By Jill Kaplan
In the House of Representatives National Statuary Hall Collection in Washington D.C., each state is allowed two statues of prominent citizens to represent them. The individuals selected represent the ideals and values important to that state’s citizenry. In 2016, and by unanimous vote, the Florida state legislature decided to replace one of their statues of a confederate general with Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune. Bethune, who was born to enslaved parents and worked in the fields until she was five, was an educator, stateswoman, philanthropist, humanitarian, womanist, and civil rights activist. She founded the National Council for Negro Women in 1935, established the organization’s flagship journal Aframerican Women’s Journal, and resided as president or leader for myriad African American women organizations. She was appointed as a national adviser to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, whom she worked with to create the Federal Council on colored Affairs, also known as the Black Cabinet. She was also the founder of a private school for African – American students in Florida that later continued to develop as Bethune – Cookman University in Daytona Beach, Florida.
Over 2,000 master sculptors were considered for the commission which was ultimately awarded to Fort Lauderdale native Nilda Comas. Comas, who graduated cum laude with a master’s in fine arts from the New York Academy of Figurative Art, has received numerous grants and awards. Her works have been exhibited in the Ann Norton Sculpture Gardens – Palm Beach, Florida; The National Sculpture Society – New York; The New York Academy; Academia de Bella Arti di Carrara – Italy; Chiostro di Sant’ Agostino – Italy; and the Westminster Gallery -London. Her works also reside in many public and private collections in the United States, Europe, and South America. Comas’ interpretation of Bethune is entitled “The Black Rose. ‘’ It is a commanding 11-foot statue atop a five-foot pedestal and weighs more than 6,000 pounds. It was created using the largest, and last, piece of statuary marble from Michelangelo’s quarry in Italy where Comas maintains a second studio.
On the morning of July 13, 2022, the House of Representatives will officially install the State of Florida’s “Black Rose’’ into the National Statuary Hall Collection. This induction represents a historic event for women of color. It is the first time an African American woman subject sculpted by a Hispanic woman artist will grace the Collection. This ceremony concludes a week of public and private festivities hosted by the House of Representatives, The Bethune Statuary Fund, The Florida House, The National Historic Society, GENVAS, and the Mary McLeod Bethune National Alumni Association.
GENVAS, “Generation” Venetian Arts Society, is a nonprofit organization committed to nurturing the emotional, mental, and spiritual well-being of all people through purposeful, thought provoking, and enlightening artistic experiences, while, simultaneously, celebrating the multi-cultural and inter-generational diversity of the South Florida community.
On Saturday, July 16, 2022, the organization will produce an encore of their original salon concert “The Black Rose” at the L.A. Lee YMCA/Mizell Community Center.
Portions of the proceeds will benefit the Mary McLeod Bethune National Alumni Association and Nilda Comas will be the guest of honor. The concert features Ollie Watts Davis, soprano. Watts Davis is the Suzanne and William Allen Distinguished Professor in Music, Professor of Voice, and Conductor of the award-winning Black Chorus at the University of Illinois Urbana Champaign. She made her New York debut at Carnegie Hall and has performed with the nation’s leading orchestras; and internationally, in the Americas, Africa, Europe, and Asia. Accompanying Dr. Watts Davis is Dr. Casey Robards, piano collaborator. Robards has given recitals throughout the United States, Europe, Central and South America and Asia. Robards currently tours with singer LaToya Lain in a “Narrative of a Slave Woman,” a dramatic program of Black spirituals and with Ollie Watts Davis.
GRAMMY® Award Winner Nestor Torres, flute, will serve as the evening’s special guest host. He will perform a solo 20-minute tribute to Ms. Comas, and to Puerto Rico, their shared native homeland. In addition to his 18 solo recordings, Torres has collaborated with Gloria Estefan, Kenny Loggins, Dave Matthews, Paquito d’Rivera, Herbie Hancock, Arturo Sandoval, and Tito Puente. Original readings by Darius V. Daughtry, poet, who is also an accomplished playwright, director, and educator rounds out the evening. He is the Founder and Artistic Director of Art Prevails Project, a performing arts organization dedicated to expanding cultural conversation through theatrical performance, arts education, and community engagement.
Portion of the proceeds benefit the Bethune National Alumni Association, which is not affiliated with Bethune-Cookman College, and includes a post-concert champagne and dessert reception with the Artists. Tickets are $65 and are available by logging onto www.genvas.org or by calling (954) 709-7447. The L.A. Lee YMCA, 1409 N.W. Sixth St., Fort Lauderdale, Florida 33331. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. and the concert begins at 7 p.m.