Ed Dwight, the first African American trained as an astronaut and the sculptor of major monuments, was born on the outskirts of Kansas City, Kansas, in 1933. His father, Ed Dwight, Sr., played second base for the Kansas City Monarchs in baseball's Negro League. Child rearing fell primarily on Dwight's Catholic mother, Georgia Baker Dwight, who convinced her son that he could accomplish almost anything. Dwight grew up an avid reader and talented artist who was mechanically gifted and enjoyed working with his hands.
Dwight joined the U.S. Air Force in 1953, pursuing his dream of flying jet aircraft. He became a test pilot, and in 1961 earned a degree in aeronautical engineering from Arizona State University. At the suggestion of the National Urban League's Whitney M. Young, Jr., the John F. Kennedy administration chose Dwight as the first black astronaut trainee in 1962. Catapulted to instant fame, he was featured on the covers of Ebony, Jet and Sepia, and in news magazines around the world.
Facing severe discrimination from other astronauts, Dwight persevered until Kennedy's death, when government officials created a threatening atmosphere. He resigned in 1966, never having gone into space. Dwight's talents then led him to work as an engineer, in real estate and for IBM. In the mid-1970s, he turned to art and studied at the University of Denver, learning to operate the university's metal casting foundry. He received an M.F.A. in 1977 and gained a reputation as a sculptor. Ed Dwight Studios in Denver is now one of the largest privately owned production and marketing facilities in the western United States. His engineering background helps him face the problems of creating mammoth sculpture and his well-stocked library of African American history and culture informs his work. Dwight is recognized as the innovator of the negative space technique.
Dwight has sculpted great works of celebratory African American art, including international monuments, the Underground Railroad in Detroit, Michigan, and Windsor, Ontario; a Dr. Martin Luther King Memorial in Denver's City Park; a bust of George Washington Williams in the Ohio State Capitol in Columbus, Ohio; the Black Patriots Memorial on the mall in Washington, D.C.; the South Carolina Black History Memorial in Columbia, South Carolina; and the Alex Haley-Kunta Kinte Memorial in Annapolis, Maryland. The Quincy Jones Sculpture Park in Chicago brings his total major works to thirty-five, some of which are on permanent display at the Smithsonian Institute.
"Jazz: An American Art Form". This series depicts the evolution of jazz music from its roots in Africa to the contemporary superstars of the jazz era, and focuses on this style as a pure American musical idiom. Elements of the Jazz series are on display at major galleries and museums throughout the U.S. and has received critical acceptance internationally. This series of over 70 bronzes features many works focusing on the African tribal contributions, then presents such great jazz performers as Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, Louis "Satchmo" Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Fats Waller and Benny Goodman.
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