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Historic Oliver

  • Writer's picturecitymoods

Stephen Hayes' Cash Crop Exhibit at the National Great Blacks in Wax Museum

Updated: Feb 12

Life size sculpture made of concrete and from casting real people

The Exhibit

There is an amazing and long-awaited exhibit going on at the National Great Blacks in Wax Museum, (NGBIWM) located in the heart of the Historic Oliver community. The opening ceremony, held on Friday, February 9th, was a cocktail reception that took place in the mansion and featured a question and answer forum with the artist. The "Cash Crop" exhibit officially opens to the public on Saturday, February 10th and will continue now through September 2024. The exhibit features 15 life-size sculptures depicting enslaved Africans being transported during the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. The sculptures were made in 2010 by creating casts of the artist's family member's and friend's faces, torsos and legs. Each of these parts were done separately and took approximately 45 minutes for which the model had to stand very still for 45 minutes for each body section! Stephen states that his goal is to continue telling a story within a story; that the models that posed for his sculptures, representing enslaved people, can tell their children, and their children's children as they become part of the telling of this story. Stephen believes in a truly immersive experience, where his art is not off limits to touch and feel. He places his sculptures at ground level so that observers can get the full impact without feeling like they have to look up at a statue on a pedestal that is out of reach. What I found most heart-wrenching were the sculptures of the shackled children. (Watch behind the scenes of the Cash Crop Exhibit)

In this exhibit, Stephen draws parallels between the use of humans as cargo being packed for shipping for a 6-8 week journey, no different than how packages are shipped from overseas today and packed as tightly as possible.

The Artist

Stephen Hayes taking questions at opening night at the National Great Blacks in Wax Museum

Stephen Hayes is from Durham, North Carolina. He started making things when he was in the second grade when his mom bought him his own tools. He went to North Carolina Central University and studied art at Savannah College of Art and Design where he did not fit in, but his mom encouraged him to keep trying.


Stephen is an associate professor of sculpture at Duke University. He is a fine example of "you can be anything that you put your mind to" with a little elbow grease and perseverance. He feels that it is his duty to be a positive model for the next generation of leaders.


Watch this heartwarming video introduction of Stephen Hayes at Duke University, and his inspiring journey.


The Museum

Dr. Joanne Martin, NGBIWM founder, left, and a Baltimore Oliver Community Association Board member, right

At the opening reception, Dr. Joanne Martin jokingly stated that the National Great Blacks in Wax Museum (NGBIWM) has been stalking Stephen for years for this exhibit; and it has finally made its way here to Baltimore and to the Historic Oliver community! NGBIWM has just celebrated its 40th year anniversary since inception. Dr. Martin described how NGBIWM typically goes on tour to Florida, where she is from for Black History month, but was told that [Florida] would not be bringing the tour back this year. Seems to me that we are going backwards in time. This is why the work must continue and we must continue to keep our history alive and in the minds of our children. This is why NGBIWM is still as relevant today as it ever was.


Tickets for opening weekend, Saturday and Sunday, February 10th and 11th, and exclusive tour. Only a limited number of tickets are available, so hurry!


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