W.O.N. Mural Society. Image 9/20

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Mile High & Rising, Marcus Akinlana, 1999, 8' x 52', medium acrylic paint with sculptural bronze relief and bulletproof glass. Location: Denver International Airport, Jeppesen Terminal, Denver, Colorado. Funded by the Mayor's Office of Art, Culture and Film and administered by ULOZI Arts Center.

For this particular project the sponsors (the local community, ULOZI Arts Center and Mayor's Office of Art, Culture and Film) wanted a work of public art that reflected the African American experience in Colorado, not necessarily a direct historical narrative.

In my mind, the two central figures in the mural are creative representations of Barney Ford and Aunt Clara Brown. They represent the male and female archetypes of excellence that African American pioneers brought to the Old West. They symbolize all those dynamic people who had the guts to make the move from the South to the West. In addition, they are founding members of the state of Colorado.

Barney Ford escaped from slavery and ended up a wealthy entrepreneur, owning hotels with his wife, first in Central America and then in Denver. In the late 1800s his Denver hotel was known as the number one hotel in the West. The president used to stay there back then. Barney Ford was a stationmaster for the Underground Railroad. He and several of his colleagues agitated to have laws changed in Colorado so Blacks could vote in the state.

Aunt Clara Brown was a slave too. At the age of 35, her husband and children were all sold to different places and she lost her entire family. She was 55 when she bought her way out of slavery. Altogether, it took her another 30 years before she finally located her daughter, but she never found her husband and other children. Clara Brown paid her way West on one of those wagon trains by washing and cleaning for the prospectors. When she got to Colorado she started a laundry business. She also became instrumental in the church and owned a small hotel. She became wealthy; with her money she bought a lot of people out of slavery and brought them out West, including 34 of her relatives. She helped many families get set up, regardless of what race they were.

In order to do justice to the dynamic stories of the African American pioneers that emigrated to Colorado, I used several artistic techniques in the fabrication of this mural to make the piece entertaining. It is a combination of painted surfaces on aluminum and bulletproof glass, as well as cast bronze relief sculpture.