Casting History In Bronze

Sculptor Tina Allen rarely does anything in a small way. Recently she drew a huge crowd of admirers when she came to Knoxville, Tenn., for the grand unveiling of her most monumental work to date: a statue of famous Knoxville resident, the late writer Alex Haley, author of Roots.

And as CBS News Sunday Morning Correspondent Bill Whitaker reports, the colossal statue joins a long line of historical figures by the sculptor.

"I hope youÂ'll be pleased tomorrow, Â'cause heÂ's awfully big," says Allen to a crowd of admirers in Tennessee. But the warm sentiments are already clear.

"I couldnÂ't take my eyes off his eyes," says one woman. "They look so real. ItÂ's a beautiful statue. It made me proud, too."

The late authorÂ's daughter, Lydia Haley, was also moved: "Tina really captured the essence of him with this statue. You know, when I first saw it unveiled, I just felt myself just well up,Â…with tears."

"I have to come back when itÂ's quiet, and just have the experience of just being with him, because thatÂ's what it is. ItÂ's him. ItÂ's him," she says.

The statue, which took Allen almost a year and a half to complete, rises about 13 feet tall and is larger than originally anticipated.

Tina Allen: mixing art with politics and philosophy
Allen studied painting and sculpting in New York and Venice, and dabbled in avant-garde experimental art in the 1970s. But she found her true expression with clay and figurative art. She comes from a family of artists, and her father, Gordon Powell, was a percussionist with the old CBS Orchestra.

"As long as I can remember, sheÂ's always had a paint brush or crayons or something in her hands that indicated she was going to be an artist," Powell says. "She certainly turned out to be one."

"What IÂ'm trying to do is hold a mirror up to my community and make them see theyÂ're beautiful, see what I see," Allen explains.

For Allen, her medium is her message. "I see myself more like a writer that makes objects. I see myself writing our history in bronze," she says.

Alex Haley told his familyÂ's story, its struggles and triumphs, and in doing so added a long neglected chapter to the American story.

ThatÂ's what Allen strives to do with her art: SheÂ's an African American artist whoÂ's made it her mission to pay tribute to those she calls black "heroes and sheroes."

"Through my art, I hope that I give a multicultural aesthetic to greatness, that people will look and say Â'greatness comes out of people that look like me,Â'" Allen says.

Allen's rendition of Muhammad Ali
At one point, her Beverly Hills studio was populated with sculptures of late U.S. Commerce Secretary Ron Brown; United Nations peace broker and Nobel Prize winner Ralph Bunche; boxer Muhammad Ali; and former slave, abolitionist and feminist Sojourner Truth.

The Sojourner Truth piece eventually will stand in Battle Creek, Mich., taller than the Alex Haley statue.

"I want someone to look at this and say, Â'IÂ'm not having it rough. ThatÂ's rough,Â'" Allen continues. "I want them to think to themselves that maybe human strength, and courage, is beautiful."

SheÂ's passionate about her art, which is melded inextricably with her politics and philosophy. She sees her art as a cure for what ails people, as a bridge across the racial divide.

"These are beautiful spirits in black containers that any race could admire," Allen explains. "WeÂ're not blind to the beauty of other cultures. But what we need to do is become visually literate about ourselves."

Her statue of a dancer stretches skyward.
"And we need to take the aesthetic in our hand and include ourselves. You canÂ't get mad at another culture because theyÂ're not singing your song. You have to sing your own song," she adds.

Call these praise songs in clay.

"I work on them till they look back at me, and a lot of times I feel like the sculptures are interacting with me, you know, telling me to do this or do that,Â…to make it better," says Allen.

And Allen says Nelson Mandela is also on her list. SheÂ's working with the government of South Africa to erect a 10-story statue of the prominent leader there. "To me, heÂ's an affirmation of the good in man," she says.

At the foundry, where the temperature is 2,050 degrees, artisans cast her visions in bronze.

"I never get used to seeing that it really happens," Allen says. "I watch them pour it, time and time again....To think you just pick up a hammer, and itÂ's there, ready to sit around for 3,000 years is amazing."

"When you get to this point, you feel like, Â'IÂ've done it; itÂ's gonna last,Â'" she says.

But Allen doesnÂ't always work on such a grand scale. Some pieces are quite intimate.

She concluded while making the Alex Haley statue, though, that size does matter, Allen says

"If your quest is to try and make statues that redefine and change ideas about what a group of peopleÂ's potential is, and what their contribution has been, the first thing youÂ've got to do is make it big," Allen explains.

"These kids have got to be impressed," she says. "When I drop Alex Haley into that park at Haley Heritage Square, the entire environment becomes one where reading and education takes on a whole new look to these kids."

"They climb up on his book, they suddenly say to themselves, Â'I could become famous from reading, from writing,Â'" Allen adds.