A Monumental Journey, by artist Kerry James Marshall, celebrates the legacy of the African American lawyers who founded the National Bar Association in Des Moines, IA. The piece takes the shape of two massive African talking drums stacked precariously atop one another, seemingly on the verge of toppling.

Standing 30 feet tall, the sculpture is made of manganese iron spot brick, which has a rich texture and tones of grey with a subtle shine. The radial geometry of the sculpture created unique challenges for the clay masonry that creates both the shape and the texture of the monument. Detailed coordination with the design and construction team was critical in uncovering collaborative solutions for this project. The brick is supported by a steel moment frame structure. Every brick was custom made and hand-cut in order to maintain consistency in the design and to accommodate the expanding and contracting radius of each course of brick. The heads of the stretcher brick have been shaved to follow the circular configuration of the sculpture, while the leading edge has been chamfered to smooth the exterior geometry of the sculpture and create interest with shadows and reflection at the bed joints.

“Nearly every angle of the form is different, so you can’t just mass produce one brick and make that work. Every one of those bricks had to be cut by hand to make that cylindrical form consistent,” said Marshall. “The team of masons who they had working on the project was just masterful.”

Now the oldest and largest legal association to primarily serve black lawyers, the National Bar Association represents members in the US, Africa, the UK, Canada, and the Virgin Islands. The monument gives overdue recognition to this important chapter in Iowa history.