Museum Moment: The Ed Dwight Sculpture

Sep 09, 2010

By Susan Wasser

A simple bronze statue found a home in the USGA Museum, marking the beginning of an important initiative for African-American golf history.

The USGA Museum announced on Feb. 23, 2010, that it had formed a partnership with The PGA of America to create a centralized repository to preserve the history of African-American golf, to be housed at the USGA Museum. A 14-member task force led by Rand Jerris, managing director of Communications and the USGA Museum, and Dr. Jeffrey Sammons, a member of the Museum Committee, would collect artifacts, memorabilia and documents related to the rich history of African Americans in golf.

In April, Dr. Sammons traveled to Phoenix, Ariz., to meet with William “Bill” Dickey to evaluate and acquire parts of his collection for the African-American Archive. In 1984, Dickey founded the National Minority Junior Golf Scholarship Association for the purpose of promoting minority junior golf programs that would help expose youths to the fundamentals and character-building principles of the game of golf.

Dr. Sammons secured nine boxes of materials for the project. The materials ranged from organizational records of the National Minority Junior Golf Scholarship program, the East/West Golf Classic, the Bill Dickey Scholars, the Western States Golf Association and the Desert Mashie Golf Club, to personal papers and artifacts related to Dickey’s work as an organizer, advocate and administrator for minority golfers. One of the boxes of this newly acquired collection contained a sculpture that was used as a trophy during the 25th Anniversary East/West Golf Classic held in Scottsdale, Ariz., in January 2007.

The bronze trophy, which stands 11½ inches tall and sits on a 6½-inch-square wooden base, is a likeness of Dickey. Though he was uncomfortable with the honor and protested its use, the committee wanted to honor his vision and dedication to the tournament that provides scholarship opportunities for minority men and women. Dickey’s commitment to African Americans in golf stretches more than 50 years and he is nationally recognized for his passion, dedication and perseverance. The program, which has awarded scholarships to more than 1,000 student-athletes since 1983, has been renamed the Bill Dickey Scholarship Association.

“William Dickey's donation of such a valuable artifact as the Ed Dwight sculpture to the USGA Museum as part of a lead donation to the African American Golf History Project is just another example of this wonderful man's selfless, enduring and indispensable service to golf and, especially the role of blacks in it,” said Dr. Sammons. “It is just a reminder of how worthy Bill is as a recipient of the Joe Dey Award (2001) from the USGA and the Distinguished Service Award (1999) from The PGA of America.” Dickey is the only person to have received both honors.

The significance of the sculpture is not limited to its importance as a valuable artifact linked to a dedicated individual and tournament, but moreover that it was created by the well-known African-American artist Ed Dwight, whose sculptures are prized by museums, institutions and art collectors throughout the world.

Ed Dwight was born on Sept. 9, 1933, in Kansas City, Kan. Though his childhood dream was to become an artist, he followed his father’s wishes and joined the U.S. Air Force, concentrating his talents on a career in engineering and flying. During this time he obtained a degree in aeronautical engineering from Arizona State University. In 1961, Dwight was chosen by President John F. Kennedy to enter training as an experimental test pilot in preparation to become the first African-American astronaut candidate. He completed the experimental test pilot course, entered aerospace research pilot training, and became a qualified aerospace research pilot. After Kennedy’s death, Dwight left the military and began to pursue other business opportunities. He graduated in 1975 with a master’s of fine arts in sculpture from the University of Denver. Over the past 35 years, he has dedicated his life to art, specifically sculpture.

Dwight has completed more than 100 public art commissions, most honoring individuals and the contributions of African Americans to U.S. history. His first commissioned piece was a statue of George Brown, the first black lieutenant governor of Colorado, who proceeded to challenge Dwight to create a series of bronze figures chronicling the contributions that African-American pioneers made in trailblazing the American West. Dwight earned public praise for his work and a new career was solidified. A prolific sculptor, Dwight has produced statues of Hank Aaron, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and Frederick Douglass, as well as a series of jazz figures for the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History. He also created the first bi-national monument dedicated to the International Underground Railroad Movement, in Detroit and Windsor, Ontario; the African-American History Monument on the grounds of the state capitol in Columbia, S.C.; and a memorial to George Washington Williams, the first black legislator from Ohio, in Columbus, Ohio.

Other notable projects by Dwight include: the John Hope Franklin Memorial, a memorial to Rosa Parks, a sculpture of Dr. Martin Luther King and Coretta Scott King, a monument to the great activist Denmark Vesey, and just this past year, a commission to create life-size statues of the inauguration of President Barack Obama. It includes the President, the First Lady, their daughters Sasha and Malia, and Chief Justice John Roberts administering the oath of office. Dwight’s sculptures continue to capture important historical moments and African-American individuals who have had an impact in American history.

By creating the National Minority Junior Golf Scholarship Association and the East/West Golf Classic, Bill Dickey strives to inspire minority men and women to succeed and make their mark in golf history. Ed Dwight knows what it is like to be part of history as the first African American trained to become an astronaut, and then as a world-renowned sculptor. It is only fitting that both men become part of the continuing legacy of African-American golf pioneers such as John Shippen, Bill Spiller, Ted Rhodes, Renee Powell and Ann Gregory in the newly created African-American Archives housed in the USGA Museum.

Susan Wasser is the coordinator of special projects for the USGA Museum. E-mail her with questions or comments at swasser@usga.org.

The bronze trophy, which stands 11½ inches tall and sits on a 6½-inch-square wooden base, is a likeness of Bill Dickey. Though he was uncomfortable with the honor and protested its use, the committee wanted to honor his vision and dedication to the tournament that provides scholarship opportunities for minority men and women. (USGA Museum)