A Monumental Journey

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Art Type
Media / Materials
Year Completed
July 2018
Commissioned by Greater Des Moines Public Art Foundation
Latitude & Longitude
41.589397, -93.619668
Location Description
The project will be sited in downtown Des Moines’ Hansen Triangle Park. It is ideally located along the Principal Riverwalk at the corner of Grand & 2nd Avenues.

Honoring NBA Founders

The project’s goal is to honor the National Bar Association founders: 12 courageous African-American attorneys who — in Des Moines, IA — changed the course of American history in 1925. At a time when the American Bar Association and other national legal associations denied membership to African-American lawyers, these attorneys created their own legal organization. By honoring these individuals, the project preserves local cultural history that has had great significance at the national and international levels.

The National Bar Association is the nation’s oldest and largest national association of predominately African American lawyers and judges representing the United States, Africa, England, Canada, and the Virgin Islands.

African American pioneer lawyers, dedicated to fight segregation and legal racism, started to gather between 1890 and 1900 and began the formation of the National Bar Association.

The ingenuity of these Midwestern lawyers changed the course of history. The National Bar Association was founded at an Iowa Colored Bar Association convention held in Des Moines in 1924. They incorporated one year later on August 1, 1925.

The five founders were Iowans: George H. Woodson, S. Joe Brown, Gertrude E. Rush, James B. Morris, and Charles P. Howard, Sr. The others, Wendell E. Green, C. Francis Stradford, Jesse N. Baker, William H. Haynes, and George C. Adams were from Chicago, and Charles H. Calloway and L. Amasa Knox were from Kansas City.


Excerpts from ARTNews Article

… During the sculpture’s ground-breaking ceremony on November 3, 2016, Judge Odell McGee of the Polk County District Court, a former president of the Iowa chapter of the NBA, spoke of a single headstone in a church parking lot being the only visible symbol of the organization’s founding.

“The idea for a monument to the National Bar Association first arose when Judge McGee approached us in 2007,” Pamela Bookey, the founding president of Greater Des Moines Public Art Foundation (GDMPAF), one of the principal organizations behind the project, explained in an interview.

Laws designed to prevent judicial candidates from soliciting campaign donations frustrated the Iowa NBA’s early attempts to raise funds. In addition, the Army Corps of Engineers mandated that the site Marshall had selected, in a small park across the Des Moines River from City Hall, undergo a water feasibility study, an expense that the NBA struggled to cover.

“If we all agreed that that was the best site for the piece, then we had to know whether or not we could do it,” Marshall said during a phone interview, a twinge of frustration in his voice. “You can’t just throw in the towel because it’s going to cost you a little bit to find out, so I paid for the study. I wanted to know if I was going to have to modify my design or not.” Despite the positive results from the test, the project went dormant. “I didn’t hear from anybody for a couple of years until I was contacted by Jessica Rowe, the director of the Greater Des Moines Public Art Foundation,” Marshall said. Unable to raise the funds necessary to move the project forward, the NBA had passed control of the project onto the GDMPAF.

Read the complete article, including more about the founders.



The idea to honor the NBA founders began from a conversation between INBA past president Odell McGhee and NBA past president Evett L. Simmons in 2002 while they attended the 75th Anniversary Celebration of the NBA held in Des Moines, Ia.


A Monumental Journey

A Monumental Journey was inspired by the talking drum of West Africa. There African drummers communicated complex messages over vast distances by simply varying the pitch of the drum and using tone to mimic patterns of speech.

With the concept of one drum-form precariously stacked upon the other, the artist Kerry James Marshall has created a powerful physical and poetic expression. The large-scale sculpture embodies the notion of communication among diverse peoples and a legal system that — though not perfect — strives to be balanced.  The dimensions of A Monumental Journey are 30-ft high x 16-ft diameter; the cladding is manganese ironspot brick.


Concept design at proposed site of Hansen Triangle Park.
Concept design at proposed site of Hansen Triangle Park.


Bird’s eye view of the 30-feet tall and clad in a sleek black brick called “manganese ironspot,” A Monumental Journey weighs nearly 25 tons. Its shape is derived from the talking drum, an instrument of the West African Yoruba people that is named for its ability to imitate the tone and prosody of human speech.


We need your help!

Help make this project a reality for Greater Des Moines!


Your tax deductible contribution will positively impact the lives of thousands of people and build support and awareness of public art. Public art project sponsorship offers significant philanthropic and marketing opportunities.

“The talking drum, as a point of departure, seemed like a great way to embody the ideas that I wanted to communicate in the piece,” Marshall said in ARTNews article. “On the one hand, I had been trying to find a way to use African sculptural forms as a starting point for an underlying aesthetic principle to evoke Africanness without resorting to bright colors and patterns. On the other hand, it allowed me to talk about the ways in which information and ideas relating to things like equality and justice could be communicated over time and distances.”

Kerry James Marshall

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