In 1916, at the age of 8, Marion Perkins moved from Arkansas to Chicago to live with his aunt, joining the ranks of over 500,000 African Americans who moved to Chicago from the south during a period now referred to as the Great Migration. He lived in Bronzeville, Chicago’s predominately African American neighborhood and home to many of its most outstanding writers and artists.
Perkins had little to no formal training as a sculptor as a young man. He scavenged stone and wood from abandoned buildings around Chicago for his sculptures. It was not until around 1937 that his work became recognized. Perkins would carve stone on the sidewalk while managing a newsstand, which caught the attention of members of the Bronzeville art community. Between 1942 and 1957, Perkins exhibited regularly in Chicago, receiving praise and awards for his sculptures and recognition as an important artist of his day.
Perkins' figures have a solid, heroic quality to them. He was influenced greatly by the Social Realism of the Works Progress Administration's Federal Art Program of the Great Depression during the 1930s. Perkins brings his own experience as an African American to his work, carving his figures with a stoic dignity in the face of oppression, segregation, and economic hardship of his day.
This sculpture is from a final series entitled Skywatchers. It's a commentary on Cold War-era politics, specifically the threat of atomic warfare. Perkins understood the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as two of the greatest crimes of humanity. This figure is seen craning his head backwards, scanning the skies for any approaching threat.