Published 12:00 am Monday, August 6, 2007

By Katie Scarvey
Salisbury Post
Artist Milton Sherrill likes to think big.
That’s led to good things happening in his life ó like being selected to create a 15-foot statue of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., which was unveiled in April in White Plains, N.Y.
If people around here remember Sherrill, it might be as a child, living in Kannapolis. A cousin of Thomasina Paige of Salisbury, he was born in New York, but was “transplanted” to North Carolina, he says, when he went to live with his grandmother.
When he was about 5, he began to get interested in drawing. His teachers saw his potential and began to ask him to create bulletin boards at Aggrey Memorial Junior High School in Landis.
After his grandmother died, Sherrill went to the Palmer Memorial Institute in Sedalia, a boarding school, where he completed high school.
The Palmer Institute was an inspiring environment, Sherrill says, and exposed him to students and teachers who came from many different places: Africa, India, Europe, South America, and all parts of the United States.
He felt like a diplomat when he left, he says.
“It was really extraordinary. It was mind-boggling and eye opening,” he says.
He went to college in Texas and considered enrolling in pre-med. He soon realized he wasn’t interested in becoming a medical doctor and returned to New York and began taking art classes.
At that time, the Vietnam War was raging, he says, and his draft number was close to coming up, so he enlisted in the Air Force.
While in service he got a medical discharge due to an injury he sustained in training.
He returned to New York and enrolled at State University of New York and later transferred to Cooper Union, an art college in the east village of Manhattan. He ended up earning his B.A. from the State University of New York.
He was interested not only in fine arts but in media, particularly film and television. He realized, however, that that world would be hectic and stressful.
“I wanted a more individual creative experience,” he says, so he chose not to focus on film when he went to graduate school. He received his M.F.A. from the Pratt Institute in 1976, focusing on sculpture and painting.
To do that was “following my heart,” he says.
“You’re taking a chance in (pursuing) any art form in this country,” he says. “It’s one of the hardest professions to really break into.”
Still, Sherrill says, he knew instinctively that he could make it.
His association with professional artists gave him “clues and pearls of understanding,” he says, of how to conduct art as a business and actually make a living at it. He learned how to do proposals, write cover letters, conduct interviews. He made contacts with architectural firms and got references. He made himself known.
“I followed that formula and was very successful,” he says.
Sherrill is proud of how he’s been able to balance the business and creative aspects.
He’s not one to follow trends in art, he says.
He describes himself as “very eclectic,” and likes not only traditional realism but abstraction as well.
“And the public agrees with that because I’m still here,” he says.
After Sherrill was commissioned in 2001 to create the Martin Luther King statue, the project went through some rocky stages financially, Sherrill says.
Eventually, though, everything came together.
The $500,000 two-ton bronze statue of the Civil Rights icon was erected April 13 on the plaza outside of the Westchester County Courthouse in White Plains, NY.
The statue depicts a mature King ó somewhat heavier than in his younger days ó dressed in a suit with one arm raised, palm up, and the other arm holding a Bible.
The black granite base of the statue features a quote from the letter King wrote in 1963 from the Birmingham jail: “Injustice Anywhere is a Threat to Justice Everywhere.”
Sherrill, who lives in Mr. Vernon, N.Y. is pleased with how the project turned out and says there has been a good response from the community to it.
“After a period of time, I really start absorbing and objectively feeling things like the public. I really start appreciating things I’ve done after some time has passed.”
Sherrill continues to work on other projects, including his Legends series, which celebrates legendary people of African-American descent.
The subjects are a cross section of notable figures from sports, entertainment, and politics he says, and include people such as Harriet Tubman and Florence Joyner. There are more than 20 pieces, and he says that the casting process will have begun in earnest by this fall.
A national tour is in the works after this body of work is complete, he says.
Sherrill’s work has appeared at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and his work has been collected by Alvin Ailey, Arthur Ashe, James Baldwin, Bill Cosby and Mrs. Correta Scott King, among others.
Sherrill’s Web site ó ó is currently under construction.
Contact Katie Scarvey at 704-797-4270 or