Fitzgerald, Singer/ American popular music icon

Faith Ringgold, Fine artist/ folk artist

Amelia Earhart, Aviator/ progenitor of women’s rights

Detail of west gate

East side of the street/ right gate panel

Martin Luther King, Jr., Statesman/ author

John F. Kennedy, Politician

Antonia Pantoja (feature photo at the top), Puerto Rican social worker and visionary

Roberto Clemente (third detail photo above), Baseball great/ humanitarian

Guion S. Bluford, Astronaut (African-American)

Sally K. Ride, First American woman in space

Helen Keller, Blind education pioneer

Jim Henson, Media producer/ children’s education advocate

This information was compiled by Morgan Powell in 2005 and 2006 (photos taken in 2014) including mail and phone interviews with sculptor Brinsley Tyrell (who preferred the original Hall of Fame busts before those older sculptures were polished under CUNY management).  Tyrell purposely left his gates unpolished.  He intended his artworks to oxidize green in the elements to make them easier to maintain.  He related that the process of establishing who would be in the this new Hall of Fame (gates) came out of many meetings with the local community board and through write-in suggestions from others in the Bronx.

E. Gate at P.S. 15
P.S. 15 Hall of Fame Gate on the east side of Andrews Avenue

2 thoughts on “University Heights: African-American and Women’s History in Art!

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