Shaping History

Sculptor Branly Cadet digs deep into figures of the past to unearth their hidden character in the present.



Artist Branley Cadet's large sculpture shows Jackie Robinson sliding home. It will be a fixture at Dodger Stadium.

Photos by Kerry Kehoe

Baseball season is fully underway, and baseball legend Jackie Robinson has come alive again, this time as an 8-foot figure in bronze, sliding gracefully into home plate, his feet positioned just above his own words thoughtfully inscribed below him: “A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.”

For artist Branly Cadet, the impact that Jackie Robinson and other historical figures have made on the lives of others is rendered just as real today in the matter from which he sculpts their form.

“I’ve always had an interest in history and an interest in people in general,” said Cadet. “I do a lot of research on a person before sculpting them to find out who that person was, what was their mission. I use that knowledge to let my subconscious come up with a design that might capture the essence of that person.”

Using raw materials of clay and aluminum wiring, complemented by higher tech large-screen monitors, Cadet meticulously goes about his craft at m0xy studios in Oakland. Streams of music, from soft meditation chants to loud hip-hop, play in the background as he pauses to consider the curve of a chin, the positioning of a hand, the fold of an article of clothing. He plumbs through endless biographies, photographs, and other representations of the figures he is commissioned to portray, to bring out yet unseen elements of their character.

Cadet’s works are often massive in scale and proportion. They include a 21-foot bronze memorial of legislator and minister Adam Clayton Powell Jr. that stands on 125th street in New York City; a bust of Shakespeare installed at the former site of renowned Shakespearean actor Edwin Booth’s Theatre in New York; a soon-to-be installed 35-foot-by-25-foot memorial in Philadelphia honoring 19th-century activist and educator Octavius V. Catto; and his latest incarnation of Jackie Robinson, scheduled at press time to be installed outside Dodger Stadium on April 15.

 

Like that of the historical figures he re-creates, Cadet’s own history is one born of spirit and meaning translated through time. The son of Haitian immigrants who emigrated to New York in the 1960s, Cadet counts his great-grand uncle, the renowned Haitian metal artist Georges Liautaud, as one of his inspirations.

“Liautaud was also a sculptor who worked out of pounded metal, creating thousands of silhouettes. His work is iconographic in style with references to Christian and voodoo mythologies. They have a spiritual dimension. It’s something that I strive to explore in my own work.”

Iconography pervades Cadet’s work, too, as he brings together spirit and form, space and time, past and present. His sculptures convey moral and spiritual meaning that go far beyond what observers see on the surface. As with his Jackie Robinson sculpture, there’s more to sliding into home plate than meets the eye.

“When you think about it, given the nature of baseball, stealing home is one of the most difficult things a player can do,” Cadet explains. “Jackie Robinson was more than just the first African-American baseball player in the major leagues. He was a leader, an activist. I really wanted my design to capture his dynamism, courage, focus, precise timing, both on and off the field. The qualities needed to steal home base are the same qualities that were needed to break the color line in baseball. They all have to be there to meet that goal.”

 

Published online on May 16, 2017 at 8:00 a.m.

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