Trina Greene, a resident of Woodland Pond, was commissioned to create a sculpture of an 11-year-old slave named Isabella, who would grow up to become Sojourner Truth, a nationally known activist for equal rights and truth. Greene sculpted the statue using her imagination and research, as no photographs of Isabella exist. The Town of Esopus is hoping her creative work will make a statement about children and slavery and that the memorial will serve as a commemoration for Truth, as she spent much of her childhood and part of her adult life in Ulster County.
The memorial committee hopes that depicting a life size version of this young girl will help further educate people, especially children, on the cruelty of slavery. The Sojourner Truth Memorial Dedication was held on Saturday, September 21 at 2 pm. Nancy Giles, an Emmy Award-winning on-air contributor to CBS News Sunday Morning was the guest speaker at the event. Music was performed by the Amadu Diallo Drum Group, a musical group noted for African drums.
“I worked from pictures of the African people of Kau and pictures of Truth as an older woman, as there weren’t any available photographs of her as a slave child,” said Trina Greene, a resident of Woodland Pond. “Photography did not exist during this era, and even if it did, no one would have been interested in capturing the picture of a slave child. My imagination and research guided much of this project.”
The sculpture portrays Isabella walking and carrying two jugs, one labeled rum and the other is blank, as she was often sent to buy what her master required. She has closely cropped curly hair, is walking barefoot and is wearing a burlap dress that hits right above the knee. There are not buttons on the dress as slave children wore clothes that were merely pinned together most of the time. The back of her dress is pulled apart slightly to show scars from being beaten with heated rods by her master, John Neely. Neely severely beat her because she only knew how to speak Dutch and couldn’t speak English. With her baggy sleeves pulled up her arms, she walks with a look of innocence and determination on her face, a look that says she is the one that is going to make the better life for herself, because no one else would or could do that for her.
“Working on this sculpture for four months lead me to moments of reflection on who this young girl would grow up to be and what a role model she had become for so many people,” expressed Greene. “That a child from an early age could have such a proud sense of identity and a sense that she was not molded by her circumstances, really inspired me and made me appreciate the woman Truth had become that much more. Truth was self-contained, strong, confident, possessed innocence and was not embittered or warped by her abusive circumstances.”
Green has been sculpting since her early ‘30s. She attended Boston Museum School and majored in painting. However, she preferred three dimensional arts, so she pursued sculpting. She had taken a few sculpture classes at school, but is almost exclusively self-taught. She did not want someone else critiquing her work, so she decided to develop her skill on her own and critique her own work. Greene has been sculpting for 30 years, with many of her pieces belonging to museums and private collections.
“I am honored to have been selected to sculpt the statue of Isabella for the memorial,” said Greene. “I had not been a part of a celebration like this before and I was very excited to meet people who have a deep love for the work and life of Sojourner Truth. The celebration commemorated Truth’s life’s work for women’s rights, emancipation, abolition and justice.”
Fellow residents and staff members at Woodland Pond supported Trina and her work on the memorial. The senior living community scheduled transportation for residents from Woodland Pond to the Sojourner Truth Memorial Dedication for added convenience.
“Many of the residents were eager to see what Trina had been working on for the past 16 weeks,” said Sarah Hull, Resident Service Director at Woodland Pond. “This was a historical experience for everyone. It was also a way for us to support Trina and show her how much we value her as a neighbor, a friend and a person. We all enjoyed seeing the completed sculpture of Isabella and attending the dedication.”