Leadbelly

MAKER:
Artist

Michael G. Owen Jr. ( American, 1915 - 1976 )

DATE:
1943
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General Description

This powerful yet sensitive portrait of the famed black folksinger Huddie "Leadbelly" Ledbetter is perhaps Michael G. Owen's finest work. It balances physical likeness with emotional expression. Leadbelly played guitar in Dallas' Deep Ellum district in the early 20th century and spent his later years in New York, where he had a strong subsequent influence on the direction of American folk music.

As Owen remembered, “Leadbelly sat for me one afternoon [at his apartment in New York City] and I finished the clay model at that time. From that I worked out the stone cutting, only being able to work on it in my spare time. All in all it was about a full month’s work, I guess. During the time he was ‘sitting’ for me (playing his guitar and singing) he played 'Goodnight, Irene,’ but at that time the folk music devotees did not consider the tune ‘true folk music.’ Still it pleased me when it became a popular song. It’s too bad Leadbelly couldn’t have lived to see himself gain such popularity.”

Adapted from

  • Michael G. Owen letter to Ralph A. Knight, November 10, 1950, (rewritten by Knight in a letter to John Lunsford, September 30, 1961), DMA Collections Records Object File.

  • Rick Stewart, Lone Star Regionalism: The Dallas Nine and Their Circle (Dallas Museum of Art, 1985), 183- 184.

Fun Facts

  • Owen's sculpture of Peruna (1937), the mustang mascot of Southern Methodist University still stands in the university's football stadium.

  • As a student at Highland Park High School, Owen carved a record-setting 8,400 pounds of Ivory soap into a replica of the WFAA Station building for the 1930 Texas State Fair. The endeavor took twelve days and resulted in a structure five feet high and seven feet on each side.