• Today is: Tuesday, June 6, 2023

Inge Hardison, Actress and Sculptor of Heroes, Dies at 102


Inge Hardison, whose bronze sculptures immortalized black historical figures, innovators and ordinary people she characterized as “Our Folks,” died on March 23 in Manhattan. She was 102.

The cause was complications of Alzheimer’s disease, her daughter, Yolande Hardison, said.

A former actress, artist and photographer, Inge Hardison sculpted a cast-iron collection in the 1960s that she called “Negro Giants in History,” which included George Washington Carver, W. E. B. Du Bois, Paul Robeson and Harriet Tubman. She titled another series, featuring relatively obscure black inventors, “Ingenious Americans.”

In 1981, Ms. Hardison’s bronze bust of Jackie Robinson was installed at the Jackie Robinson Recreation Center in Harlem. Another bust, of Frederick Douglass, was installed in 1983 in the reference room of Princeton University’s Firestone Library.

In 1990, Gov. Mario M. Cuomo of New York presented her sculpture of Sojourner Truth, the 19th-century abolitionist and women’s rights advocate, to Nelson Mandela.

“By memorializing such great, selfless people,” she once said, “I have been able to put within the experience of many school-children, college students and adults those much-needed models of inspiration, and many of those who read the biographies of these sculptured heroes are encouraged to try to make their own lives more meaningful.”

Among her other notable works were a five-foot-high mother and child that she donated to Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan in 1957 in gratitude to the hospital for its help in delivering her daughter; an abstract figure titled “Jubilee” on the campus of Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn; and a mural of 18 children on the side of Intermediate School 74 in the Hunts Point section of the Bronx.

Ruth Inge Hardison was born in Portsmouth, Va., on Feb. 3, 1914, the daughter of William Hardison, a chicken farmer, and the former Evelyn Jordan, a teacher.

A bust of Frederick Douglass by Inge Hardison.
A bust of Frederick Douglass by Inge Hardison.

To escape segregation in the South, the family moved to Brooklyn, where Ms. Hardison graduated from Girls High School and began a brief career on Broadway. In 1936, she landed a role as Topsy in “Sweet River,” George Abbott’s adaptation of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.”

She also appeared on Broadway in an all-black production of “Anna Lucasta,” and in “The Country Wife” with Ruth Gordon and “What a Life.” During the yearlong run of that play, she began making clay sculptures for fun and produced a model of the cast.

She later took courses in music and creative writing at Vassar College (several of her poems were published in The New York Times) and studied at the Art Students League of New York, under William Zorach, and at Tennessee State Agricultural and Industrial College (now Tennessee State University).

Ms. Hardison was a founding member of the Black Academy of Arts and Letters, which was formed in 1969.

In addition to her daughter, she is survived by a grandson and three great-grandchildren.