Manhole Cover Project: A Gun Legacy 1996

Civic, public sculpture/installation, testimonials, Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, CT

Context: The Manhole Project was first exhibited in 1996 in the public courtyard of the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, Connecticut, as a counterpoint to a decorative arts exhibition entitled “Sam and Elizabeth: The Legend of Colt’s Empire.”  In it, the museum memorialized the inventor of the Colt 45 firearm and his family in the galleries, presenting their vast collection of guns, paintings, sculpture, and decorative art.  Outside the museum, The Manhole Cover Project addressed the issue of contemporary gun violence through sculpture and sound.

Description: Bradley McCallum, while recasting the city’s manhole covers, altered their graphics in two distinct ways: he emblazoned each cover with Samuel Colt’s Latin motto, Vincit Qui Patitur, with its two possible translations: “He Who Suffers Conquers” or “He Who Perseveres is Victorious.”  These covers also carried the declaration “MADE FROM 172 LBS OF YOUR CONFISCATED GUNS, CT POLICE 1996.”
The Manhole Project was a large-scale work that incorporated sound and sculpture to make viewers consider the impact of gun violence on the city. At the close of the exhibition, many of the custom-designed covers replaced existing utility covers in New Haven, creating a lasting public reminder. “Projects like this one suggest that the museum has a meaningful role to play as a home for ideas as well as objects, for collaborative exchanges as well as individual artistic expressions, and for social and political discourse as well as aesthetics sensibilities.” [Excerpt from the catalogue essay by J.Rondeau: ‘The Manhole Cover Project: A Gun Legacy’ (Hartford: Wadsworth Atheneum, 1996), pp 3 and 7.]

Acknowledgments: Developed in collaboration with The Childhood Injury Prevention Center of the Connecticut Children’s Medical Center in Hartford, the Wadsworth Atheneum and student interns Nashia Baskerville, Myrton Bewry, Chevoughn Augustin, David Robles, and Josue Evilla.  The Manhole Cover Project could not have been realized without the commitment of the following: Andrea Miller-Keller; William Hosley; Emily Hall Tremaine, Curator of Contemporary Art; Elizabeth Kornhauser, Acting Chief Curator; Karen Blanchfield, Assistant Curator of American Decorative Arts; Richard Koopman, Curator of American Decorative Arts; Linda Friedlaender, Cigna Senior Associate Curator of Education; and Sarah Hirzel, Administrative Assistant, Department of Contemporary Art. Thanks to Rita Decker, Donna Feinstein, Sandra Hale, Bill Halverson, Claire Holman, David Johnson, Bill MacDonand, Kathryn Marsan, Rosina Menna, Fritz Morsches, Amanda Olcheske, Joseph Steffan, Jacqueline Tarry, Survivors of Homicide, Inc. and the Connecticut Coalition Against Gun Violence.  Gratitude and thanks to J. Anderson, the former Visual Arts Curator at Real Art Ways.

Funding: At the Wadsworth Atheneum, this project has been supported by the New Arts Partnerships for Stronger Communities Initiative of the Connecticut Commission on the Arts.  Additional support provided by Mayor Mike Peters’ Companies for Kids Program, The Greater Hartford Arts Council, and an individual artist’s grant, under the New Forms category, from the New England Foundation for the Arts. Corporate support given by Hartford Hospital, Kaiser Permanente, The Savannah, Northeast Utilities, Dexter Corp., Pepe & Hazard, LeBaron Foundry, Inc., Alert Inc., Capitol Light, Chapin & Bangs, and Stanley Wiesen Inc. Special thanks to The Honorable Mike Peters, Mayor of Hartford; Paul Shipman, Executive Assistant to the Mayor; Larry Gasse, President of LeBaron Foundry; Mickey Cartin of Capitol Light Inc. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we are grateful to our co-sponsors at the Connecticut Childhood Injury Prevention Center, Garry Lapidus, Associate Director, and Stacey Miller, Coordinator, for their supervision of so many of the key aspects of the project.