This story has been updated.
Martin Luther King Park is now home to an iconic new public sculpture.
Spheres of Reflection by San Antonio artist Kaldric Dow towers 17 feet in the air at the park entrance, representing a crowning achievement for the artist, and for artists of color in the city.
Spheres is not only Dow’s first piece of public art, but the steel-and-concrete structure is his first large-scale sculpture, made possible through the city Department of Arts and Culture’s “Sketch to Sculpture” program instituted in 2019.
The department recognized a need “to facilitate a diverse and equitable public art collection” that could incorporate local artists, many of whom would otherwise lack the resources, skills and experience to work at large scale with unfamiliar materials, according to Stacey Norton, interim marketing, film and music administrator.
Previously, Dow had been known primarily as a portrait painter, having exhibited at Luminaria, AP Art Lab, and the San Antonio International Airport. He said he can easily generate ideas for sculptures, but making Spheres and its companion piece installed in the River Walk Art Garden downtown would not have been conceivable without the Sketch to Sculpture program.
“First, before the pencil, it was in [my] head,” Dow said, speaking of his formative idea for the piece, which began with a self-portrait and an elaborate hairdo. “To know that something came from your head to a pencil into pieces and into the sculpture, it … empowers you as a creator.”
The self-portrait evolved into a purposely androgynous face — “I want [people] to feel familiar with the face to where it can represent someone in their family or themselves,” Dow said — cut from industrial Cor-Ten steel, a material traditionally prized by modern sculptors for its rusty patina. The choice was deliberate, in keeping with Dow’s consistent exploration of Black skin tones in his portraiture.
Rings of black-painted steel spheres stacked four rows high evoke Black culture’s embrace of hair as a symbol of pride and a celebration of heritage, Dow said. The sculpture gains resonance with its site in a series of words emblazoned on the lower rows of spheres, each taken from King’s speeches: dream, bold, desire, brave, unity, gratitude, accountability, devotion and change.
“Change” stands out to Dow “because I felt like it was something that’s needed, and something that’s a big topic nowadays,” with calls for police reform, an end to mass incarceration, reparations for slavery and other calls for racial equality in San Antonio and throughout the U.S.
Though Spheres might not at first look much like Dow’s earlier artwork, he said as a portrait it remains consistent with his approach, and that he gives similar advice to other two-dimensional artists looking to expand their skill sets and tap into city resources to realize their sculptural dreams.
“They may think that they’d have to change their style, but they could do the same style,” he said, whether portraiture, landscape or other forms.
Before they can begin the process, he said, they must first apply for the department’s Public Art and Support Services Pre-Qualified List and public art mentorship programs. If selected for a project, they have to be prepared to work collaboratively with City of San Antonio representatives, engineers, fabricators and construction crews, and to exercise patience during what can be a long process. Selected in September 2020, Dow had to wait through a pandemic pause before beginning work on Spheres, then endured several weather-related delays before the piece was installed Dec. 23.
The sculpture was to have served as the starting point for the city’s 2022 MLK Day march Monday, but the event was canceled because of a surge in coronavirus infections.