For the past two years, the Columbia City of Women initiative has been working to highlight the significant role women have played in Columbia, both in history and in the modern day.
On Wednesday, the group debuted a piece of public art that symbolizes the impact of women have had in the capital city.
Columbia City of Women — a collaborative effort between the South Carolina Women’s Rights and Empowerment Network and Historic Columbia — unveiled a 16-foot-tall sculpture called “The Architecture of Strength” near the northwest corner of Main and Gervais streets, just outside Hall’s Chophouse and directly across the street from the S.C. State House. The stainless steel sculpture has been planned for nearly a year and was created by Greenville artist Deedee Morrison.
The City of Women initiative kicked off in 2019 and has, so far, inducted 20 women across two separate classes. It promotes an interactive map of the city that details the contributions those women have made to Columbia at various locations. Honorees include civil rights leader Modjeska Monteith Simkins, University of South Carolina women’s basketball coach Dawn Staley and LGBTQ rights advocate Harriet Hancock, among others.
The 2021 City of Women class will be announced later this year.
“Columbia City of Women is an initiative to put women in their rightful place: On the map of Columbia,” WREN CEO Ann Warner said Wednesday. “We believe in the power of moving through a city that recognizes women’s achievements. Our goal is to tell their stories, celebrate their successes and seek to put their names in Columbia’s landscape.”
As part of the initiative, the new, towering sculpture has been unveiled near the State House. Information from City of Women notes the The Architecture of Strength “is the next step in representing and celebrating the contributions of women and recognizing their monumental impact in the community.”
According to Historic Columbia executive director Robin Waites, Morrison created the sculpture from massive stainless steel pipes that she disassembled and then reconfigured, stitching it together with liquid metal. Waites said the piece symbolizes “the figure of a woman who is rising up, who is becoming visible, and serves as a dramatic, unapologetic, powerful icon standing as both witness to and challenger to the white male power structure that looms large across the street (at the State House).”
There are a host of monuments on the State House grounds, almost all of which honor men. Some of those monuments, such as the one for late former Gov. Benjamin Tillman, have troublesome connections to racism.
Warner said the effort to place the new City of Women monument across from the State House was intentional.
“It’s a very prominent site at the heart of the city, and we wanted this project to have that kind of prominence, because that’s the level of prominence women deserve and have not had for most of our history,” Warner said. “It’s at the intersection of where politics and business kind of reside, where a lot of decisions get made. Frankly, we don’t have enough women who are directly involved in making those decisions.”
Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin was present for Wednesday morning’s sculpture unveiling, and said he hopes “The Architecture of Strength” will spark questions and curiosity about the prominent role women have played in the history of the capital city.
“We ought to have strong, robust, meaningful, edifying conversations about the role of women in building this great country,” Benjamin said. “I think those conversations can be both restorative and reparative at the same time.”
One Columbia for Arts and Culture, the city-backed arts advocacy agency, helped organize the committee that planned and ushered the new sculpture project. One Columbia executive director Lee Snelgrove said “The Architecture of Strength” is a striking piece of public art.
“This is basically the biggest project we’ve successfully completed thus far,” in terms of public art, Snelgrove said. “It was a successful collaboration that showed how all these people can come together to create something monumental. This is a monument that sits right at a vital corner of the city.”