After years of work, Vt. sculptor Chris Sharp honors King with bronze figures - 19 in all

On Wednesday, workers topped off the statue that is the centerpiece of the memorial to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. on the Tidal Basin.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 16, 2011; 6:11 PM

Chris Sharp was standing at a copying machine in the Vermont high school where he teaches art when the White House security people called: Was he the guy who sent the heavy bronze sculpture of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in the homemade wooden packing crate?

Absolutely, Sharp replied. He was the guy who at his own expense sculpted, cast and was shipping in carpet-lined crates his 60-pound statues of King to President Obama and 16 other destinations across the country.

The White House was "direct," but pleasant, Sharp said of the conversation a week or so ago, and the caller seemed to know everything about him. Apparently satisfied, "they said, 'thank you very much,' " and bade him good day.

Sharp asked whether his sculpture would reach the president: "They said they didn't know."

But the sculptor was delighted. After five years of work, and many nights with the lights on at 4 a.m. in his barn outside Burlington - and some folks thinking he sounded crazy - copies of his unusual sculpture of King were arriving at their destinations.

"All these packages are finally going where you had worked so hard to get them," he said.

And in a kind of benevolent performance art, they were landing in VIP mailrooms across the country - pure, heartfelt gestures in the era of the suspicious package, the smoldering parcel, and the fear of hidden, improvised catastrophe.

The heavy wooden boxes that the 45-year-old Burlington High School teacher said he built in his studio and sent to The Washington Post, NPR, the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts and the National Portrait Gallery, along with several school systems, contained little more than his bronze of King.

The one he sent to Obama, for the American people, did include a button Sharp found on the Internet that had come from the famous 1963 March on Washington, where King gave his "I Have a Dream" speech.

Other than that - as the nation Monday marks the civil rights leader's birthday - Sharp's oddball packages bore only King's hope that national discord might one day become the "beautiful symphony of brotherhood."

Sharp said he paid for everything but declined to say how much the enterprise cost. "The true value of the project has absolutely nothing to do with money," he said.

A resident of Shelburne, Vt., Sharp said he began thinking about sculpting King several years ago when plans were afoot to design the new King Memorial, now being completed on the Tidal Basin in Washington.

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