Littleton Alston’s 8-ft bronze statue of Baseball Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Gibson catches the moment the ball’s just been released. “It’s when the will and the training and the gift come together,” says the sculptor. “It’s the crescendo of intent.”
Alston’s sculpture embodies motion in its dynamic pose. Leaning into the pitch, the muscled body spirals upward from the left foot—the lower body forward, the shoulders and arms swung wide to the left. The right arm and leg are powerful horizontal flourishes; the left foot, like a dancer’s en pointe, anchors man to earth and channels a diagonal bolt of sheer energy. Only the head is still, as Gibson’s intense gaze follows the ball to its precise target.
Such flawless execution comes from years of training, exercising through fatigue, inclement weather, or personal discouragement. Equally important is the determination, the focus on one’s goal. And thirdly, an inherent gift. This trivium is the foundation of a career in sports and in the arts.
Alston played baseball for one semester in high school, but it was enough to give him a better understanding of himself. “It’s both an individual and a team sport,” he said. “Sometimes you have to forgo the ego for a greater good.” And although he liked baseball, he recognized that it was not his gift. Besides, Alston’s school experience was not one of free time and hobby sports.
Growing up poor in Washington, D.C.’s Northeast neighborhood, Alston and his two closest brothers quickly learned the value of self- and mutual reliance, street smarts, and independence. From home, they could look all the way down East Capitol Street to see the Capitol dome, topped by its statue, Freedom. After one astonishing Christmas when each child got a bike, Capitol Hill became the boys’ playground. Bicycling a couple of miles from home to Hill was hot work in Washington’s humid summers, and the inviting waters of the many reflecting pools were irresistible. They leap-frogged from one to another, sometimes with police in pursuit. Alston particularly liked the pool at the Museum of History and Technology (now the National Museum of American History) with its 40-ft Calder stabile. A cool dip was what first appealed to the children, but Alston was unconsciously absorbing the lessons of form embodied in the public art and distinguished buildings.
In junior and senior high school, police presence signaled a much more dangerous environment than summer shenanigans, and violence seemed an unavoidable whirlpool. It was Alston’s gift, an insistent urge to draw, and his mother’s recognition of that talent, that provided him a way out—acceptance at Duke Ellington School of the Arts. It was a gift that demanded constantly that he push past his definitions of endurance, of ability, of understanding. And when he won the senior art prize and a scholarship to Virginia Commonwealth University, the training continued. As his skills were honed, so was his will, so that one night, after his job as a janitor, he was determined to finish a painting assignment. When it was completed, he was so exhausted that he laid his cheek against the wet paint and slept.
After 35 years, he still feels the derision of the teacher and other students, and his own bitter anger. But, sometimes, the ego has to be put aside for a greater good.
Littleton Alston got his degree from VCU, and an MFA from Rinehart School of Sculpture. He is Associate Professor of Sculpture at Creighton University and maintains a private studio. Among his awards, the most recent is Midtown Business Association’s 2013 City of Omaha Community Excellence Award for “The Jazz Trio,” located in North 24th’s Dreamland Plaza. Alston has worked in abstract style, but prefers figurative. His website’s home page bears this statement:
“The human form holds endless fascination for me, and it is this vehicle through which I believe can best express the joys and sorrows of the human condition.”
When offered the Bob Gibson commission, Alston took time to think it over. He’d never sculpted a sports figure, but felt “immense respect” for Gibson as a “trailblazer” in terms of racial equality and changes to the game. He was fascinated by the form of a ball player in action, and by the “aging champion” who sat for him.
Alston’s sculpture of Bob Gibson was unveiled April 11 at Werner Park. The presentation was a time of honor for Gibson, but also for Alston. Each man has created a life using will, training, and his unique gift. Every release of the ball, every unveiling strikes a crescendo of intent, an expression that goes out into the world contributing its own perfect harmony.