Youville Residents Visit The Embrace
Residents from Youville Assisted Living kicked off Black History Month with a visit to Boston Common’s newest sculpture, The Embrace. Kathleen Kelleher, Director of Mission and Spiritual Care at Youville, had previously discussed the sculpture with residents during a program in January. “After learning about it, many residents were eager to see The Embrace for themselves and make up their own minds about it,” she said.
Designed by artist Hank Willis Thomas, The Embrace is a 20-foot-tall bronze homage to Martin Luther King, Jr. and his wife, Coretta Scott King, who met as graduate students in Boston. It is based on a photograph taken of the couple embracing in 1964, following King’s receipt of the Nobel Peace Prize. The sculpture itself depicts only the interlocking arms and hands of the couple, leaving space within the center for the public to stand within The Embrace as part of the experience.
According to US Representative Ayanna Pressley, who was present at the unveiling ceremony in January and reminded the public of MLK’s many causes, said that the message of the sculpture is “to embrace equality over racism; to embrace peace over militarism; to embrace grace over greed; to embrace racial, economic, social justice over oppression; to embrace love over hate; to embrace one another.”
“Seeing the sculpture in person gave me a much fuller appreciation of the bronze’s tones and beauty,” says Kelleher. “You see the light shimmering off the metal in different areas as the sun and clouds move. The bronze is really quite beautiful. The residents each had unique reactions. Some were more talkative than others, but everyone was reflective and very glad to be there.”
The Embrace is the first new sculpture on Boston Common in over 30 years, as well as the only sculpture that commemorates African Americans. It is situated on the newly constructed 1965 Freedom Plaza, a memorial to the civil rights movement. In the surrounding stone, the names of Boston’s civil rights heroes are inlaid in bronze, radially fanning outward. Youville residents took note of the names and reflected on their own memories of participating in the civil rights movement.
“Being within the embrace, is to be embraced by it,” says David Fitzgerald, a resident who made the trip. “Touching it is different than seeing it, because you experience the smoothness and the coolness of it. When you walk around it, you get different perspectives. From one side it looks like a heart. When you stand within it, you feel uplifted.”
When it was unveiled in January, The Embrace generated a high volume of mixed reactions from the remote vantage point of social media. While some panned the abstract, non-representational approach to honoring the Kings, others lauded its larger than life presence and bold message. As the tweets subside, more Bostonians and visiting tourists are getting the chance to experience the sculpture in person and in community, the way public art should be experienced. Even on a weekday in February, The Embrace was drawing a large, respectful crowd of sightseers.