Artwork Blog Post 3

Blog Post 3

American Inspired Artwork

Ladder for Booker T. Washington 1996

Ladder for Booker T. Washington was a piece of artwork that immediately drew me in when I saw it. I could only imagine the million different reasons someone could interpret the never ending ladder. The piece was constructed by American Martin Puryear born in 1941 and a master woodworker who studied carpentry. It was constructed out of maple and ash wood and is from a golden ash sapling that once grew on Puryear’s upstate New York property. The ladder’s rungs are created larger in the middle to show the wood’s cycle of growth and change. He was able to create an extreme sense of height with designing the rungs starting with 11 ¾ inches wide at the bottom and ending at 1 ¼ inch at the very top. This exhibit is 36 feet tall and has the illusion of floating in thin air. The ladder seems to disappear into the sky as you look at it from bottom to top. I see the curvature of the ladder to represent the challenging task it will be along the way. The frailty of the wood tells me this trip to the top will be unsteady. Just as in the life story of Booker T. Washington this ladder symbolizes his journey.


This piece along with others Puryear created was one of the works inspired from American history. Booker T. Washington was one of the most influential but controversial African American leaders in history. He was born in 1856 and when he was only 25 became founder and president of Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. He believed in growth and racial advancement through education instead of political endeavors. This decision was highly securitized by many other African Americans including W.E.B. Dubois, an American author and civil rights activist.


The title of the Ladder was given the name after Puryear finished the artwork. The relevance of ladders incorporates ambition, transcendence, danger, faith and salvation which are all part of this leader’s life. The title in the autobiography “Up from Slavery” is a metaphor that insinuates a rise of building up from slavery. He states in his story “the greatest danger in the greatest leap from slavery to freedom” is that they may overlook the importance of labor. He was a man of great integrity and believed in pride in all work no matter what job you have.

The song “We are Climbing Jacob’s Ladder” was one of Washington’s most loved and it was sung by the Freedom Marchers from Selma to Birmingham. The journey to Birmingham was one of the many uphill battles for African Americans and they will conquer more in the future. This ladder is an amazing piece of art and can signify many things for African Americans or any race for that matter. I believe it symbolizes an exhausting climb to get to the top of whatever goal you are trying to reach, but sometimes the top may never be reached. In life there will always be another ladder to climb to the next goal.


Puryear.Martin.Ladder for Booker T. Washington.1996.Artwork.Museum of Modern Art, Fort W



  1. I really like this post and the picture as well. It reminds me to focus and shows me that the end has stopped and the only way is to go up. The endless possibilities of the endless ladder is beyond amazing. There is no way to go down but only higher and higher. There are times when life knocks us down and even sometimes we are dragged into situation that might bring us down but when we look up and realize that we can overcome and makes something of ourselves, we become driven to aim for the top . I really like this picture and I think there are many interpretations to it and what it could mean. Thank you for sharing.


  2. I also went to the Ft Worth Modern Art museum. This exhibition was extraordinary and large. However you did educate me on something I didn’t know about it. I love the connection you made about “Up From Slavery” in Booker T. Washington’s writing. That ladder does resemble the long winding journey that many Aftican-Americans had to endure before the emancipation proclamation. The ladder resembles a lot of other journeys that people may have to face. There will always be an obstacle in your way but it is your duty to overcome it.


  3. I love this post. The symbolism shown about how it was easier to achieve something in the beginning, than it was in the end. Once you get to a certain point in life, you have to stabilize yourself and continue to take the journey no matter what obstacles come your way. With the end of Slavery, he was able to make a name for himself quickly, but as you continue the ladder up, you see the shallow edges, smaller area for stepping and an all together smaller pool in which you are able to advance.
    This piece of art is absolutely astonishing. It is the illusion that there is not limit to how far you can go up the ladder, but you have to be aware of the surroundings and the people that you associate with in efforts to get where you want to be in life.


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