Houston Conwill with Rivers, 1992.

Houston Conwill (1947–2016)

Sam Roberts reports in the New York Times that the artist Houston Conwill, who worked with site-specific and often collaborative sculpture, has died.

Conwill was born in 1947 in Louisville, Kentucky. After studying in a Benedictine monastery, he served in Vietnam as part of the Air Force. He graduated from Howard University in 1973 with a bachelor of fine arts degree and received a master’s in fine arts from the University of Southern California. Some of his best-known works include his installation Rivers, 1992, at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture of the New York Public Library, wherein a terrazzo and brass floor design serves as a memorial both to Langston Hughes—whose ashes are contained in a book-shaped urn within the design—and to Arturo Alfonso Schomburg, a historian whose collection serves as the foundation for the center. The work features verses from Hughes’s 1920 poem “The Negro Speaks of Rivers,” such as the poem’s last line: “My soul has grown deep like the rivers.”

Conwill also created the United States’ second largest Martin Luther King Memorial, titled Revelation, in collaboration with his sister, poet Estella Conwill Majozo, and architect Joseph DePace. Built in San Francisco in 1993, it sits behind a fifty-by-twenty-foot wall of cascading water in the Yerba Buena Gardens at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. Other public works by Conwill are on display near the African Burial Ground National Monument at the Ted Weiss Federal Office Building in Lower Manhattan and at the Harold Washington Memorial Library in Chicago. Additional pieces are in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art in New York; the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, DC; the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; and the Studio Museum in Harlem.

He was the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and the Rome Prize from the American Academy in Rome. Conwill is survived by his wife, Kinshasha Holman Conwill, the deputy director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture.