A legacy cast in bronze

Express Photo/Regan Foster This photo shows the maquette, or clay model, of a bust of Fannie Mae Duncan. Fundraising is underway to build a public memorial to the iconic club owner and vanguard of the Civil Rights Era.

Express Photo/Regan Foster
This photo shows the maquette, or clay model, of a bust of Fannie Mae Duncan. Fundraising is underway to build a public memorial to the iconic club owner and vanguard of the Civil Rights Era.

In 2017, just 555 of America’s approximately 10,000 outdoor sculptures featured women, according to the Smithsonian American Art Museum Inventories of American Painting and Sculpture.

If Kay Esmiol has her way, the gap will close by one in the next few months. Esmiol, a retired Eagle View Middle School English teacher, is leading a campaign to have a life-sized bronze statue made and publicly displayed in tribute to the late Fannie Mae Duncan.

“Her life is an interesting study in the American dream,” Esmiol said. “She had a work ethic, she was a middle child, she was the leader of the group. She was the one who could do something for the whole family.

“The story is one that could unite this city in a way that could be more inclusive. She was the catalyst for the integration of the city.”

During the Civil Rights Era, Duncan was a local icon. That’s because the African-American woman who was two generations removed from slavery owned and operated the hottest, most-inclusive nightclub in town, the Cotton Club. Her motto, “Everybody welcome,” hung in a boldly lettered sign in the venue’s front window.

In the last 12 years of Duncan’s life, she and Esmiol formed a fast friendship. Now Esmiol wants to honor the maven of inclusion by having her likeness cast in bronze.

The statue is proposed for the courtyard of the Pikes Peak Center for the Performing Arts just down the street from the site where Duncan’s beloved venue once stood. The envisioned memorial includes a series of large granite blocks, engraved with the names of sponsors who donate a cumulative $100 or more.

The ultimate goal, Esmiol said, is to build a meditative space where passersby may sit and contemplate Duncan and her legacy.

“What we really want to do is, without saying it in so many words, invite them to sit there and think about the story and all of these people who supported it,” Esmiol said. “The more names, the more we can say ‘look at all these. This is who we are. We support [inclusion] and we believe everyone should be welcome.’ ”

The statue itself is expected to cost $100,000, while the granite blocks, etching, installation and transportation will ring in at an additional $50,000. The city requires 10 percent of the value of the sculpture — an additional $10,000 — for maintenance, Esmiol said, bringing the total price tag to $160,000. As of Jan. 25, $88,326 had been raised. Esmiol hopes to have fundraising wrapped up by the end of May.

Fort Collins-based sculptor Lori Kiplinger Pandy is creating the statue. She unveiled a series of maquettes, or clay models, and a model bust of the subject at a gala event in November. They depict a young, robust Duncan, dressed in an elegant suit and one of her trademark hats, standing with a foot cocked and an arm gesturing, palm up, toward the horizon. 

The effect is warm, welcoming and embodies the spirit that Esmiol and others recall.

regan.foster@southeastexpress.org

Support the cause

Building a memorial to Fannie Mae Duncan is expected to cost $160,000: $100,000 for the life-sized bronze statue; $50,000 for transportation, installation and an etched-granite donor wall; and $10,000 to the city of Colorado Springs for maintenance. As of Jan. 25, $88,326 had been raised toward the effort.

To contribute to the project, send donations to the Pioneers Museum at 215 S. Tejon St., Colorado Springs, Colorado, 80903. Make sure to include “Fannie Mae Duncan statue” in the memo line.

Everybody welcome

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