How Greg Perry created a landmark
For years after the memorable night of King’s assassination, Larry Conrad, one of the state’s top Democrats, and a vice president of corporate affairs with the Simon Corporation, talked about creating a monument honoring King and Kennedy. When Conrad passed away, Herb and Diane Simon took up the cause, which became a project for the Pacers Foundation in the mid-1990s. President Bill Clinton came to Indianapolis for a groundbreaking and a national call went out for proposals to design and build a memorial.
Greg Perry, a local freelance writer and designer, was fascinated by the way the stories of King and Kennedy intersected in Indianapolis. But he had doubts about the validity of creating a purely figurative sculpture. “I thought, ‘Oh, c’mon, do we need another bronze cast of some guy?’ But I couldn’t get away from that sense of what it is that speaks across decades in monuments,” says Perry, whose design was ultimately chosen. “Sometimes it is a representation. Not wanting to give that away completely, I started playing with what happens when you mix the abstract and the figurative.”
After mulling over what to do for several days, Perry found the blend of the abstract and figurative that stands today in Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Park. “The idea of emerging from the wall and reaching toward one another in an uncompleted handshake is sort of a representation of [King’s and Kennedy’s] humanity, reaching toward one another despite the solid positions that had been defined for them through the years,” Perry says.
Perry remains proud of the work that was fabricated and installed by a team that he assembled to realize the project. “I love what it looks like in the early morning and late in the evening. Just as I had hoped, you get this big block of massive shadow on the ground and this illuminated, reaching figure. It’s almost as if there are shadows where the light is and, in their absence, we feel an energy. I’m really delighted with how that came together. The shadows are reaching away from one another in the light and I take that to mean they are reaching back to us.”
Perry is especially glad about the way the surrounding neighborhood has embraced the piece. Couples pose there for their wedding pictures, he says, and politicians have wanted their portraits taken in front of the monument. He points out that the piece is made with cor-ten steel, a material whose surface rusts in order to form a barrier to future corrosion. “It’s meant to be maintenance-free as long as no one messes with it,” Perry says, adding that the fabricators on the project were convinced the sculpture would be bombed with graffiti. “They were convinced this thing would be up 20 minutes and it would be covered. But it’s been 12 years and there still isn’t any graffiti on it.
“From the time I won the award to the time the people on the team unveiled it, it was ours,” Perry says. “Then it wasn’t ours anymore. It was theirs. The neighborhood has kept it going.”