Drawn from the artist’s family and community members, historical figures and subjects of contemporary news, Dr. Charles Smith’s figurative sculptures stride through a history of the African-American experience in the United States. Made of the artist’s secret mixture of cement and wood pulp, the 150 sculptures on view in Dr. Charles Smith: Aurora illuminate both the artist’s extensive environment formerly located in Aurora, Illinois, and his lifelong commitment to social justice, racial equity, and education.

After serving as an infantryman in the Vietnam War, Dr. Smith purchased a small property on Kendall Street in Aurora. He found his home renovation plans dashed by a burgeoning artistic practice, first fully realized in a monumental concrete archway he built to commemorate the 7,226 African-American soldiers who died in the Vietnam War. Soon, the project expanded to completely encompass the façade of his house and the front, side, and back yards with his memorializing, educational sculptures. He named the site The African-American Heritage Museum + Black Veterans Archive.

After a fateful stop in Hammond, Louisiana, convinced Dr. Smith that he needed to relocate his project there, the majority of the sculptures from his Aurora site were removed, conserved, and acquired by several museums. The 218 sculptures acquired by the Arts Center make it the largest single institutional holding of the artist’s work. Dr. Smith continues his work on The African-American Heritage Museum + Black Veterans Archive today in Hammond, documenting the ongoing struggle for equality and educating his local community and site visitors on the tragedies and triumphs of African-Americans.

Download the gallery handout >

Download a guide to Dr. Charles Smith's sculptures >

Take a 360° Tour of the Gallery

Download this exhibition handout and exhibition overview while taking the 360-degree tour.



Explore More

Take The Road Less Traveled and revisit our 2017 exhibitionThings Are What We Encounter: Dr. Charles Smith + Heather Hart.

Watch the panel discussion about this exhibition

Take a tour of Dr. Smith's art environment in Hammond, LA.

This exhibition is supported in part by a grant from the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin and the National Endowment for the Arts. Funding was also provided by the Kohler Trust for the Arts and Education, Kohler Foundation, Inc., and the Frederic Cornell Kohler Charitable Trust. The Arts Center thanks its many members for their support of exhibitions and programs through the year.