Friday, February 17, 2012

Brett Davis and the Story of the Buxton Liberty Bell

The Buxton Liberty Bell

The Buxton Liberty Bell was commissioned by The Buxton Historical Site and Museum to replicate  the existing bell still hanging in a church in south Buxton, from a series of photos taken years earlier. Bryan and Shannon Prince were instrumental in organizing and seeing the bell to completion and are both active in the community and black history. Shannon is the curator of the museum and Bryan has written 3 books on black history. "I Came as a Stranger", "A Shadow on The Household", and his most recent book, "One More River to Cross".

The bronze "Liberty Bell" that was gifted to the town of Buxton by the Black residents of Pittsburgh, PA. in 1850 to honour the Buxton residents and the Revered (William King) for their accomplishments in establishing a self-sufficient settlement, which was for many, the end of the Underground Railroad. It is written that the bell would ring for each person who made it to freedom. The story behind the Buxton Bell is deeply rooted in Black history dating back to 1850 when the slave trade was still in effect in the USA and other parts of Europe. Many Black escapees made it to freedom by crossing over a number of borders from the US into Canada by means of the Underground Railroad, some of them began to settle in the Buxton area, which was one of the gateways.

The Province of Ontario hosted a ceremony and an official bell launch on February 14, 2007 at the Legislative Building at Queen's Park in Toronto, to honour Black History Month.  The bell then travelled to York University in Toronto where a ceremony was held to open The Harriete Tubman Institute for research on the Global Migration of African Peoples.  On that occasion, The Right Honourable Michaelle Jean, now U.N.E.S.C.O's Special Envoy to Haiti and then Governor General of Canada rang the bell in a symbolic gesture to observe the bicentennial of the passage of the British Imperial decree that abolished the Transatlantic Slave Trade.  The Liberty Bell eventually came home to the Buxton National Historic Site and Museum where it is on permanent display in the gardens which are dedicated to the memory of those enslaved people whose dreams were of freedom.

The inscription on the bell reads:
Cast by A. Fulton
Pittsburgh. Pa.
Presented to the Rev. William King by the Coloured Inhabitants of
Pittsburgh, for the Academy at Raleigh, C(anada) WestTo capture the essence of the historical bell, and all the iron components, I chose to approach the bell like a sculpture, and carve it by hand instead of using traditional bell making techniques that require a strickle board and plaster that would have made the bell too rigid and commercial, and felt it would loose its feeling of antiquity. All the details including the lettering were created by hand including the irregular lineage of the insription. The replica bell was sand cast and weighs 570 pounds and is 2 ½ inches thick and about 30 inches high, that was cast in one piece, while the iron work weighs approximately, 500 pounds. In the end, the replica bell sounded identical to the pitch of the original.

More information about the creation process available upon request.
The completed project was a great success and was well received by the committee from the Buxton Historical Site and Museum and from the former Minister of Culture and Immigration, Mike Colles, and was covered by 3 local newspapers including The Toronto Star.

Brett Davis, ARBS, SSC
Age of Bronze Studio
1025 Graham Side Road,
RR#2 Newmarket, Ontario, Canada
L3Y 4V9

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