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