The American Buffalo Soldiers: New Living History Sculpted by AR Design Group
Art and narrative are virtually inseparable, from the cave paintings of Lascaux, to the Venus of Willendorf, to the sculpture works of Jeff Koons, Jenny Holzer, and all others. Artistic representation draws on the audience’s collective experience, shared symbolic language, and imagination to convey its meaning. It also speaks through context, through its relationship to the outer world and to history, with the essential question, “What message does the artist wish to portray, and are they successful?” Today, artists, sculptors, and writers find themselves with a responsibility to help shape the future, leaning into narrative, image, and storytelling to make art accessible. Educational content can be compelling, connecting audiences to a greater web of meaning and experience, allowing messages to carry forward, taking on a life of their own.
ART Design Group’s latest project “Friends of Freedom” portrays American Buffalo Soldier experiences in Florida and Cuba, honoring the Veterans of the 1898 Spanish American War. Seven bronze figures on horseback top a pedestal filled with sculptural reliefs and text celebrating the bravery and history of the first all-black regiment to be recognized as part of the US Army in the 1800’s. Three years in the making, the heroic monument combines art, technology, and history, executed by the dynamic production team of ART Design Group, a 40-year lead producer of fine-art castings and fabrication. The unity of the soldiers reflects the cooperation and participation it took from a large group that contributed to its development, including educators, students, historians, government officials, veterans, park departments, and modern day MC Buffalo Soldiers.
“Friends of Freedom” was escorted by MC Buffalo Soldiers representing each state on its 1,000 mile journey, from its origination at the AR production facility in Lancaster, PA, along the east coast to its destination at Veteran Memorial Park in Lakeland, Florida. The Soldiers are the nation’s largest African-American motorcycle club, and among the participants in this ceremony are heirs to the original regiments. Surrounding the sculpture on its procession, its attendants form a symbolic cavalry, honoring a 150 year history of strength and dynamism, protection and care. It’s a complicated and nuanced story tied into western expansion and the quest for freedom, imperfect strides forward that for many still hold positive lessons. One of the strongest perhaps is in appreciating an underrecognized group that fought on behalf of home and country.
“Friends of Freedom” honors all Buffalo Soldiers, and is the first and only of its kind to be installed in Florida. The story went national on NBC and continues to generate interest in the public eye, exceeding expectations and involvement. AR Design Studio captured the process from start to finish on video, creating a new archive to accompany the in-person sculpture that many will visit. Its life has drawn interest far and wide, building reverence for the past and a new living history. In sculptural form and in the larger spiral of events, “Friends of Freedom” performs its mission, informing and communicating our heroic past, our struggles to achieve, turning points in history that mark unity and freedom.