Monument for Althea Gibson African-American tennis pioneer

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Althea Gibson: first African-American to break the colour barrier in tennis

A new interactive monument honouring African American, Althea Gibson and set to be revealed at the 2019 US Open will capture the spirit of an iconic pioneer.

While the exact design and placement on the grounds of the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center will be determined at a later date, renowned sculptor Eric Goulder is planning a larger-than-life bronze figurine that will feature a combination of digital media and augmented reality, a nod to both the past and the future.

Gibson was the first African-American player to break the colour line in international tennis and, in 1956, she became the first person of colour to win a Grand Slam title.

Now she will be immortalised alongside Arthur Ashe, who is honoured with a statue outside the stadium that bears his name, and Billie Jean King, after whom the tennis centre was renamed.

The monument was commissioned by the USTA in collaboration with Sotheby’s. The USTA also sought the input of Fran Gray, one of the committee members and long-time friend of Gibson who runs her estate.

Katrina Adams, chairman of the board and president of the USTA, said approval was granted in December to erect a monument “to celebrate her greatness.”

“She is an historic icon,” said Adams. “In our sport of tennis, she was the one that really broke the colour barrier. She is the Jackie Robinson of tennis.

“She’s very important to our society, in our sport, particularly back in the ’50s, to be able to pave the road and provide pathways for others like Arthur Ashe, Zina Garrison, Lori McNeil, Chanda Rubin, Venus, Serena, myself and others, to be where we are today. It’s a proud moment to be able to say that we will be putting a monument on the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center premises next year.”

Goulder said the monument will probably be made in clay, cast in bronze and feature an element of stone.

“It really got me thinking of how I could approach a sculpture of a sporting figure in a new way instead of just a figurine, and also to make something that doesn’t just memorialize her, but tells more of her story, which I think is really important,” Goulder said.

Added Sotherby’s chairman Ben Doller: “I think Eric is one of the best sort of figurative and modernist sculptors out there. I think Eric’s project and proposal combines something that will have a magic, a genius of capturing a personality, and then also has a concept of having something be traditional, but really looking forward, as well.”

Born in 1927 in South Carolina, Gibson won the U.S. National Championship in 1957 and 1958, in addition to two Wimbledon titles and a French Open crown. Gibson,  also won the 1957 U.S. National Championship mixed doubles and five women’s doubles titles and  became the world No. 1 in 1957. She  was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1971.

“For her to grace us, to grace our sport with her talents and to be able to have the accomplishments that she did, is one of the main reasons why we are celebrating her, and we have in our own way, but now the world will be able to see it,” Adams said.

*Written by Ashley Marshall for UsOpen.org


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