Sculptor Vinnie Bagwell Recalls the History of Enslaved Africans in Yonkers

Artist Vinnie Bagwell working on her sculpture, Themba (photo credit: Jonathan Lewis Photo)

Starting on November 10, Yonkers Riverfront Library will exhibit life-sized bronze sculptures by artist Vinnie Bagwell. The two sculptures, which are from a series of five, will be included in a forthcoming public rain garden planned for the City of Yonkers. The Enslaved Africans’ Rain Garden, set to be constructed on the banks of the Hudson River in 2019, will honor the legacy of enslaved Africans who resided at the historic Philipse Manor Hall in Yonkers. Six of these individuals were among the first to be manumitted by the law in the United States in 1799, sixty-four years before the Emancipation Proclamation. Bagwell will unveil sculptures that depict the characters of Isatta and Themba The Boatman, a lithe woman balancing a bucket of water on her head while carrying fish and a solemn boatman respectively. The artist aims to portray what the daily lives of enslaved Africans looked like as a way to educate visitors about local African history in America, as well as to empower the Yonkers community. In conjunction with the exhibition, a film by spoken-word artist Ty Gray-El that features the original story of Themba, as well as the photographs by Leslie Jean-Bart, will be projected onto the exterior wall of the library. All five sculptures will be completed and permanently installed in the rain garden. An opening reception will take place on November 10. The project is supported by one of ArtsWestchester’s Arts Alive grants. For more info, visit:

A version of this article first appeared in the November issue of ArtsNews, ArtsWestchester’s monthly publication. ArtsNews is distributed throughout Westchester County. A digital copy is also available at

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