A Hero in Her Own Time

Artist Vinnie Bagwell works on one of her Enslaved Africans’ Rain Garden sculptures

Vinnie Bagwell works on one of her Enslaved Africans’ Rain Garden sculptures (photo by Jonathan Lewis)

Vinnie Bagwell is finally coming into her own, and all her admirers (I am one of them) couldn’t be happier. I might even be bold enough to say that this may be her year. On April 7, ArtsWestchester will bestow upon her its Artist Award, given annually to an extraordinary artist who has created a significant body of work. But that’s not all. She has been awarded the inaugural Jorge and Darlene Perez Prize of $30,000 from Americans for the Arts and a commission for a $1 Million sculpture, Victory Beyond Sims, an 18’ angel in New York City’s Central Park. And finally, after a 12-year slog, her tour de force – her Enslaved Africans’ Rain Garden sculptures are finally finished and will be previewed at the Yonkers Public Library beginning in March.

So here’s the thing about Vinnie Bagwell…She has a will of iron. She has a gift of talent. And like most successful New Yorkers, she’s gonna do it her way. As a child, she was visually impaired. She grew up in Yonkers until age 10, when her parents, both artistic, moved to Greenburgh. She always loved to write and draw, and after graduating from Woodlands High School and Morgan State University, she found her niche as a writer. That was until she met Barbara Segal, a Yonkers sculptor, and found her calling. Discovering sculpture, and learning how to make it, became her driving passion. She traveled her own path, finding mentors along the way. But deep down, there was another mission in her mind. She wanted to tell the stories of her people. She wanted to elevate them with her art. When Vinnie first approached me about her project I was, let’s say, cautiously optimistic and frankly hopeful. Hers was a vision that we at ArtsWestchester shared. There is no memorial or place of tribute in Westchester for the slaves who contributed so much to the growth of this county as there should be.

I think she may have recognized in me a soul sister, that is to say, someone like herself who tends to get into “good trouble.” She wasn’t asking ArtsWestchester for money. (That would come later.) She had secured a seed grant that she wanted to entrust to us to administer for her. I suppose to sum it all up, Vinnie is a hero. She managed to build a place of honor for African Americans that went missing for 400 years. A kid from Yonkers, a black woman, brings a symbol of social justice to her place of birth in America. That’s a wow.

A bronze sculpture of a woman wearing a hat by artist Vinnie Bagwell

Artwork by Vinnie Bagwell (photo courtesy of the artist)